Pamela Harris

House Hunting 2 August 25, 2016

We went house hunting again last week. The plan was to take a quick look at four houses across the Hudson, near Woodstock. Then we'd take a second, longer look at the artists house I fell in love with.

A major rain storm started the day and we slogged our way up the Taconic and over the Rhinecliff Bridge. Woodstock is more expensive, more populated and has higher taxes than the east side of the Hudson, but it has great infrastructure and internet. The four houses were near each other and though each had something we liked, two got offers before we even walked up the driveway, and a third house got an offer right after we saw it. The fourth we didn't like enough to pursue.

It was still raining when we came back across the Hudson, but we were early so we went to a little lunch spot and sat in the car with Ginger to eat. Then the sun came out, and we went back to the artists house for a second look.

We had gotten a great lead for a contractor, and he was waiting when we pulled in. We were all early, as was the sellers broker. The driveway was muddy from the rains and while waiting for our broker to arrive the sellers broker and I began strolling the property. We walked past the garage, then walked out around the studio.

A quick layout of the house, left to right: studio, a double garage, an entry door to a mud room, then the main house. Inside the garage a half wall divides the space, with room for a car on the right and a small lawnmower storage area on the left. Here, two steps lead up to the studio. Once you enter through a door you come out onto a platform (I learned the family used it to put on plays) that's maybe a ten or twelve foot square, then across the platform, down a few steps, you're in the first of two main rooms of the studio. I don't know the history of the house except it was built in the 60s, but the architect and Waldorf School founder Rudolph Steiner had to be a major influence in the construction of the studio. It's very organic in how one room flows into the next, and many elements in it, such as window shape and even room shape, are all designed to integrate the structure seamlessly into nature.

In this first main room of the studio, there's a back door off to the right and big sliders to the left. It's very bright with lots of windows, maybe twelve by fourteen in size, maybe bigger. It takes a few minutes to realize the space isn't square, that the back door is somehow on its own wall. Imagine four and a third walls, the third wall being home to the door. This room then jogs a little to the left and connects to the larger room of the studio, which is maybe fifteen by eighteen. It could be bigger, it's hard to tell. Nothing is square once you cross into this room with its five walls and odd-shaped windows. The double front doors are large, heavy, handmade, and look like something that Fred and Wilma Flintstone might put on their house. The whole studio looks like something out of the stone age, but with a clapboard exterior and a concrete floor. It's funky and kind of amazing when you're standing in the middle of it. All you see is nature.

Outside, everything was wildly overgrown. The sellers broker and I started walking the property and the first thing I see is a giant black and yellow spider. It was drying on a web that was strung up between two large bushy flowers near the studio. I get the strongest pang when I see it - I haven't seen this kind of spider since I was six. Back then I watched a spider just like it guard an egg sack it had sewn onto a chain link fence. Floating up out of the sack were hundreds of tiny baby spiders, each attached to a single strand of silk. They drifted into the air and seemed to hover there, no rush to leave. Remembering them I can smell cattails and the stream that used to be there. For a second I'm home again, really home.

We walk two more feet and a garter snake whips past us and disappears into the garden the spider has also taken for home. I get another pang, this one as strong as the spider. The second house I grew up was surrounded by woods and when things got crazy in the house I'd run through the trees looking for garter snakes.

At this point I'm near tears, in love with this crazy artists house.

Our broker pulled in and we all entered the mud room and then the house. Straight ahead were basement stairs, but a quick left up two steps took us into the kitchen.

The kitchen was open to the living dining, there were three bedrooms and a bath, and a staircase that led upstairs (it was an attic that had been finished, sort of). Joe began walking the house with the contractor and I roamed room to room, getting a feel for the place. Then I went into the studio and stood there. It took four minutes to realize I wanted this house.

I went back inside and our broker was sitting at the kitchen table talking with the seller's broker. "Those specimens!" our broker kept saying. It was true; if you could untangle the landscape there were roses and lilies and big pink things and every other kind of flower. "You could put an island here," she said, gesturing the length of the kitchen. Though the kitchen is nice size, it feels small for an island.

As a workspace the kitchen is basically L-shaped. You enter the kitchen at the elbow of the L and there's a counter immediately to your left. Because of the entrance you're locked in to counter depth here, which houses the sink and dishwasher. A stove or refrigerator will be too deep and will block the entrance. These appliances are on a wall in the center of the house, which is kind of lousy. The other wall is floor to ceiling windows, so anything here means reconstruction. It's a tough space but I know I could make it work.

Joe had finished walking the house with the contractor and the three of us went into the studio. The contractor pointed out an interior wall that was damp to the touch and said the best way to fix it was to excavate the exterior garden and put down a moisture barrier. The roof of the studio had been slathered in tar many times, and it needed to be fixed for real. There were a few code violations in the house, and though most were straightforward fixes one called the wiring into question. The basement was wet, not just from the rain, the water heater needed to be replaced, the furnace was old and rusted, and twenty-six windows needed to be replaced. The contractor figured it'd be about $50,000-$65,000 to do a basic kitchen and make the house livable.

In this walk through you could see all the ways this house had been loved, but not maintained. A deep look into the corners showed that the major systems were nearing their end. We hadn't even gotten to the biggest concern, which was a cracked bathroom floor. It was a kind of crack that suggested the foundation was moving, or something worse. Plus, it looked like beadboard had been put up on the bathroom walls recently, as if to cover something. This unknown hadn't yet factored into the reno budget.

We came home and crunched numbers. There were things we could wait and do over time, like reno the upstairs, add a second bath, get rid of the woodstove in the living room and open the fireplace for an insert, etc. When you start to look at a reno, though, there are certain things not worth putting off. If we need to fix the plumbing in the kitchen we might as well put in plumbing for the upstairs bath since we'll already have the ceiling open. The house had oil and propane and was a mishmash of steam and propane heat, so if we wanted to get rid of the steam radiators and put in radiant heat or something energy efficient, we 'd want to do it now if walls and floors are opened. We'd get rid of the propane completely, but it meant the studio would need a new heating system. But wait - the heating system in the studio was shot, so we need to figure out how to heat it.

Will we run into asbestos? Lead paint? Probably. We need a contingency in our budget since this takes special tradespeople to remove. Going into an older house means dealing with older house problems. The more work we do, the more issues we'll find.

We did comps for the area, which were suprisingly low. Shockingly low. Not much has been selling, high or low. We worked out our numbers again, made an offer, they countered, we countered. We were still too far apart on the price.

I had a nagging feeling that the $10,000 fix for the wet studio wall and new studio roof was really a band-aid, since the whole structure's handmade quality was showing its age. I gave it a decade at most before it needed to be taken down to the studs and rebuilt. Given everything about it is custom, it would cost the equivalent of what it would cost to build a studio from scratch. A dream studio.

Joe had real concerns, too. We did one more round of offers and they met our price with a big contingency: the house would be sold as is, regardless of what a house and septic inspection might reveal. It meant no further negotiations, no matter what. This felt too risky, so we walked away given the condition of the house.

The artists house will now be someone else's house. It hurts, but onward we go.

House Hunting August 7, 2016

We've finally gotten serious with house hunting. It's not that we weren't serious when we started two years ago. I've been holding us up. I have my creative community and work is busy and will I be able to find a greenmarket -- it's the country and there are farms everywhere -- and oh my God it's a big change and my cell service is spotty and I'll have to drive versus walk everywhere and blah blah blah and oh uh er.

But it's also been that nothing has compared to the very first property we saw. The very, very first house we saw wasn't a house but a 10,000 square foot barn on five acres. We don't have a big budget, but we do have big romantic notions of what 'home' might be. Or, I do. (Joe would live in a yurt with a composting toilet and a gray water system.) This barn had a well and a septic already in and we were thinking, as we watched a woodchuck scurry into it, if we got it for $50,000 ... We didn't.

The next home that I got a twang from was an old brick firehouse that was surprisingly affordable. It was near the Hudson River, which you could see from the upstairs bedroom if you craned your neck. The main room had a gorgeous wooden ceiling and you could drive your car right into the living room. It also had a couple of inches of water in the basement, and would always have a couple of inches of water in the basement.

Mold was the issue with the next house I really liked. This house was built in the early 1900's and had high ceilings, wide plank floors, good sized rooms, and was in a beautiful part of Columbia County. It backed up to a small river, which you could see and hear from the deck. Upstairs, original William Morris wallpaper still lined the hallway, yet much of it had gracefully peeled back and hung limply, exposing swaths of dense black dots. Getting rid of mold is a big deal - it's toxic and you need to call in special crews to do this. This house was filled with it, and I didn't want to take it on.

There was a church I fell in love with, but its septic was shot. It was in the Berkshires and a shot septic rarely means taking the old one out and putting a new one in. Because of the land, this one could be complicated and we had already passed on a house because of septic issues.

We kept looking. Some houses looked nothing like the listing pictures. Some had real structural issues - I got nauseous in the upstairs of one house because the floors were so tilted. One house I loved it and Joe didn't. One house he loved and I didn't.

During all this I'd have quiet moments of panic. I've lived in New York forever and it's home. The creative community I have here is tight, especially my bi-weekly studies with Wynn Handman and actors. Work has been really good and I'm in a solid flow with writing. I have drawings in a show opening out of town next month and though I could get the work there from anywhere, living here, the dealer comes in and takes the work. I wave as she drives off.

In New York I walk everywhere, I food shop daily, if there's anything I need it's here. Friends and I get together spur of the moment - in fifteen minutes we can be having coffee. We network, hear of opportunities, share opportunities, make things together. Plus, these friendships are deep.

But. But, but, but. I've written about the noise and the crowds and all the ways the city has changed, and the reality is the city is always changing. I think it's me who's changed. Living in New York City is great when you're young or old, but not somewhere in the middle. I'm tired. The hustle is nonstop.

I knew something was shifting when I got excited about house hunting three weeks ago. A farmhouse on 4 acres with a barn and a pool had been ticking down in price, and though the price was still high I finally saw those magic words: Owners no longer use. All offers considered.

We went and walked the property, stood around the pool, stood in the house. The whole time we could hear farm equipment from the huge farm behind it. Despite how sweet the house was, it was loud. Plus, the barn wouldn't work as a studio.

Two more houses didn't work for us, and then we went to see the fourth house. It was a ranch built in 1960, a bomb shelter of a shape, dropped down at the edge of its ten acre parcel. It had a pristine full basement with a washer and dryer, but to access it you had to go outside. The whole house was recently redone, stripped of any detail, and there was only one bathroom with no room for a second. More importantly, there was no place to work so we'd have to build a studio. But the minute we drove up the steep, winter-challenged driveway I was in love. The setting - I've never seen anything like it. It was right out of a Hudson River Painting, with a wide, long meadow that reached back to perfect woods. Lone birch trees added glimpses of sharp white against all that green and most of the ten acres abutted conservation land. The house was ugly, but the shape was great. Over time we could change it.

I stood outside the house and imagined walking up that meadow and into the woods every morning. A quarter mile away was an Olympic-sized pool, which means I could start swimming. The house was close enough to a train, close enough to the Taconic, and when I had to come back to the city it'd be effortless. That setting! I was hooked.

There was one more house to look at, one Joe really wanted to see and I didn't. It looked like an extended cape, but it was so hidden behind wild overgrowth it was tough to see in the pictures. It had a funky studio attached to it that looked hand built, odd-shaped. The house came with an acre and a half and at the edge of the property was a small outbuilding that looked like it was falling down. All of it photographed poorly and looked like a wreck.

We pulled in to see it and I stayed outside with Ginger while Joe went in. There were a few sculptures in the grass near the trees. The driveway was busted up and had grass growing through it. A huge tree had two swings hanging from a limb, and the side of the house had a big hairy stretch of knee-high grass that extended past the outbuilding. The white paint on the house was cracked and chipped and the windows looked thin and shaky.

Joe was in the house longer than usual and when he came out I could tell he was excited. I was ready to move to the bomb shelter, but I walked the property, then went in. And for the first time ever, with all the houses we've seen, I stood in a dump of a living room and felt like I was home.

I can't say what it was about this house. It had an artist's hand everywhere. The kitchen was raw, but there was an odd functionality to it, a mish mash where you could see every stroke this artist made creating it. One of the bedrooms had very old grasscloth on the walls - I love grasscloth - and though it would most likely have to come down because of its condition, you could see it was put up with love. What I thought would be my least favorite thing about this house - the studio - became my favorite, despite its misshapen walls and what I thought were haphazardly placed windows. The studio is really three rooms, well integrated into the house and perfectly balanced in terms of work areas. And I realized that the way those windows were placed probably let in maximum light and decreased shadows, perfect for making sculpture.

The kitchen needs a reno, probably to the studs. The upstairs is one big open room and hasn't been touched since the 60's. The house is oddly turned around, i.e the front of the house is in the back, another artistic surprise. There's only one bathroom and it's rough, and all the windows need to be replaced. The ten acre ranch we could go in at asking and be done with, and this house is near the high of our budget. Despite this, I was confused when we drove away.

We made a plan to go see both houses again. Two days before we were to do this I came home and Joe was standing in the kitchen, waiting for me. "I have bad news," he said. "The artist's house got an offer," I said, fearing that was it. That was the moment I knew I wanted that house over the ranch. He shook his head. "No," he said, "There's no internet."

And that was it. We need a certain speed to be able to work from home. The bomb shelter had zero internet, and the artists house had a little faster than dial-up. Data caps with satellite won't work for us, even if we do a blend of satellite and DSL. Here, in the most modern of worlds, we were foiled by something I didn't see coming.

It took me a week to delete the photos of both houses from my phone. A few days ago I was looking at the MLS and saw the ten acres got an offer. I felt a pang, but also felt relief that the artist's house was still sitting there. I told myself that this is going to go the way it's supposed to go, and our house is out there somewhere. What really mattered was just for today, I was finally ready to move.

Two days ago I went down the rabbit hole reading a local upstate blog. I caught a headline about Cuomo pledging broadband for all by the year 2018. Maybe even by next summer. Suddenly, the artists house became a possibility again. We'd have to suffer for a year.

We had already made plans to go see new houses in another county that has great internet, but we're going to look at that house again this week. I've already packed a tape measure and a drawing pad. We're looking into every internet option that might get us through until the new lines are in, and we're checking the details of broadband coming. Moving out of the city, I'll have to learn patience. Waiting for internet might be a good place to start.

What made you buy your house? Have you ever fixed up a wreck? BTW, did you use a kitchen designer, or do it yourself?

Easing Into Summer June 2, 2016

I've been seeing a ton of plays. LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and BURIED CHILD and ECLIPSED and THE FATHER and FOOL FOR LOVE. One of my favorites, even in that line-up was NOISES OFF. I laughed myself out of my chair.

I have a theater crew who I see most of the plays with. Two of our crew were in the reading I did in December. All of us usually go out before or after whatever we've just seen to hash it over. And then we gossip a little, then spend a few hours talking about whatever.

For the first time in all my years in New York, I feel like I finally have a creative community. As a visual artist I make studio visits and have studio visits, and I have one or two close painter friends who I speak with regularly. But the art world has always been more isolating. Maybe because it's not collaborative the way theater or TV or film is. Or maybe it's because I'm changing. Studying with Wynn has opened me up in ways I didn't know I was closed. Whatever it is, I love getting together with my crew once a week and rubbing noses.

First Time Ever March 16, 2016

(photo by David Pultz)

About a month ago I sat down to write about Donald Trump. But where to begin?

He's been on and off in the background since I moved to New York. I don't remember if the first time I noticed him in the mainstream press was because he and his then wife, Ivana, bought Mar-a-Lago and gold-plated everything in it. He built Trump Tower midtown and that, too, shimmered with the look of gold. The joke was he didn't: he started an airline, then it failed. He went bankrupt then went bankrupt again. Ivana was out and Marla Maples was in. I don't begrudge a person a failed relationship, yet I remember Page Six had a raucous time with him.

The thing is, nobody took him seriously. He was all bluster and balls, but when you wiped his ego away there was no there there. If he popped up in the press it was entertainment, nothing more.

My perception of him began to change when construction began on Trump Soho, a condo-hotel highrise on Spring Street near my house. (Supposedly, Trump sold his name to the developers and manages Trump Soho versus owns it.) The neighborhood protested, to no effect. Excavation at the site began and soon after workers hit human remains. They discovered 190 bodies were buried in the lot, in vaults, multiracial members of a church from the 1800's (see photo above). The NYT described the find as, "It is not just that a great window has opened on 19th-century urban life (one-third of the remains were those of children, and half of them suffered from rickets). A link has been forged to New Yorkers who were in the forefront of early battles against slavery."

Archaeologists were called and after that the story gets gray. Out my window construction barely stopped. Some articles say that the bodies were quickly moved to study them out of the public eye, "to respect the privacy of deceased individuals." What happened next depends on what article you read, since many have opposing facts. It does seem that Trump was supposed to bury the remains elsewhere and instead the remains disappeared. As did the story.

The ghosts must not have been happy. A worker fell off the roof and died. Pre-sales for the condos were reported to be brisk, but this was a lie. Lawsuits followed and Trump Soho went into foreclosure.

Soon after, a documentary, YOU'VE BEEN TRUMPED, played the festival circuit. It documented Donald Trump's attempts to build a golf course on an environmentally sensitive stretch of coastline in Scotland and how the locals tried to prevent it. It got built with the promise that it would generate 6,000 jobs, but ultimately added only 200. It was reported that Trump was bullying locals to get their land, leaving them without electricity or water. When a wind farm was proposed within eyesight of the golf course Trump opposed it. Another legal battle followed. He lost (so far), but by this point Trump was moving more and more into the public view. It meant his responses to those opposing him were, too. You're a loser, you're a fool, you're totally irrevelant, you're stupid. For the very first time I got see that Trump was a bully.

I grew up with a bully. My sister wasn't savvy like Trump nor as personable, but like him she had absolute belief in the truth of her convictions, no matter how completely lacking in truth they might be. The fury in her behavior caused real fear in others - you could call it terror - and I saw that most people gave her what she wanted to avoid being humiliated by her wrath.

The way I dealt with her changed over the years. When I was little I'd run when she lifted her fists. In my teens I avoided her as much as I could. If we were home alone I went out or pulled all-nighters with friends, whatever it took to not see her. My face would burn at the insults she'd levee and I'd panic at her threats. As I got older I'd go silent to show my opposition, or crack a joke to crack the tension, or keep my visits brief. Deep down I soothed my hurt by feeling smarter than she was, more sophisticated, more independent. It wasn't until my thirties that I realized how afraid of her I was. I still remained inert around her, diffusing, diffusing, diffusing.

And then one day I didn't. I was in Massachusetts to take my mother to chemo and an argument over her care escalated. My sister threatened to "kick my fucking ass and smash my fucking face in." My heart pounded and I could feel myself start to slide into ignore it, what a fucking asshole, be cool, and something in me stopped that slide. I looked at my sister and for the very first time saw an equal, not someone better or worse than me. From nowhere I told her I loved her, and that I always wanted her to love me, and I was sad that we never felt like sisters. I was matter of fact, calm. And then I told her I wasn't afraid of her anymore. At this she raised her fists like she always did. For the first time ever, I clenched my own. She must have seen something in my face because she suddenly screamed and ran out the front door. I watched her run in circles on the front yard, screaming in frustration. I looked at my mother, who shrugged like she always did, and in that moment I told my mother I loved her. She patted my hand and said that was nice. "Now you tell me," I said. Neither of us had ever said those words to each other and she dodged - that's nice dear - and ducked - okay dear - then after a couple of more pokes finally she told me.

My sister came back in the house, silent, and for the first time ever I saw hate in her eyes. I grinned and boasted, "Mom just told me she loved me." I put my arm around my mother and possessively patted her shoulder. "I love you both," my mother said. My sister's face hardened more. I didn't care.

Two friends of mine know Donald Trump. "It's all a front," they say. "He's not like that. He's doing this for show." They quickly add, "He'll never win." In this world we're living in, do all bullies lose?

The Ball Dog January 24, 2016

We weren't sure what to expect with Ginger and the snow. She loved it last year, but last year she was a tyke, a tiny thing, so we did a lot of carrying and quick plays.

Yesterday we went out at 6:00 am for a family walk (it was my birthday, and on birthdays and holidays we always do family walks) and she was crazed. The deeper the snow, the deeper she plunged into it. She loves snowdrifts and likes to walk wherever it isn't plowed. We came home and she whined for an hour, needing to go back out. Having to go back out.

Today we spent an hour at a basketball court around the corner. It was her second walk - after the first she came home long enough to warm up, eat, nap and get a cookie. Right now she's behind me snoring, though she'll wake up any minute because the meatballs Joe are cooking are just about done. With the blizzard, my birthday continued into today and a perfect dinner is coming right up.

The New Year December 31, 2015

What to bring into the new year with me and what to leave behind:

In: Lately I've been fearing that I eat like a pig. I eat out a bit with friends, but mostly I'm home or out with Joe. The last month I've been having an exceptionally good time with food and there have been instances with Joe where I don't think twice about picking something out of my tooth, or grabbing the hunk of whatever fell off my fork and onto the table back up with my fingers and shoving it into my mouth. I'm talking the whole time, btw, not missing a beat. I haven't wiped something off my shirt and plopped it in my mouth, nor have I eaten anything that fell on the floor. These might simply be 'yet's.' HP, let me be a little more elegant while dining.

Out: Broken sleep. Ginger, we love you madly. I could list a million ways we love you here, but I'm too tired to make sense of them. No more wanting to go out at 3:00 or 4:00 to play. Sleep until 6:00. Give me a solid eight hours. I'll gladly take seven. Six, unbroken. I look like I'm eighty these days from lack of sleep.

In: Pretty much what my life already is. This year I moved into a new place with accepting what is and not getting too hung up on what isn't. I have my moments still, mostly with work, but they don't last long. This year I really got to see that I persevere, no matter what.

The happiest New Year to everyone I know. xoxo

Ahhhhhhh December 26, 2015

The happiest holiday to all. It's been a while since I've posted and for a few days now I've been planning to, but goofing off has gotten in the way. I had to mutter and putter this way, then pat the Ginger that way. Then roam to the fridge and take a bite of everything in it, then get on the couch and ponder what to watch. In short it's been a perfect couple of days.

What's been going on is, I wrote a play. Last Saturday I did a closed read-through with an amazing cast and it was illuminating to hear the words and see kernels of what works and what might not. The reading was a chance for all of us to share the words on the page - it wasn't about performance - but it was a pro cast and they came prepared. This week and next I'm percolating, seeing what comes up.

Putting a reading together is a bit of work. I also directed it, which meant casting it, then meeting individually with each actor. I also got the physical space to hold the reading in and dealt with the numerous details that come up. for anyone considering doing the same, it's worth it. I can't yet see the changes I'll make to the play, but I can feel them. The play is almost ready.

There was also a lot of art business to deal with, most of it good. Most of it: I was on a really nice roll, then a dealer vanished with a painting. The dealer was someone I had never worked with, but she had been around for over twenty years and had a great reputation. It was a private show curated for a corporation, and when it was supposed to come down the dealer suddenly refused to return emails. I called her and she panicked when she heard my voice, then pretty much hung up. We had contracts - this wasn't the usual handshake deal - and after two months of trying to deal with her I reached out to the other artists in the show. They also weren't getting emails or calls returned, so together we wrote, then called the dealer. After another week of silence I'd had enough and called the dealer's client who had sponsored the show. That worked. The painting came back within the week.

Every part of life has been busy and this week and next is delightfully quiet. Purposefully quiet - I'm spur of the moment and not making plans. Anything good to watch that I may have missed?

Anything good to eat that I may have missed eating? I doubt it.

If I don't get off the couch between now and January 1st, the happiest New Year to everyone. I so appreciate all your comments and emails and love hearing your thoughts. May 2016 be golden.

(For those of you who don't live locally, that's a trash can on a subway platform.)

Sergio Sanchez October 29, 2015

In my last post, I mentioned that I found a wallet walking Ginger. It was early in the morning, really early, with the sun just coming up. We were walking near Spring St. and I was half asleep, my eyes absently following the curb. Ginger stopped to sniff a crack in the sidewalk and after a few moments a wallet registered near the gutter.

The wallet was small, designer, the kind that has slots for credit cards and a license, but no opening for money. Maybe you'd carry your money in a clip or cram it into your front pocket. Or maybe you don't need money anymore because of plastic and Apple money and bitcoin.

I picked the wallet up and took a quick look through it. There was a hotel card, a lot of cards for tattoo shops, and then I saw a license. The name on it was Sergio Sanchez and in the picture he had a nice enough face. Ginger and I had a walk to get to, so I put the wallet in my bag, we went to the dog run, and about an hour later we came home. Once she was settled I did a quick search and found many Sergio Sanchez's. I googled his address and a few clicks later I found him.

He was an artist and tattoo artist. I found a few email addresses for him and by the time I made a cup of coffee he had exuberantly written back. He couldn't believe I found it. He was midtown at a hotel and came right down, and after he gave me a huge hug he patted his pockets, like he was looking for money to give me a reward. I didn't want one or need one - I've been mugged and what sucked wasn't just the pain of losing my wallet but losing all the little irreplaceable things I kept in it. Plus, I loved that wallet. I didn't ask Sergio how he felt about losing his wallet, or if he liked his wallet, or how and when it went missing, but I do know that if you lose a wallet you want it back.

The address for this blog is a tag in my emails, so he must've checked it out while we were emailing. He liked the blog and loved Ginger's pictures, and for a thank you he wanted to do a drawing of her. Though I genuinely didn't want anything, how do I say no to that? Could I say no to that?

He seemed like a sincere guy and I know how gratitude in the moment can make you want to give the moon to whomever you want to give it to. I also know that time passes and life gets in the way despite best intentions. I had no expectations whatsoever, and I was surprised when a week or so later he emailed me looking for a hi-res Ginger picture. I sent him a few, still with no expectations. Which is why I was completely shocked and elated when, two months later, his wife emailed me for my address. He had finished the drawing.

The day I found his wallet I checked out his website and saw he had done some gorgeous animal tattoos. Really beautiful. I was on my way out when the drawing showed up and Joe wanted to let me open it. Though I got home very late that night I couldn't wait to see it and carefully opened the package. When I did, my eyes teared up.

The photo above doesn't do the drawing justice. Sergio captured Ginger's essence in his drawing, her angst and excitement and vulnerability and quirky self. His drawing is truly of our dog. It's so beautiful in person and I can't wait for it to come back from the framer so I can hang it.

My tears, though, were also because I was so moved that Sergio Sanchez took the time to do this drawing. He did it with love, too, which says everything about this guy. Humanity can feel like it's cracking and crumbling, to the point where I have to knuckle down and pray for faith. The drawing is a gift in so many ways. Sergio Sanchez, I thank you deeply.

Good Luck Dog September 14, 2015

I'm always interested in why certain posts trigger a lot of emails. The last post certainly did, so I want to reiterate that as far as I know, our building is not for sale. Nor is there a buyout on the horizon.

We are finding money, however. I've hinted and more than hinted that Ginger is keeping off hours, and what this means is she's overwhelmed by all the construction and won't leave the block when the sun is up. She loves the workers and many love her, but the chaos is too much. She's a high energy dog, so she has to get out and run, and this means that Joe has been taking her to the dog run in the middle of the night. Anywhere from 1:00 to 3:00 in the morning she wakes us up, and out they go to play.

We've tried everything to change it and this is what it is right now. I take her out around 6:00 in the morning, sometimes a little later, and we might go to the river or stroll for a walk. Any day now we'll get rid of the middle of the night walk. Any day.

The city is very different at the hours Joe is out. He sees it all, yet he also sees quiet. What we both see, however, whether it's 2:00 in the morning or 6:00 in the morning, is what people lose.

Over a year ago, we were all out for an early morning family walk and there, on the quiet sidewalk, was a fifty, folded neatly in half. A few months later I found a twenty, then Joe found a twenty.

This winter, sitting neatly on the fresh snow, I found another twenty. A few months ago I was wrangling Ginger up Mercer Street and on the middle step of a stoop was a pretty gold elephant charm on a tangled thin gold chain. I could almost see the graceful girl who may have been wearing it, maybe sitting with a guy after their date. Maybe she was nervously playing with the elephant and didn't realize she loosened a loop on the chain.

I found an amazing pair of bisque lamps once with Ginger and after we came home I went back out to get them. We've met groups of twenty-somethings who were so well dressed and so high that when they bent over to pet Ginger, vials of white powder fell out of their top pockets.

Walking Ginger we pass keys, sweaters, scarfs, pants. I once found a pile of Manolo Blahnik shoes, right shoe only, size 11. Two months ago I found a wallet, and when I tracked down the owner he was so relieved to get it back he wanted to do a drawing of Ginger as a thank you. I didn't want a reward, but how could I say no to that?

We have a ceramic tray we put Ginger's money in and last year she bought herself a beautiful winter coat. This year she might buy herself a car harness or a flotation vest. If she finds another twenty, we might even monogram it.

The Buyouts August 24, 2015

Seven years ago a good friend lived on West Broadway, in a small studio. She lived there for over twenty years and then the building sold. She was rent stabilized, which basically means the landlord has to offer a new lease when the old lease is up, at an increase set annually by the city. Rent-stabilized apartments tend to have lower rents than market apartments, often much lower, since a landlord can up the rent any amount desired with the latter once a lease is up.

The general law with rent-stabilization is, once a rent hits $2700 a month, the apartment comes out of stabilization and goes to market rates. When a stabilized apartment becomes vacant, landlords usually renovate it or do enough work to the space to up the rent over $2700 a month and therefore free it from stabilization laws.

There's also rent-control, but rent-control laws went out years ago and these apartments are rare. Our building has two apartments that are still rent-controlled, and these tenants, who moved into the building in the 1950s, probably pay less than $900 a month for a one-bedroom. (Their neighbors pay around $3200 for the exact same apartment.) In addition to the two rent-controlled spaces there are maybe five rent-stabilized apartments left in our building and the rest are market.

Back to the friend who lived on West Broadway. When her building sold, she was offered $20,000 by the new owners to move out. They eventually settled on $50,000, and a month later she moved to Brooklyn. Around this same time a building on Thompson Street sold and one tenant, an elderly woman who had lived there forever, refused to take a buyout. She didn't care what the offer was. She wasn't moving. The new owners started construction around her with the hopes that the inconvenience would make her move, but she got an injunction against them. The building still stands as it was.

I've written about our neighborhood being a giant construction pit and over the last year some of the buyouts we're hearing about have been substantial. A guy with a Pomeranian at one end of the block had a big rent-stabilized apartment in a small townhouse and got $500,000 to move. Across the street, a woman with a Chihuahua inherited a townhouse from her auntie, who paid $50,000 for the building in the '50s. A builder paid her $12 million to move, and she's now in Tribeca.

Another townhouse owner just got $12 million to add his townhouse to the lot of buildings that got knocked down across the street. We watched it get razed this summer. The owner of the lot paid the owners of a nearby building $26 million for air rights, which allows for the new building to be taller than it could. We just heard that Renzo Piano will design the new building that's to rise here, and this ramps everything up a notch.

Renzo Piano designing a building is a big deal. The buyout chatter has risen and it's now moved to our end of the block. Will our owners sell? A mom and pop own our building and they bought it in the 1970s to leave to their kids. Their kids want nothing to do with complaining tenants and constant maintenance, but it's not their call to sell. A few buyers have made big offers to the owners and they've passed, so I don't think this building is going anywhere for a while.

The building next to ours is single-family, artist owned, that if anything may one day be converted to a museum. The building next to that is a small loft building converted to five co-ops. (One frequently rents for $24,000 a month and once the Piano building rises so will that rent.) The two buildings after this are owned by brothers and there's a lot of hopeful buyout chatter there. One of these buildings has rambling, mostly rent-stabilized apartments. The other building has small apartments with shared toilets in the hall and bathtubs in the kitchens. It's real old school New York, or what New York used to be. Our whole block is, really.

Our downstairs rent-stabilized neighbor loves to fantasize about how much he'll hold out for, should our building sell. His price is $250,000, a figure that started at half that amount then steadily ticked up with the rate of neighborhood construction. I don't really think about it, since I don't see it happening anytime soon. It's so easy to get tangled up in what might be, but then it becomes golden hand-cuffs. Ginger would love to move and would probably do so for a good cookie, since she's done with all the construction and the noise and the dust. I'm with her on that. Would you hold out and wait?