Pamela Harris

The other evening we were coming home from our after dinner walk and as we neared our block we passed two elderly men in suits. They were Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly. I leaned to Joe and said, 'Holy shit' and turned around for a second look. Claes Oldenburg lives next door and I see him often, but to see them together was thrilling. It felt like what old New York must have felt like, two art icons casually walking and talking, maybe heading to dinner given their lack of rush yet sense of purpose. CO must be in his 80's and EK is at least 90, and what stood out was their complete lack of self-consciousness.

Oftentimes, when I see a celebrity on the street, no matter how un-self conscious they appear you can sense their antennae looking for a camera. Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly were oblivious. Granted, paparazzi may not stalk them, but it was like seeing Mickey Mantle walk by. Oldenburg's and Kelly's art changed art. They may slip around the city anonymously, but their impact is tremendous.

Top image:

Ellsworth Kelly Colors for a Large Wall 1951 Oil on canvas mounted on sixty-four joined panels 240 x 240 cm The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the artist, 1969

Bottom image:

Claes Oldenburg Clothespin, 1976 (Philadelphia)

Ball Dog June 10, 2014

(top photo by Laura Smith)

Ginger has turned into a ball dog. At first she'd watch it sail past, then eventually she started trotting after it. She'd catch it and parade it around the dog run, showing it to everyone while she bounced it in her jaws. Once in a while she'd bring it back, but she'd usually plop down and shred it. Then we started training her.

We'd throw the ball, she'd chase it, we'd bribe her back with a treat. Drop we'd say and pretty quickly she got it. When she'd drop it Joe would give her a treat then immediately throw it. She'd chase it, bring it back, get a treat, chase it. Pretty soon she started bringing it back and dropping it at our feet on her own, treat or no treat. Within a week we had a ball dog.

Chaos can break out at the dog run and she'll ignore it if we're throwing a ball. Her best friends come lomping onto the run and if she's chasing, she doesn't care. She'll go until she drops, so we'll end it long before she's ready to. Or we'll end it if we want her to play. She's a thief so we have to watch her with toys that aren't hers, but one of the runs supplies piles of balls so if another dog intercepts hers there's always another close by. Early mornings we get into a throwing and chasing rhythm that's a kind of meditation. It's a great way to start the day.

When we leave the run, if she looks like she doesn't want to move I'll give her a ball to carry. She wags the whole way home with it in her mouth, showing it off to dogs and humans alike. I'll take it from her at the end of our block then use it to bribe her up the stairs. When we get home I trade her a treat for the ball and it goes on top of the fridge until we go out again later. This dog loves her routine and happily, we do, too.

Best Evers May 20, 2014

(photo by Bill Carney)

We were walking home together from the dog run and Goofy 1 and Goofy 2 ran up school steps and wouldn't budge. Cookie? Cookie? Cookie? Ginger can see the world from that perch and something she saw turned her into Yoda. Hammy Relic nudged her, nervous. What have you done with my Ginger?

The Blanket Trick May 16, 2014

(photos by Joe Villari)

Despite the weather warming up we've had a few chilly mornings. Coming in from a quick walk on one of those mornings Ginger trotted into the living room and wrangled herself under and into her blanket, until she was perfectly wrapped. I said, "What are you doing cutie?" She stuck her tongue out at me, like duh, what do you think I'm doing.

By the time she demanded breakfast it had warmed up, so Joe took her to the run. It was quiet, but she lucked out with a stick.

Gingerpuss May 6, 2014

Ginger did her usual at 6 a.m., i.e. whining in her bed for a pet on the head. She's not allowed on the furniture so we put her bed right next to ours and if I reach over and scratch her head she curls right up and chews on something. She's lazy when she wakes up and needs a push to get going before we can get her collar on and get her down the stairs. This morning Joe got up and walked down the hall, through the living room and into the kitchen, but she wouldn't follow him in. She sat on her bed looking at me, willing me up so all of us could to head to the kitchen. As a pack.

I rolled away from her stare, not wanting to budge. I could feel her beady eyes on the back of my head and she knew it; she attacked her bed and the carpet, knowing one of us would tell her to knock it off. Joe came in to do that and she happily followed him into the kitchen, now that she had gotten attention.

I rolled back over and looked down the hall into the living room, which is my favorite view in the apartment: a modern pink and brown runner gives way to gray and lavender and lucite and muted beige and pink. The walls are Cream Silk, technically white, but as the light moves around the room the walls change from soft white to cream to a light yellow that makes the whole room glow.

It's so calming to look at I started drifting off, then I saw Ginger bolt through the living room with Joe behind her. Seconds later she bolted the other way with him at her heels. I closed my eyes and suddenly heard a pit bull at a full gallop barreling toward me. An instant later I felt paws and a wet nose on my head—Ginger had leapt into bed. She was scrambling for Joe's side of it just as he tackled her.

The no furniture rule is one I reluctantly adhere to because Joe feels adamant about it. I loved Ginger diving in next to me, though she is getting big. It'd be tough to sleep with her snoring and digging and stretching and grunting and dreaming and kicking the way she does. I work on Joe to let her on the couch -- he hasn't budged an inch but neither have I in my desire -- but it's probably okay that she sleeps in her own bed. At the dog parks the conversation sometimes roams to who lets their dog sleep in their bed and who doesn't and anyone with a dog over thirty pounds almost always wishes they hadn't started letting the dog have free reign. Not because their dog wants to now drive the car or play Candyland, but dogs have no boundaries. If the dog wants to sleep on your head or give you a face full of ass, s/he's going to whether you're there or not. Any thoughts on this? Where does your dog sleep?

Ginger at the Grand April 15, 2014

We're finally starting to get a routine down. Ginger goes out early and does her business, comes back in and reluctantly lounges for a little while, then eats and is out the door by 6:45. She pulls whomever has her across Sixth Ave. and down West Broadway until she gets to the Soho Grand Hotel.

The Soho Grand has a private dog run for guests and has given us and other neighbors a key to it. Almost every morning the same crew shows up: Ginger, Relic, Tufo and Pico. If we try to take Ginger to a different dog run in the morning she lays flat on the sidewalk and digs in. This dog loves her routine, and since I do, too, I'm good not having to think about where to take her as the sun is coming up.

Pico is a Portuguese Water Dog about her age and tomorrow will be their last romp, at least for now. Pico is moving to California and will be missed as much by Ginger as me. He's a kook of a dog, all paws and limbs and goofiness, and Ginger loves getting nutty with him since he plays as hard as she does.

About an hour and a half in we leave the run, usually with Relic, and Ginger drags us to another hotel, The James, to get a cookie. She's thirty-five pounds of muscle and her paws are all fast motion as she tries to tear up the pavement to get there. The neighborhood dogs go so crazy for The James's cookies I went online and dug around until I found them. Given Ginger is going through a phase where she suddenly decides she doesn't want to walk and lays down on the sidewalk, in a dirt pile, in the middle of Sixth Ave., I pull a piece of one of these cookies out and wave it and she's up and moving.

She's coming along great, but she's growing so fast she's having a hard time making it down the stairs without dribbling urine. It doesn't matter if we take her down every two hours; we get to the foyer and whomever has her buzzes the other to come on down with vinegar and paper towels. We thought it might be a UTI and it turned out she had the start of one, and after two weeks of antibiotics the dribbling didn't go away yet the UTI did. Pit bulls are solid and it's a lot of weight to grow into, so we're hoping this is a growth issue and not something bigger.

The other habit I'm looking forward to her growing out of is her 5 a.m. wake-up. She doesn't want to go out, she just needs reassurance we're still there. I'll flop an arm over the bed and pat her head and she'll curl up and go back to sleep, with my hand if I'll let her. This dog is a real toucher: when I take her downstairs she'll often have her nose in my knee; she sits on my feet or leans against me when we're outside; she sleeps under Joe's feet when he's working and under mine when he's out; and at night if we're on the couch streaming something she'll curl up around his foot or wrap her paws around his ankle. She's quirky in how insecure she is and how bold, but maybe we're all that way.

The first swear I ever said out loud was "Lake Titicaca." I was five and had gone to the Stop & Shop with my mother and sister. The Stop & Shop had a wall of vending machines filled with candy or prizes and our mother had given us each a five dimes and two quarters to entertain ourselves with while she food shopped.

My sister immediately went for the candy and fed dimes into one machine after the other while she stuffed candy into her mouth. I was discreet, targeting the prize machines, which were a quarter. There were eight prize machines and I didn't have enough money to play all of them so I took my time casing each machine.

The first one I fed had a bubble ring near the top and my patience worked: I got the ring. It had a fake stones around the edge and a bubble in the middle with a doll in it and the best was you could open the bubble. The doll was neat looking and I all that, but I wanted the ring for all the stuff I could put in that bubble and carry around with me, like marbles or rocks or a small ring I had that didn't fit me. A ring in a ring made more sense than a doll in a ring.

The next machine had a joke book near the top and I wanted it. I fed my last quarter in and got a pin with a sticker back instead. I tossed it over my shoulder while I fished dimes from my pocket. It took the rest of my dimes but I got the joke book.

My sister was still cramming candy into her mouth while I read the first joke out loud. I don't remember the question but the answer was Lake Titicaca. I snickered, then started laughing uncontrollably. Titi sounded like a swear and caca was something I once did in my snow suit. When you put the words together they had to mean something bad. Now I had a ring that could hold a ring and a dirty joke book and I turned to my sister flush with success. "Lake Titicaca," I said and started howling it was so funny. "Shit up," she said and went back to feeding her dimes into the candy machines. Last I remember was our mother giving me a fruit roll up to shit the hell up while she dragged us out of the store.

"Shit up" was what I wanted to say to the DMV guy I got this morning when I went to exchange my Mass. license for a New York State license. I've been meaning to exchange it for over twenty years but it seemed much easier to do it in Mass. when I'd go up for a visit. My license had expired and I was coming up on the date where New York would no longer recognize it as valid and if I wanted to avoid a road test it was time to make the switch.

The DMV had changed a lot since the last time I considered changing my license. You can now go online and make an appointment, which I did, and was so happy to see that I only had to wait for fifteen minutes before I was called up to the window. I had all the proper documents but had missed that my middle name wasn't on my passport yet its initial was on my license and SS card. The guy I was dealing needed to see my birth certificate, which meant I had to go back home and get it. That document doesn't have my name on it so when I got back to the DMV and got called up again all my paperwork had to get special approval. It did and what's great is when it's time to renew I can do it via mail.

Our little Ginger was sleeping when I came home so I fed her then took her back to the dog run that Joe had her at for an hour this morning. That Rottweiler is her best friend and he lets her steal his ball right out of his mouth. No shit up will ever go on between those two.

Stuffies February 23, 2014

We found a yellow ball. Or really, our neighbor's dog found a ball and left it outside their door. Probably because the dog's owners wouldn't let it in the house. The streets are twice as filthy with snow melt revealing everything you never wanted to see, so not bringing that ball in is smart. 

I'm not so smart. The ball showed up in the lobby and from there it showed up in Ginger's mouth. She started prancing down the street with it and when it came time to come in I let her carry it upstairs. During that climb my brain softened and before I came to that ball was in the house. 

I had to wash it, but soap would make it taste bad. Bad is relative, given everything but a floating cadaver was stuck to it, but out of respect to it's dirty street patina I scrubbed it under plain water then boiled my hands. It's now one of her favorite things, along with her alligator, elephant and ferret.

The ferret, by Fluff & Tuff, was Opal's sleep mate and Ginger has adopted it for the same. Both dogs could de-stuff a stuffy in seconds, which is what happened with every stuffed animal we tried. The sturdy plush toys were stiff or scratchy, but this ferret looked extremely well made and was soft on my cheek. She loved it so I bought their elephant online and when it came in the mail Ginger became inseparable with it.

Fluff & Tuff had sent a fuzzy ball as an extra and I sent them pictures of Ginger gnawing away on the elephant. They posted her pictures to Facebook and got so many hits they sent us an alligator as a thank you. She's now busy working the tail off this one, or trying to, when she isn't conking out next to it.

Rompin' with Relic February 8, 2014

(photos by Bill Carney, except the bottom image)

It's freezing and there's still salt and blue ice on the sidewalks. The slushy snow at the dog runs has frozen and is a map of perfect bootprints and paw prints and sharp-edged drifts that cut paws and skin. Running into Ginger's best friend Relic in the foyer is a relief.

After our romp we come in and Ginger assumes her 'ASPCA rescue me' pose until one of us gives her a treat. Or, until I give her a treat. Joe knows exactly what she's up to and ignores it. I still fall for it.

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.