J.P. Morgan, Frick and me. We belong. If they’d lived in my time we’d be friends. The three of us, we collect. We like things, and things we like, we buy. They bought at auctions, world-famous art galleries, museums. I buy my things at thrift shops and yard sales. What’s the difference?
Twice in my life I ventured into the high-pressure business of auctions. No, not Christie’s, not Sotheby’s. Too difficult to park around those places. It was at Markel’s, once, in their old barn in Southold. Without my permission my right arm raised itself and attracted the attention of the eager auctioneer, Dave Markel, I think. I left that night with an old cast-iron park bench — like they don’t make them anymore, I was told. I can see why. That bench is so heavy that even a ferocious wind in Orient will not budge it an inch. I still have the bench in the same spot where I dropped it 20 years ago.
My other win at Markel’s was a primitive or naïf oil painting of children and cows with a menacing cloud that looks like the profile of an angry mother. It’s on a pale green wall in my study, the room where not much is done but where things collect; yes, those things that make me a spiritual brother of J.P. and Frick. There’s a word in French slang that sounds like Frick but is spelled “fric.” It means money. Too bad Henry Clay Frick didn’t live in France. The 99 percent would have loved it.
My other auction action was at B. Altman and Company on Fifth Avenue. They were closing down the store. Everything was to go. I wanted a piece of it, a part of New York’s history. I walked up and down the store. There was a down sofa and a set of bistro tables and chairs that came from their tea room. Must have it, I thought, perfect for my restoration of the Bay House facing Orient harbor. This time my arm didn’t move quickly enough and when it finally made a waving motion in the air a stranger had gotten the whole bistro set and the sofa with a ridiculous low bid. I instantly hated that guy and felt he had somehow unfairly won the stuff. The bistro set haunted me for weeks. I never went to another auction except a silent one at Poquatuck Hall in Orient.
Let me not feel sorry for myself. I actually have a museum of my own. Strictly for friends and the plumber once in a while. My house in Orient. A museum of books, dust, toys and stuffed animals. A few cups and saucers and, for someone who drinks little and rarely has guests, a surprising number of glasses. Why so many? I have no explanation. I forgot to mention: on the walls, paintings by our late friend Rodman Pell. He painted where he used to run his fresh fish market in Greenport. He knew well how to charm the ladies. My sister was a fan and introduced him to UNICEF, where she helped him become one of their Christmas card artists.
In New York I keep a collection of paperweights. A lot of papers here. A good match. Stuffed animals take over couches and chairs. Certain days there are fewer of them than the day before. It seems they move on their own. My sister reminds me they are not alive. I tend to forget. We put a few in a comfortable closet like children in a crib. Of course I’ll take them out of the closet on happy days. They need to breathe, I say. Some, the lucky ones, have migrated to Orient, where they spend their retirement on couches, where else?
Books, like stuffed animals, have a life of their own. You can’t throw books away. Although I have seen plenty left at the dump with the recyclables. I have brought a few back home. Some were from people I knew. They had died. That’s what happens when you die. A six-volume history of the Presbyterian church was there. I rescued it and donated it to the Southold library book sale. Then I took it back. It had belonged to a friend. The collector collects other people’s stuff. It becomes our stuff. We get attached. Once an object enters our home, it stays. We’re caught.
There are two rows of books on each shelf. First row you can see. Second row you don’t even know is there until you pull out a book from first row. Don’t think second row is second rank. Here’s T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” retrieved from second row with a couple of years of dust. Let’s get the Swiffer dusters out of the box. Whoever invented this deserves an honorary library card. Try them if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Don’t ask me about New Year’s resolutions. Don’t yell at me on the street, “Hey, hoarder, how’s it going?” I am a collector. But I have changed my mind. J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, we wouldn’t be friends at all. They are not in my league. They don’t belong. I never saw them at the Opportunity Shop in Greenport. They lived in palaces in Manhattan that became their museums. That’s easy. My house is already too small for my books and stuffed animals. That’s tough. They would never have been able to deal with my space problem. I don’t have butlers like they did. I’m the butler to my dog, I am a poet, a monthly columnist, and I have written short plays, especially for the singer and actress Yvonne Constant, who played on Broadway in “La Plume de ma Tante” and was a frequent guest on the Johnny Carson show.
Another hundred years: I’ll still be checking what’s in the second row. The Frick and the Morgan, they’ll be around forever. My museum, that’s another story. It will go when I go. That’s the pity of it. Unless there is a wife to keep the house open and the fire going. I’m working on that. I’ll let the wife move in and let go of a few Teddy Bears. Hear that, Nancy? Why not dream?
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays.
I had this idea: Let me get a small and mature dog, seven to 10 pounds, so I can travel in good company and not be alone in wild places like Tierra del Fuego or Paris, France. I couldn’t take my dog Nina to Paris; too big to be allowed on the plane in the cabin with me. Plus Nina hates motorcycles of any kind and size, and Paris is where you’ll find them, sputtering and coughing all day long.
I called my friend and dachshund breeder for 55 years, Robin Gianopoulos, in Stony Brook. “I’ve got the dog for you,” she said. “A show dog I’m retiring, Ida Mae.” That’s how a love affair began.
Next morning I left Orient for Stony Brook with the mixed emotions and anxiety a blind date might provoke. Will Ida Mae like me? Will I like her? Am I her kind of guy? Robin welcomed me in the midst of barks and furry tails, long-hair and smooth-hair dachshunds having free rein of the house, encircling me, friendly but cautious in our first minutes of discovery. And there she was, Ida Mae, quietly observing me from the height of the couch in the living room. Her status in life, and in this house, was well established and secure. She belonged. Yet her life was about to change. Robin took us for a walk. Then she suggested Ida Mae and I go for a walk alone, just the two of us. We walked. Ida Mae was calm and inquisitive. Back at the house I asked Robin to hold Ida Mae so I could take pictures. Ida Mae was both strong and delicate. She had a powerful chest but she was petite, with fine features and the most adorable little face you ever saw. Her eyes expressed both sadness and mischief.
“Let me think about it,” I told Robin.
As I drove back to Orient, not one thought came up. But feelings were growing fast. I entered Willow Terrace Lane and wanted to turn around and get back to Stony Brook at full speed, take Ida Mae in my arms and elope to Orient for happiness ever after.
Ida Mae was born in Sarasota, Fla., the “child” of Dr. Thomas, a pioneer vet who developed some of the best miniature dachshund bloodlines. Minis were rare 50 years ago. Ida Mae had two litters. A granddaughter, Violet, is becoming a show dog and winning blue ribbons as Ida Mae did so many times. I have felt parental pride at her achievements. I know it may seem absurd, but it’s moved me more than once. Another granddaughter of Ida Mae is alive and well in Greenport.
Robin had not planned to let go of Ida Mae. In fact, her son had been quite upset at the idea of losing her. He had always assumed that she would stay in the family. But she knew Ida Mae would be pampered in my house. She had read my columns about my dog Lady. As a breeder she keeps about 10 dogs. Ida Mae would be a gift to me.
“Nina, you are going to get a little sister.” Nina wagged her tail. I drove to Stony Brook. No blind date anxieties this time. The excitement of new love.
“If your son is too upset … ”
“It’s all right, Pierre. Ida Mae will get all your attention. I know she’ll be happy with you.”
It was night. I put her carrier in my car, took note of her diet, the hours of her meals, and Robin told me, “She probably will want to sleep in your bed.” And we took off.
Although I don’t approve of driving with a dog on my lap for safety reasons, it didn’t take very long for Ida Mae to settle there in spite of efforts to keep her in the passenger’s seat. Not that safe either. I had just welcomed into the family a very determined dachshund. I have since learned that all dachshunds are like that, determined, brave, opinionated, impossible and irresistible. Ida Mae was 5 years old and not about to transform herself for my pleasure. Nina met Ida Mae. I walked two dogs on Willow Terrace for the first time. I also slept with two dogs in my bed.
In the country, in the city, Ida Mae made friends. Mostly people. Her name was unexpected. “What’s her name?” Ida Mae. They smiled. Nina had to adapt. She was not the only princess any more. I’m sure in the early days Ida Mae missed Robin and nine or 10 other dogs in Stony Brook. But she became my dog. A beautiful dog, long, silky ears, eyes that touched you deeply, made you laugh or moved you to tears. Her short legs inspired her to reach for new heights, somehow finding extra cushions on top of the couch to sit on. She seemed so confident up there. And, can I say it, radiant.
Then I got sick in 2008. My sister Marie-Lise came to the rescue. My friend Nancy had her own dachshund. Three dogs became too much. “Until you get well,” my sister said. I got well. But Ida Mae stayed with my sister. A new love had been found. A few difficult moments between Ida Mae and Beauty Belle, my sister’s black and tan young mini dachshund.
Years went by. Ida Mae was about 7 when my sister took over. While Beauty Belle chased balls endlessly, Ida Mae had other ideas: scattering the contents of bags, uncorking bottles, rearranging the stuff in a suitcase. She was also a dreamer, ate her meals slowly, savoring the food. Beauty Belle was more voracious in her ways. Ida Mae was the most affectionate dog you could wish to have. Nothing delighted her more than being held, your arms wrapped around her compact and tender body. She’d give herself to you, become part of you. I missed this closeness, I missed her warmth when she left my house.
In 2011 my sister was planning a trip to France. I was eager to have a chance to keep Ida Mae for a couple of weeks while Beauty Belle would be paraded in Paris. My parade with Ida Mae would be in Orient. It would be a lovely time together.
My sister praised Ida Mae’s punctuality. She called her “the clock.” Without fail, a few minutes before mealtimes Ida Mae ran to her bowl and waited patiently. She showed the same precision at the “wee-wee” pad, always taking her own length into account. Dachshunds are notorious for missing the mark.
In January 2011 Ida Mae’s visit at the vet is excellent. Her blood work perfect. But in July she doesn’t rush to her bowl at mealtime. She seems less exuberant when I visit my sister’s house. She’s getting old, I think. We try baby food. Not much success. We see the best doctors. They give us hope. She was joyful in the spring. My sister asks, “What happened in July?”
Even the vets don’t have a clear explanation. We hope, we worry and Ida Mae looks at us pleading for answers. We tell her, “Ida Mae, please get well.” We carry her around like a bouquet, like a gift. More sadness, less mischief in her eyes. She doesn’t bark much now but when she does, my sister says, “Good, Ida Mae. It’s so good to hear you bark.”
How the road to loss accelerates. How did we get here? A visiting nurse for pets, Charlene, comes once a day, then twice, to help hydrate Ida Mae. Charlene is an incredibly caring human being. At her house she prepares special meals for Ida Mae. My sister needs her support. Oct. 6 is a desperate day. I drive from Orient to meet my sister at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. I drive against the sun as fast as I can.
Ida Mae is still very pretty. But she’s giving up. I have difficulty giving up. What if we take her home? I ask. “It would be unethical,” answers the vet. “I’ll be back in 10 minutes,” he says.
Our time alone with Ida Mae. We take turns holding her, the way she likes to be held, warmly, closely, to be one with us. The vet comes back. Ida Mae raises her head and turns toward my sister as if asking for protection. My sister holds her tight, caresses her. I stroke her, too, the way I’ve done since that day I drove with her on my lap for her new life in Orient.
Ida Mae, Ida Mae, we never traveled to Paris together, but we went further, millions of miles together. I am not giving up on you, Ida Mae. Our trip will never end. Next week we’ll visit Violet, your granddaughter, at Robin’s place.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“You know, Molly, I ain’t stupid, right?”
“Let’s say you’re no intellectual, no Jean-Paul Sartre …”
“Who’s this Jean-Paul? You never told me about this old boyfriend.”
“He’s French …”
“Don’t tell me more. How could you ever go out with some dumb frog?”
“I’m so angry. I don’t even like people looking at you on the street.”
“Listen to me, Fred, he’s not only French, he’s dead.”
“Well, that’s good news, Molly, and he’d better stay dead or I’ll kill him.”
“And he’s not only dead, he’s famous and I never met him. He was a writer …”
“You mean books?”
“Yes, that kind of writer. Writers write, cooks cook, bakers bake. That’s life. We each have a job to do.”
“Husband, friend, dog walker, caregiver, driver, barbecue engineer, carpenter, plumber, everything …”
“That also. No need to be jealous. I’m your woman. Your old woman, I’m afraid. Nothing I can do about that. Jean-Paul had more than one woman at a time. Don’t do that to me. I couldn’t handle it. You might as well forget the young waitresses.”
“I’m too busy for that. But I need your help. All these years and I still can’t sew a button. How do you explain that? What’s wrong with me? Needle and thread and I’m lost. As confused as a chicken who’s found a knife in the grass. What will I do in the middle of the Atlantic with torn sails? All by myself.”
“You’ll never be in the middle of the Atlantic alone. Have you got secret plans?”
“I’ve been thinking …”
“That’s when you get in trouble. You need action.”
“Yeah, I like throwing them charcoals in the fire, flipping the burgers.”
“Sewing buttons, it gives you too much time to think.”
“What about a one-button shirt? Bet nobody thought of that. One big button, no more needle.”
“Except that one big button needs to be sewn, too.”
“I’ve been thinking about it in my sleep. A young waitress could teach me …”
“NO. No young waitress in my house. I’ve tried to teach you. It’s like having our dog Muffin read the Bible. Hopeless.”
“I built our house and I can’t sew a button. Don’t make sense.”
“But you can change the oil. You’re good with cars. The old Mercury Grand Marquis looks dead in the backyard among the weeds, with stuff growing inside. You sit in it, Fred, for two minutes and the engine shakes and growls, ready to go. I hear it from my bed. I love the sound. It means travel, happy times, the winding roads, from Orient, on to Southold, Riverhead, New York, down South to Florida till you can’t go no further, Key West. You know how to make it happen. Who cares about sewing buttons as long as we can dream.”
“You may be right, Molly, but so many idiots are sewing buttons around the world and I can’t do it! Billions of people are sewing buttons at this moment except me. Billions except for one little guy on the North Fork. Am I smart or what, tell me.”
“Some people build houses, some write poems, some race at Indianapolis, some plant tulips or do embroidery. Everyone has a story and a tune.”
“And some idiot, he don’t know how to sew buttons.”
“I’ll teach you. Tomorrow. All your shirts are missing buttons. I feel terrible. It’s my fault. My hands, my eyes, nothing works.”
“You was good at it, Molly. The quilts you made, the one everybody wanted to buy, but I wouldn’t let it go, even the little winter coat for Muffin. People ask where they can get one for their dog, and I say, my wife she made it, she designed it, not for sale anywhere. Your hands, they’re incredible.”
“Tomorrow I’ll teach you how to sew a button. We won’t quit. Remember the president: “Yes, we can.” You can, too. It won’t affect the future of the world. But it will make your world better. It’s a very peaceful thing to sew buttons. You’ll see.”
“Well, thank you, Molly. It don’t mean much to most people. But my first button, that will feel good. Now I’m taking Muffin out for her walk. Then I’ll flip the burgers.”
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: email@example.com.