Pamela Harris

Something to Roll With January 27, 2014

(photo above of Joe and friend winter surfing)

Yesterday the heat and hot water went out for 8 hours. I've always considered myself a rugged New Englander but the reality is, my stepfather was a Holocaust survivor and I can barely survive Loehmann's closing.

I used to be a rugged New Englander. When I was a teenager my friends and I would walk 5 miles through a blizzard in sneakers and a thin leather coat. My oldest and best friend Suzy and I hitchhiked hundreds of miles through Vermont just because we could. I survived a wicked car crash where our drunk driver hit a telephone pole so hard the engine came through the floor. I didn't walk away, but I did hobble out of the hospital as soon as I could make a break for it. 

In high school, if friends and I went out to eat 'fancy' we'd go to China Sails at the Liberty Tree Mall. We'd get the pupu platter where everything was fried, painted in Red Dye #3 and lit on fire. We'd wash it down with sombreros -- kahlua and cream, not milk.

I came to New York City with $240 in my pocket and knew almost no-one. I was a week out of art school and my skill set consisted of conceptually thinking about monumentalism versus didacticism and what Neo Geo meant to art history concepts. Will photography matter?

Then there was the time I shit my pants in Costa Rica. I was birdwatching -- a red one! a blue one! another red one! Halfway up a long climb we hit a beautiful glade and bam! I had to poop. I ran off the trail and squatted, then grabbed what looked like pretty lily of the valley leaves. I wiped and the itching started immediately. I tore the laces from my hiking boot, ripped a sock off and finished my business with that. Despite the burn, despite the rash, I kept hiking. I came down the mountain with no sock on one foot, a two-foot a rash and a sodden sock in my pocket, but I kept hiking

I've swam in Maine in June. I turned blue doing it and insisted it was invigorating.

Ten years ago I had a wicked flu. I came into the kitchen wearing only undies to get some water, but was stopped by a giant waterbug standing guard. (A waterbug is the elephant of the insect world. It lumbers because it can't flit.) I silently put shoes on, crept to the pantry to get Raid, then sprayed it for a good five minutes. When I stepped forward to see if it was dead my shoe hit the Raid slick and my feet went out from under me. I dropped full body into the slick and like a slow motion scene from a horror movie, I slid across the floor right onto the water bug. After I boiled my skin off in the shower, I cleaned the bug up and got that drink of water.

I've been mugged at knifepoint. I've survived a flood, the kind where night comes as water rages past four feet deep in a place where there's never been water. I've been chased down Norfolk Street by a guy with a machete, been chased the other way by crackheads. I've been spit on by homeless people and watched a normal looking guy take a dump in the middle of a Soho street in broad daylight. I did not offer him my sock.

All of it I've chocked up to life, something to roll with, then last year Hurricane Sandy came. We had no power for 5 days, no heat, but we could walk 30 blocks and have full on civilization. It wasn't brutal cold and I still had a roof and lots of food. Yet on day 5 I hit a wall. I didn't want to walk 30 blocks for a great dinner, I didn't want to forage through our pantry for a snack, I didn't want to boil water so I could wash my face. I wanted to go online and check my daily sites like Deadline and the New York Times and Sample Sally. My phone let me check emails and cruise a little, but I wanted a big screen. I wanted to watch a movie and then I wanted to watch TV. A low moan started in my chest and the next thing I knew I was whining.

Joe had been meticulously dressing in layers and was dressing me in them too. I didn't want to put on another layer, I didn't want to sleep in the cold but I did want to turn a light on. As I stomped around the living room listing everything I didn't want to do he chuckled and waved me to the front door to follow him out for a warm-up walk. "Come, my rugged New Englander," he said and in that second I knew my charade was up. Sure, I have a high level of tolerance for things, but I don't know if it's acceptance or exhaustion from living in New York City. Though I'm glad to dive in the mud and do what has to be done, when I get out I like it cushy. I've gotten cushy on the inside, too; I used to be a strong, silent resent the shit out of you type and now I talk. Talk talk talk and feelings and talk, but I do it on a great couch with a sterling silver ice cream spoon mining the bottom of a vanilla chocolate chip pint. Amen, brother.

Red Nose January 24, 2014

Yo yo that a red nose?

When we first started looking at pit bulls I saw that some were described as red nose. A few days after we got Ginger, Joe mentioned that people were coming up to him on the street and commenting in an almost reverential way about her red nose. I was experiencing the same thing so he investigated. 

Red nose pit bulls are from an old, revered line of pit bulls originating in Ireland that are the foundation of today's American Pit Bull Terrier. Though this bloodline is as diluted as it can be, certain communities see red nose pit bulls as status symbols. Pit bull is a blend, not a pure breed, and red nose pit bulls are perceived as being the closest to purebred you can get. Teenagers and adults come up to us and ask how much we paid for her and who we got her from and when we tell them she's a rescue they look at us, confused. It's like saying we got a Cadillac for free, or, even better, an Avanti that still runs.  

A few days ago I was walking her through a nearby garden and a guy yelled over "Want to sell your pit?" I looked at him, incredulous. Did I want to sell my dog? By the time I got home I was shaking. My head had gone from a guy simply asking a question to worrying about someone wanting to steal her. My feet planted as fear and fury brewed.

I'm not surprised my maternal instincts are feral, but they blend curiously with also being a total Jewish mother.

"I should knit her a scarf to keep her neck warm," I say daily to Joe.

"Her neck is fine," He says to me.

"A little scarf. A cowl. I'll make her a little cowl. Maybe get her a sweater. She'd be so cute in a pink little sweater."

Joe watches my lips move as I switch to wondering if we should get her booties since the sidewalks are covered in salt then I finish my yarnball of thoughts with "she'll eat the booties right off and choke on them."

Yesterday Joe pretended to consider a pink sweater for the dog because it was my birthday. It was a great birthday; Joe went to the Dominique Ansel bakery and got pastries to start the day, then I heard from a lot of friends, then I took Ginger to a snow covered basketball court and she played with another dog there, which meant she slept while we watched 'Hitchcock' with Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins. (Loved the movie idea, good acting, loved the use of sound but the movie is a mess.) I'm coming down the final stretch of finishing a project and whenever I get to this place I'm distracted by bits and pieces of another world. I steadily grab my phone to text myself an idea or better dialogue or something to add or cut in a scene. It was the perfect movie for my head since, like Ginger, I could watch and look around the room and watch some more and think about breakfast and quickly text myself and chuckle then go back to movie and not miss a beat.

Efficient Enough January 18, 2014

When I moved to New York, if I wanted to make a phone call and I wasn't home I had to use a payphone. I come from a long, proud line of obsessive hand washers (luckily I was born after the generation that believed enemas cured everything) and having to touch a street phone meant what is that chunky stuff on the receiver try to touch around it there's something brown on the mouthpiece any time I made a call. There was almost always a phone across the street or next to it, so if I really thought the phone was going to get me pregnant or give me impetigo it was easy to find another. When cellphones became widely available I got one and was convinced that not using street phones was why my skin cleared up.

I love the immediacy of a cellphone. If I'm walking down the street and get an idea or if I have a sudden flash of how to resolve a writing issue, shputtt. I text myself. I keep basic ingredient lists on my phone to make food shopping easy and over the course of days or a week I add things I need to that list. When I'm going somewhere new I have a map; if I remember I need a new print cartridge or chew toy or art supplies I can find them regardless of where I am; I can see if Joe is close by when I'm out with the dog and we can have a family walk home if he's near. It's all good.

Lately, though, I have no downtime. As it is, living here means little privacy and the constant clatter of mine and everyone else's business ringing through the air is getting to be a little much. Everywhere I go people are on the phone, including elevators. Yesterday I was on a slow moving one and everyone on it was chattering, getting louder and louder to hear above each other. The guy to my left was arguing with his boyfriend because he didn't want to eat Malaysian for dinner. The guy to my right sounded officious scheduling a meeting, but he could've been on with the guy to my left since it sounded more like he wasn't happy with his lunch partner's restaurant choice. When I got off the elevator a woman was huddled against the wall, a big wide open wall with no place to hide. "Oh my god," she was saying, squishing deeper into the wall. "She's so two-faced. Oh my god." My phone isn't innocent during this, dinging away with texts from bored friends who want aural company.

Adding to this, with the advent of cellphones New Yorkers no longer hustle to get from A to B. Everyone's talking away, meandering like a marble rolling aimlessly over the sidewalk. Some people walk with their elbows out to claim space, talking loudly into their phones, and I'll frequently see a Soho old timer slam into those elbows, refusing to move out of the way. Phones fly, insults careen and the old timer almost always smiles smug, another goddamn interloper smacked down. I'm the one weaving into the street, out of the street, around that elbow, though I, too, hit the wall and the occasional elbow in the process. Constant contact is turning into body contact and it's made walking through my neighborhood unbearable.

Constant contact also feels like pressure and these past few weeks I've been turning my phone off for a few hours a day. Not returning every text takes practice and if a phone call isn't urgent I return it when I can. Or I text a quick reply. I just finished a draft of a project and between little sleep, wrangling this pup and fighting a cold my patience is looking for an elbow to body slam. I'm back to listening to music when I walk somewhere versus use the time to return calls, make calls, be efficient. Right now I'm efficient enough.

Loehmann's January 13, 2014

Loehmann's is going out of business.

My mother was the epitome of bargain shopper: she'd drive 20 miles to save a penny on toilet paper, but she'd save a penny. She was also a compulsive shopper who would only allow herself to buy discount. Bargain hunting was truly about the hunt; if a $800 Donna Karan sweater was out there marked down to $39.99 she was going to find it.

Loehmann's had a section called The Back Room and this was where the good stuff was. Next to Syms, The Back Room was her favorite haunt. Price tags had the retail price above their discount price so you could see exactly how much of a deal you were getting. During sales new prices would go on, but they were placed in a way where you could see the old. Bargains became real bargains.

The first time I went to Loehmann's I was in college and my mother took me to look for a dress for my step-brother's wedding. From then until about ten years ago, the way my mother and I bonded - sometimes the only way - was by going to Loehmanns and cruising the racks whenever I'd go north and visit her. I'd look in my size and style and she'd look in hers nearby and would constantly pull things in her style for me. "This sweater is Georgio Armani. It was $799.99 and is now on sale for ... you have to try this. It's $29.99"

"Ma, there's a giant snag down the front of it."

"Put a pin over it or one of your necklaces you paid full price for in New York. Look at this! Romeo Gigli, a jacket. $29.99. This is very sophisticated, perfect for New York."

"Ma, it's three sizes too big."

"You could wear the Armani sweater under it to bulk it up."

The Loehmann's near her was in Swampscott, Mass. and there were no dressing rooms. The Back Room had mirrors sporadically placed on the walls and when you found things to try you'd strip down wherever you could find a place to. Outside the Back Room were a row of chairs where men would sit holding Louis Vuitton purses on their laps, silently waiting to see how big the bill would be. Inside, women you've never seen would look you up and down assessing loudly whether or not a particular dress or pair of pants "suited you" or "fit right" or "showed your asset a little too tightly."

New York had a Loehmann's in the Bronx, which I never went to because it was too far from downtown, but then one opened up near 17th Street. The first time I walked in I felt simultaneously free given there was no at 19.99 you can roll the sleeves up soundtrack, but I also felt like I was cheating on her. Loehmann's was our time together; our conversations may have consisted only about fabric and give and washing instructions, but standing in our underwear let us feel close.

What I started to do was call her whenever I found something great, something that I knew would make her proud. "I got a Dolce and Gabbana silk shirt that was $699. I paid $79.99" She'd want to know the color, how to wash it, what I'd wear it with. After she died I didn't visit the store for a year - it was how I sat shiva - and then two years ago I ventured up to 17th Street. I went upstairs to the Back Room and it immediately felt different. Had Loehmann's lost its sheen because she died, or was it because of the new retail paradigm? I went back a few more times and there wasn't much to be had. Despite the savings there was nothing with my name on it, as she would say. But I saw that I, too, had changed. Since she passed, I no longer had it in me to scour the racks for a deal.

I still have the Dolce and Gabbana silk shirt as well as a Plein Sud sequined dress ($69.99 marked down from $800.) I also have a handknit Perry Ellis bodysuit from our first Back Room shopping trip ever, the one where we looked for a dress for my step-brother's wedding. I don't remember who made that dress but it was a killer. Over the next month I'll hit Loehmann's one more time, mostly to say goodbye. I'm really going for my mother; with everything on sale I can feel her twitching to get there. It's Prada for $19.99. A vest will hide the stain.

Over the Rainbow January 7, 2014

In the evening the pup curls up in the kitchen in front of the radiator and we go in the living room and sit catatonic from wrangling her all day. We put a baby gate up between the two rooms and a blanket down on the kitchen side, since that's what we did with Opal. Opal would lay there happy to see us, happy to chew a chewy. This dog isn't having it.

Ginger whines and whines and we try to ignore it. Eventually she gets on her kitchen bed with her ass toward us and sulks. (We peek over the gate to check on her and she scowls.) The other evening she sat quietly at the gate and the next thing we knew she was coming over the top of it with a grin. In a flash she was racing through the living room toward Opal's old bed. She dove on it and curled up, as if to say I'm not budging. Opal was willful, but this dog is like nothing we've ever seen. She's now in the living room part time. Like us, it's better to work with her than solely dictate what she can do.

2014 is kicking in. A new dealer I'm working with sold a drawing and that shipped out yesterday. I love selling a drawing at the start of a new year. It always feels good.

Sunday morning I baked a coconut bread, which is really a cake, but if you call it a bread you can eat half of it in one sitting. I adapted the recipe slightly from Bill Granger's original:

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cups (295 ml) milk

1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup sugar (I use turbonado; use a little more if you use white)

5 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) sweetened flaked coconut (I use unsweetened)

3/4 cup chocolate chip bits

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Butter and flour for baking pan, or a spray oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Serve in thick slices, warm. You can also serve it toasted, with butter and confectioners’ sugar.

The New Year December 31, 2013

The city is filled with tourists and all want to stop and say hello to the pup. Her favorite thing is to sit at the corner and wait for whomever is coming up the block, and when she makes eye contact she starts to wiggle all over. No one can ignore a wiggling puppy.

Around this time of year I ask myself what I want to take into the new year and what I'd like to leave behind. I try to set aside time to seriously consider this and if I can't get quiet or am too fried from raising a puppy I chat with myself while I run around the neighborhood doing errands.

What's great is I want to bring pretty much everything I have with me. I'd like to meditate more, so I want to bring more will to do that. What I want to leave behind is the useless stuff that goes through my head where work is concerned, the residual loop tape from way back when that has nothing to do with who I am today. It doesn't add to what I do, make me better at what I do or help anyone else get better at what they do. Each year it gets quieter and quieter, hence not having much to leave. This has been a good year and I'm grateful.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, sends me emails about it and leaves comments. It feels really nice. May your next year be filled with ease and fun. The happiest New Year to all of you.

Happy Holidays December 26, 2013

What a great couple of days. With the dog being a chewing machine we thought it best to stay put for Christmas and Christmas eve so we planned a menu and started cooking. Christmas Eve was stuffed artichokes, linguini with clam sauce, cream puffs and chocolate chip cookies. Christmas was stuffed mushrooms, antipasti, a vegetable roast with a cilantro curry sauce and apple pie. Plus more cream puffs and cookies. In between we spoke to a ton of family and friends, but not for too long because heaven forbid a morsel of food gets ignored.

The cream puffs were a major hit. Joe dropped some off with our neighbors and now we're the building sweethearts.

Little Sally Woo Hoo got all sorts of great loot, from stuffies to chew toys to a peanut butter laced dinner and a yogurt laced lunch. Every walk has been filled with tourists wanting to pet her, meet her, take their picture with her and now she pulls on the leash toward the local hotel so she can sit in front of it and be admired. Oh, to be this dog.

The happiest holidays all.

First Play Group December 21, 2013

I love this dog. She's a cross between Einstein and a dented can. 

We barely had to train her to sit, lay down, go to the door if she wants to go out. She got it immediately. She eats from food dispensing toys to slow her down - one spins, one rolls - and she got it first try. She's learning 'leave it' and is actually starting to leave it, which amazes me given what good food and pebbles and cardboard New York City streets have. She loves to sit on the corner and be fawned over by the parade of life that goes by and she's even learning not to jump on strangers. Not bad for ten weeks old. 

She careens into walls, into us, she's too lazy to get off her bed so she tumbles butt over head to get off. She barks at plants, at a flag waving two blocks south, at her water dish. I'll move to sit with her and she'll dive on my lap and flip onto her back and freeze, which means rub her chest and head. She kills me she's so completely transparent.

We took her to a puppy play group and at first she hid behind Joe, under a chair, behind me. Then a terrier her size came over. Ginger sniffed at him, then slowly inched out from hiding. Five minutes later she was a banshee, running amok. Chances are she's never played with puppies her age or size and oy did she love it.

Last night she saw a neighbor's door was open and charged into their apartment looking for their boxer. That's what's so interesting about this pup, seeing what she's fearless over and seeing what scares her. It doesn't always make sense, but to her it does and right now that's what matters.

Settling In December 17, 2013

I think she's getting comfortable.

Ginger December 14, 2013

I fell in love with a picture of a grown pitbull on a kill shelter’s site. Joe had been looking at puppies because he didn’t really want a dog who was the age Opal would be. If I wanted her, however, he was ready to go get her. Then she got adopted.

A few days later Joe got a text from Joan, the woman who fostered Opal for the ASPCA. A very young puppy had been abandoned and Joan had her. Did we want to meet her?

Joan had kept Opal’s sister who looked identical to Opal and sent us a picture of the puppy with Opal's sister. Though we liked that there was a connection to Opal I fell apart, not sure I was ready for a new dog. But Joan also sent us a picture of the puppy with her other dog, a pit that looked like the adult version of this tiny pup. The puppy looked so fragile, so exhausted, so sweet. We knew that if we met her we’d take her, but meeting her would also show us if we were ready.

Long story short, we have a new puppy. A growly, grunty, nasally pipsqueak of a pitbull we've named Ginger. My first day with her I panicked – she was so different, so not what I knew and I missed my Opal terribly. Within 24 hours I was turned around. This dog is completely herself – Joan called her a badass and now I know why. She’s a seven-pound chatterbox of a battering ram who plows her stuffies around the kitchen then dives on her bed and throws them into the air. She's a constant sound effect; what I thought was wheezing is her version of gurgling chatter. During the night she snores like a beast, bleats like a lamb and squeaks like a piglet when she dreams.

I have no poetry to talk about her since she’s up every two hours at night howling to pee and we haven’t slept much in days. What I do have is smitten love for this dog. She has a mad crush on Joe and wails every time he leaves the kitchen, but from the looks of things the crush is mutual.

We didn’t replace our Opal; we added to our family. The last few days I find myself asking Opal for help, for guidance, when this little one is dragging her bed across the kitchen floor or wailing because she's been left alone for twelve seconds. I swear I hear Opal laugh - she's been there herself. She says don't worry little one and I don't know if she's talking to Ginger or me, but it all becomes okay.