25 February 2014

Notes toward a couch story In the beginning there was a 5 piece sectional in the living room. My earliest memory of it has me watching the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, when I was six. I was allowed to stay up late to see it. I remember the excitement of my older sister Frances, fuzzy black and white images and she loves you, yeah yeah yeah. Its dark but for the light of the tv and I can't recall the upholstery in this memory, but that it was a little drab. This was in Carmel, New York, at the end of a long driveway off of Highway 52 that announced itself with 4 sculptures of giant milk bottles, two quarts and two pints, for our house had been converted from a dairy barn.

Later that year the couch made its way out to a pink three bedroom tract home at 339 Cinderella Lane in Goleta, California. I was surprised when I got off the plane, because the western shows I liked to watch made me think we were moving to a place of dusty streets and wooden sidewalks, horses hitched to posts and swinging saloon doors rudely pushed open by men with shooters strapped to their hips. The couch was kind of dowdy, with skirting around the bottom and polished wooden armrests; it had two 4' bench sections at either end, then a single seat, then a curved middle section that connected to the last section. It was reupholstered in 1965 with fabric designs that repeated scenes from colonial american life, to match the Ethan Allan coffee and end tables that sported an imposing pair of rooster lamps. Sunday mornings our parents slept in and we enjoyed this unsupervised time to play in ways forbidden when they were about. Kevin and I were goofing in the living room, pretending that the carpet was molten lava and leaping over the safe continents of couch to the island of footstool; soon pillows were being tossed and cushions turned into shields until I, being the youngest and a little hyperactive, picked up the cushion of a 4' section and hoisted it over my head for the purpose of conking my brother. My father had just completed a months long endeavor, of assembling an advanced plastic model kit of the 19th century warship U.S. Constitution. He had done a beautiful job of it, masterfully applying glue, paint and rigging, and it was a marvel. He then suspended the finished work from the ceiling of the living room. That was on Saturday, putting it in the way of my raised cushion that Sunday morning, and it all came crashing down. Two of its masts were snapped, its intricate rigging trashed. I hoped somehow it could be fixed. He was decisive when he saw it what I'd done, picking it up, assessing it for a moment and then taking it out to the trash can. I don't remember him saying a word, but that he soon left the house and we did not see him until mid afternoon. He had a new kickball for me and told me I should play with it outside. Its one of those memories that time won't heal. Today I remain hushed by his restraint. There wasn't anything frivolous about his hobby. He'd quit drinking in 1963, and our home was among others, a cauldron of stress in the presence of chronic and tragic illness in the wake of a medical catastrophe that afflicted my mother in 1958. So that model making was his respite in the garage, listening to the radio, drinking coffee, smoking and pleasing himself by doing work he was good at to produce a centerpiece for all that early americana in the living room, and lasting for all of a day. His interests went through phases, and later it was tropical fish until there were 5 aquariums in the house. The last was a 10 gallon tank in the recreation room he had built around the patio. There was a walking catfish in that tank. Forget to close the lid and soon it would be on the lam, wriggling its way in search of the next pond. We found it and returned it several times, but for the last. Much later, I found its desiccated remains under the sectional couch in the living room. It had travelled through three rooms to get there.