Pamela Harris

My Personal Dictionary November 14, 2012

Every so often I dig through the settings on my phone to get to my personal dictionary. This dictionary saves 'my' words - words I text, email or use to search - that aren't in the established dictionary. It saves misspells, too, which is why I go in now and then to clean it out.

I'm always surprised by how revealing the word list is. This week was a self-portrait: Amex, because I got hacked; Abeille is a restaurant where Dawn and I recently had breakfast; Addidas because I need new sneakers; blunch because we couldn't decide on breakfast or lunch and split the difference.

Scrolling down the list, ass is followed by asshat and I can't wait to get to shituation because I'll have to pass pooblem, a dictionary favorite. These etched their way in when I was struggling with something I was working on and texted Brian, a fellow writer:

Me: 'I have a pooblem.'

Brian: 'A shituation?'

Me: 'Deficately'

Brian: 'Ass me anything'

Me: 'I tip my shat to you'

I'm elegantly redeemed by Nauman, Guggenheim, Didion and DiSuvero, but barely, since suddenly there's fuckle. There's also Falafart, farted, Farticle, farting, Fartis and Harrfart. Stuck in the middle of this, next to Frankenstein, is Fluffyllis. I don't know what a Fluffyllis is, but I'm keeping it.

Chemo is still there from when my mom was still alive.

Dupchik is from THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN, LoM is for the American TV version of LIFE ON MARS, there's NUMB3RS and FREAKS - egad we watch a lot of TV. And we eat: avocado, Babbo, Citerella, cockles, cupcake, donut, edamame, greenmarket, hummus, lychees - I hit rigatoni and still, the food keeps coming.

CAA, WME, Miranda, ProdCo and FTVS let me feel optimistic workwise, as does shortlisted. Musicality makes me feel smart, but then there's narraring. Prunes makes me wonder how old I am, but craption tells me it'll all be okay. It's a curated document of a life, this dictionary. It says I like to eat, work, watch TV, read, look at art, make up words that celebrate bodily functions, and spend time with my beau and friends. That's pretty much right on the truth.

Running The Books November 12, 2012

In September 2011 I got offered a three-month freelance gig at Random House Books. I make my living as a writer and artist and my income has highs and lows. I was in the thick of a low when this gig came from nowhere, a true gift from above.

I hadn't worked for anyone in 20 years and had never worked in book publishing. My last job had been at Business Week Magazine as an assistant art director, a job I made part time then no time once I started exhibiting. This job was in the cookbook division, working on a new networking site centered around cooking. The website was in the test phase and I would be comparing print cookbooks to their digital versions. Any error, whether font or image or style or a 1/4 teaspoon that should be a 1/2, I would submit to be fixed.

My first week there I barely looked up. There were 8 freelancers and we were divvied between Mac and Microsoft to make sure the domain worked on both platforms. I got Microsoft, a foreign territory, and this mixed with publishing language, style sheets and the website itself made my focus absolute.

My second week there I was starting to get comfortable and while pondering lunch a fellow freelancer came in, wild eyed, carrying piles of books. She dropped the books on her desk and whispered, "They're free." Free? Heat started working its way up my face. She nodded. "5 floors are moving. Editors are cleaning out their offices and whatever they don't want go in red bookcases." My dignity and cool -- free books! -- chucked their dignity and cool and I quickly stood. I was going on a book run.

We hurried out of our office, then immediately slowed as we walked past offices, cubicles, conference rooms. I had a nonchalant smile pasted on, casual, calm, hello I live with ease. On the elevator my co-worker hit the button for 17 and our ID's got us through electronic doors. We entered the massive floor and my heart started hammering - there were red bookshelves everywhere. I took a second to case the floor and headed toward the back.

On the first red bookshelf I found PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austin and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Seth Grahame-Smith. Pluck pluck, my pile started. I added BRINGING OUT THE DEAD by Joe Connelly and SPARTINA by John Casey. OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout and A GATE AT THE STAIRS by Lorrie Moore. I love my job! TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk, LAY THE FAVORITE by Beth Raymer, ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson, Claire Messud's THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN - these were hard cover first editions! Kate Christensen and Jonathan Tropper were piled on Tim O'Brien who was sitting on SUNDAY SUPPERS AT LUCQUES by Suzane Goin.

I looked around at empty boxes, but knew they were for editors. Living with spiritual principles means no stealing so I grabbed my load, told my co-worker I was heading back - she had a Picasso book by John Richardson! How did I miss that?! Oh my God was there another?! - and took the stairs down. My office had walls of empty bookshelves and I dumped my load then headed for the elevator. It was lunch time. I was on lunch.

A week later I had filled 12 bookshelves. The free books sitting idly 10 floors above had become an obsession, one I was coming in early for, leaving late for, not taking lunch for. And then I heard that Judith Jones, the editor for Julia Child, Madhur Jaffery, John Updike - the woman who wrote MY LIFE IN FOOD and had discovered THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK - had emptied her office, and my eyes rolled back and a full book seizure hit: I had to get up there. Right now.

I love to read and I love to cook and it means something to have THE BREAKFAST BOOK by Marion Cunningham with what might be Judith Jones's 'what the - ?' notes and corrections sprinkled throughout. I wasn't just grabbing to grab, but knew I was heading toward the shitter when one afternoon - by this point I was taking the stairs since I couldn't wait for the elevator - I got stuck in a stairwell, unable to enter a door I had gone through the day before. The move had begun and, panic rising, it took 15 floors of trying doors before I was able to enter a floor. Despite this, my fix was only brought under control when the move finished and the red bookcases disappeared.

Post move I wandered to the new floors and discovered that each floor had a shelf, sometimes a bookcase, that held free books. By now I was out of shelf space at home and roamed mostly to step away from the computer and clear my head. When the freelance job ended I was glad to be back home, though I would still twitch for those red shelves. When I get the itch now I glance over at THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER by Ann Packer, THE PESTHOUSE by Jim Crace, READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN by Azar Nafisi and THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman. They're books I've yet to read and they take the twitch away. Just for today.

First Job November 8, 2012

I came to New York a week after graduating from art school. Wearing a suit, bag and shoes my mother bought me I landed a job as an assistant to the owner of a by-appointment-only fashion salon. It was a glorified maid's job, but it was cash under the table. Plus, I could buy clothes at wholesale and I needed them.

The chain-smoking owner was a chic, fifty-something ex-Radio City Rockette. She ran her business illegally out of her posh twenty-fifth floor Lincoln Center pied-a-tierre, which she moved into after divorcing herself from her Long Island life as a doctor's wife. The two of us, plus Cocoa, her miniature poodle, made up her business.

My job consisted of offering tea to her semi-famous clients, vacuuming, discreetly retrieving and hanging up clothes as they were flung about, and feeding and walking Cocoa. Within two weeks I learned all there was to know about how not to run a business, and how to do it with Scarlet O'Hara pluck. The Rockette was at the tail end of her transformation from a suburban country clubber who nibbled lunch at the Nineteenth Hole to a cultured businesswoman with an urbane and exciting life. A dozen silly bill collectors weren't about to bust her fantasy, fiddle-de-dee.

Cocoa was as regal as the Rockette. When I'd run her out to do her business she'd glare if I tried to rush her, then she’d take her time choosing a perfect patch of grass that gave her lots of privacy.

One afternoon the Rockette was modeling clothes for her biggest client, a second tier TV talk show host. "Do you see how this blouse defines my bust?" the Rockette said, cupping her bosom to exaggerate her point. As she did, Cocoa began to heave. The Rockette snapped her fingers at me. "Pammy, please don't let Cocoa wretch on the rug." I scooped Cocoa up, grabbed her leash and ran for the elevator.

Outside, I gently put Cocoa down. She caught her breath as her heaving subsided, though her little body still jerked with each heartbeat. When she arched her back I saw she wasn't sick -- she had to poop. Cocoa looked around and she had to go so badly she could barely walk. There was no grass in sight but a tree had just been planted in front of a new, upscale restaurant. I carried Cocoa to the tree and she assumed the position.

A few seconds passed and she was still hunched over. A half-minute passed and she hadn't straightened up. I glanced down and found her big eyes pleading into mine. I had put her in full view of the restaurant! I blocked the diner's view, but Cocoa's expression didn't change. I stared at her, confused, then hesitantly glanced behind her. There, hanging out of her bum, was a three-inch hank of green yarn. People in the restaurant began to point, so I bent down, tilted her back until the string was on the ground, and placed my toe on the yarn. Ever so gently I stood, pulling her with me as I went. That yarn was over fifteen inches long and once Cocoa was relieved of it she wanted a cigarette as badly as I did. As I smoked, we couldn't look at each other.

I took Cocoa for a walk around the block to help her recover and she held her head high. If I just took the equivalent of a yarn dump in front of forty people, would I? Cocoa knew who she was and what she deserved and I wanted that. I wanted the expectation that I had a right to claim something for mine. That I could have this right was an epiphany. When the bill collectors came two months later the Rockette lost her business. She couldn't afford to pay me any severance so instead gave me a $1000 hand-made beaded belt. "Better you than the IRS, right Cocoa?" she said as she gave her little poodle a squeeze, then quickly dropped her on the bed and began to furiously pilfer her own stock. I gave Cocoa a little green sweater which she refused to try on, and as I left I saw Cocoa casually stroll onto a discarded $3000 cashmere jacket, hunch her little body up, and, ever faithful to her owner, take a massive crap on it.

Storm Week November 7, 2012

(photo above by Pam Sommers)

My good friend Pam took the picture of the storm-damaged dumpling sign above and knew I'd love it. Not much is better than a nice dump.

Joe and I lost power, heat and hot water from Monday to Saturday. We have a gas stove and were able to cook, but by Wednesday we had to toss what hadn't been eaten since the fridge got warm. He had to go to Queens (he rode his bike) and I walked 40 blocks uptown to Pam's - she hadn't lost power - for a cup of coffee and a break from the cold. On my way back down I passed the Old Homestead restaurant and saw the staff grilling all kinds of meat out front. They were giving away steak sandwiches to anyone who wanted one since the meat had gotten to the 'eat it or chuck it' stage. It was nice to see that kind of generosity.

Midtown Billboard October 28, 2012

I moved to NYC over twenty years ago and immediately noticed all the hand-painted billboards. A lot of artists used to earn a living painting them and for a nanosecond it was my fantasy job. Custom billboards are now a rarity, but I noticed this one on my way to a meeting midtown.

Aunt Charlotte's House October 28, 2012

My auntie lives in a midtown highrise, on a high floor that overlooks the Hudson and lower Manhattan. She works in the theater and whenever there are fireworks Joe and I watch them with her and a few of her great theater friends. We cook, my aunt cooks and I try to bring Brownies Cockaigne from the Joy of Cooking:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Melt in a saucepan:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Let cool. Beat until light in color:

4 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

Gradually add and continue beating until thick:

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

With a few swift strokes stir in the cooled chocolate/butter until just combined. With a wooden spoon stir in until just combined:

1 cup all-purpose flour

I like to gently mix in:

1 cup chopped pecans

Scrape batter into pan and bake about 25 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Try not to eat the whole pan at one sitting.