Thursday, March 17, 2011
A Different Life
I find myself in a two room flat on the third floor of a refurbished duplex. The floors are a warm honey color speckled with tiny dark knots. The only remaining architectural hint of the apartment’s long past is the embellished molding of flowers and leaves nestled in the corner between the walls and ceiling which outline the apartment’s perimeter.
Besides the whisper of a long forgotten period of detailed craftsmanship, the flat is decidedly modern. The kitchen, though small and lacking more than a few plain cabinets, is complete with chrome refrigerator and marble counter tops. Colorful snapshots and notes on brightly colored post-its dot the fridge’s double doors.
In the same room as the kitchen, though closer to the large street-facing window, is the square dining room table. The formal table is a bit too large for the space, surrounded by matching dark wooden chairs along all four sides. There is a two foot perimeter between the chairs and two walls perpendicular to each other, as though the table was bought for another space and then crammed into this one, like a woman squeezing into a dress one size too small. The table, designed with a minimalist aesthetic, is covered with scratches and the rings of coffee mugs which have removed parts of the dark, espresso colored veneer.
From where I am sitting in the living room, on the plush cushions of the L-shaped couch, I can see a narrow credenza in one corner of the dining space covered with framed photos of babies and a wedding ceremony at city hall. A clear glass vase, two feet tall, holds a bouquet of calla lilies. The sweet, sticky scent of their ripe pollen permeates the small apartment.
The living room is crowded too. The plush gray colored suede sofa takes most of the floor space, though it is the blanket of baby toys on the ground surrounding the couch which seem to close the space in, making it difficult to walk. The couch faces the dormant fireplace and narrow mantle, which is covered in a dozen stacks of CDs. They line the mantle in stacks of five or six, perching like flat pigeons on the thin brick ledge. Just over the mantle is a flat screen TV mounted directly to the wall. Just like the couch and dining room table, dominating objects in their respective locations, the enormous glowing TV takes up nearly the entire wall. I turn to it, finding it hard ignore the basketball game blaring forth from the flat surface. Beside me, an enthusiastic young man is shouting at the TV, looking like a teenager in his red and white striped shirt and baggy jeans. He had been trying to ask polite questions, making simple conversation while he and his wife waited for the taxi to arrive, though as he tried, he just was not able to take his eyes from the TV for more than a few seconds at a time.
An eleven month old baby with big brown Bambi eyes is sucking on a green pacifier beside his sport-obsessed father. “So what were you saying?” the man turns to me with divided attention.
“I was just saying that I take these photos and then turn them into something else, I can show you.”
“Yeah, show me,” he says enthusiastically.
I begin turning on my computer, looking through the multitude of dated folders, trying to avoid any risqué photos that might jeopardize their faith in leaving me along with their child for the night.
“What’s that one?” he says, pointing to a colorful thumbnail. I enlarge it, a highly altered photo of a man wearing a feathered mask.
“Is that a bird?” he asks.
“It’s a guy wearing a mask with feathers.”
“Oh. I like it. Show me more!” He turns back to the game. “Oh come on!” he shouts at the TV.
His wife approaches. A heavy set woman in high heel boots. She stands next to her husband, touching his arm. The gesture strikes me as forced, as though she needs to protect her territory from me. Looking around the space, I realize that it is she who has picked the couch, the table, the adult pieces of modern furniture. She seems old to me, not so much in her appearance, but in her approach, in her way of being.
“Okay, hun, the taxi is here,” she says as she glances out the window.
When they are gone, leaving the baby in his crib just moments before walking out the door, I wander around the apartment, looking more closely at their photos, at the accumulated items of their lives. They are a young couple, two people very identified with their Jewish heritage. There are references to it all over the apartment. From the brit milah pictures of the baby to the name of their network wireless connection, it is there, saturating their lives, a huge part of their created culture.
It is then I realize, these are the people I might have become. These are the people my parents had hoped I would be, the life they wished me to have. A stylish apartment with adult furnishings. The marriage, the baby, the teaching job. They are an off-shoot on the path. I begin to take pictures, using their world for another purpose, exploring the choice I didn't make.