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Couch #10 - Bela and Susan

Couch #10 – Bela and Susan – June 9th, 2010

Couch #10 belongs to Bela and Susan.  The day bed/couch was bought when some family was coming to visit from Sweden.  They had bought a regular bed online which they never got, because the company had legal issues.  So they bought this and assembled it last minute.   They live in a home, built in 1941, bought in 2000,  in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles, which is one of the Jewish parts of town.  They feel lucky to be there.  This is beyond home to them.  He is an architect and she is a university administrator.    They have been married for 30 long years.  They like each other.  They are on their second date.  Bela has an older daughter from a previous marriage and they have a daughter, their baby, who is 23 and married.  They also have a large, wide-bodied V8 cat named Stanley.   Bela and Susan enjoy going to Huntington Library.  They are members at the cheap bastard level.  He takes pictures and she sits around.  They also went to the Getty Villa recently. They like to go to museums and look at stuff.   Bela does etching.  Susan sews and likes to read.  Bela is also a photographer.  He also does drawings and art on paper.  He works 630 to 430 every day doing heavy administration and tedious work which allows him to afford to do art.  It’s a trade off.  Susan has an excellent legal education and english degree.  She has a dual degree in biology.  She worked herself from nothing to state of extreme poverty as she quotes from Groucho Marx.  Bela went to the Swedish Royal Academy of Art for bookbinding.  He worked for Sports Car Graphic  magazine as an art director.  Susan also was an actress on “James at 15” in 1977 for Fox.  They are cats of 9 lives.  Bela and I  both know David Sotelo from Art Center At Night Photography Classes, but we really just met that day.  Bela likes Bach’s Cello Concerto while Susan enjoys Taj Mahal’s “Senor Blues”.  Susan likes to cook and Bela enjoys it, whether it’s Indian, Persian, Italian, Spanish, Chinese or Mexican.  Right now she is on a Portuguese kick.  Bela likes “The Frisco Kid” with Gene Wilder, whereas Susan likes the Marx Brotheres in “Duck Soup”.  He is impressed that I took a sour situation and turned it into something positive.  Susan thinks I need to get a haircut and a real job, but wishes me well.  Apparently I’m so not Jewish.

On the morning of June 9th, I left Genevieve’s place to head to Nico’s for the day.  Since many days I would have to work out of Starbucks or some other coffee shop, I thought I would take advantage of having a place to myself once more.  Nico would be returning that day, so this could be my last chance to have a bit of privacy.  Privacy is a big issue on this journey.  Even when I’m sitting in someone else’s place by myself, there is an uneasiness.  That person could arrive home at any time and there is always a time limit.  In other words, I’m not going to walk around anyone’s place naked.  But, having a place to myself, if only just for a few hours, does make a difference.  It gives me a sense of peace and quiet which is welcome after the noise and distraction of coffee shops.  It allows me to relax and calm down before heading to my next destination.  So I took advantage of Nico’s place for that day and I even emptied the trash and bought more trash bags to kind of show my thanks.  Nico called in the late afternoon saying that he was on his way home.  I gathered my things, loaded them up in the car once again, and headed out.  I remembered to leave the keys on the counter, but I unfortunately took the parking pass with me.  Moving around constantly, my memory hasn’t been great and especially early on, I found myself often forgetting things.  This was one of those times.  Thankfully, Nico said that he really didn’t need it and that it expired at the end of the month, so if I could get it to him, great, if not, not to worry about it.  That was a relief.  I was doing a lot of driving around and having to make one more stop was not something I was looking forward to.  Especially if it was one more stop out of my way and at night, when I’m usually settling in with my host for the evening.  Leaving Nico’s I made my way toward’s Bela’s place, where I would be sleeping that night.  I still wanted to go through some emails and organize my thoughts and as it was early, I made a quick stop at the Starbucks on the corner of Pico and Robertson, which was near Bela’s home.  I guzzled some coffee and blazed through some emails and made my way to Bela’s.

Despite the fact that Bela and I had never met, he and his wife Susan welcomed me into their home and we enjoyed an evening of thoughtful and humorous discussion.  Their home is beautiful and very comfortable .  Many issues relating to myself and the project were discussed.  The biggest issue to Bela was how the loss of privacy, that I discussed above, was affecting me.  Susan was curious as to who I was writing to.  Well, who am I writing to?  Who is my audience?  I’m still not quite sure how to answer that question.  I like to think of these entries as a journal, but there are things that I need to keep private.  Some of these things are for my benefit and others are out of respect to my hosts.  If it’s not a journal, then is it a story?  I do tell about the events of my day and at times that is all that there is.  Perhaps it is somewhere in between the two.  Susan suggested that perhaps I direct it at a family member.  Someone who is not intimately involved in my daily life, but yet who I feel comfortable talking to about personal details.  I feel as if that is who I am writing to.  Or maybe it’s just a way for me to vent my thoughts.  It was also suggested that perhaps I keep a separate, private journal where I can write about those things which I may not wish to share.  I haven’t done that yet, but there have been a number of notes and thoughts that have been left out of here.  We then had homemade pizza and fresh watermelon and their big boned cat Stanley entertained me.

We had further discussions which got me thinking.  One thing which Susan wondered was if I was also photographing the doors of the homes I was staying at.  After all, when someone opens their doors to you, it does mean that they welcome you.  But I like the idea of the couch much more.  Many people had let me into their homes over my lifetime, but how many have let me sleep there?  Sleeping in someone’s home requires that they trust you, and that you trust them.  That means a lot more to me on this journey, especially as some of the people I would be staying with were strangers or acquaintances, like Bela.

I was also given the tour by both Bela and Susan.  Bela showed me his library including family photos as well as his film equipment including his Sinar and his Hasselblad.  I had to check to be sure that I wasn’t drooling.  I was having issues with my 35mm Contax Ax and he even let me use his Nikon F4, loaded with a roll of black and white film, for the evening.  I’ll have those photos scanned and up at a later point.  Bela also made me a delicious cappuccino.  Susan showed me the garden behind their house.  They had a couple of sequoia trees seeded from trees in the Avenue of the Giants.  There were English Oaks grown from acorns taken from Huntington Library.  These Oaks were originally from Sherwood Forest.  These small oaks are also looking for a good home should anyone want one.  Let me know and I’ll put you in contact with them.

We had further discussions.  What was I learning about myself?  While I couldn’t really qualify or describe yet what I was learning, other than some small things, I did discuss my fears with them.  When I had committed myself to this project, I said out loud, but to myself, “This is crazy”.   I repeated myself multiple times daily during the month leading up to starting this journey.  And I also said it numerous times during the first week.  By the time I had made it to Bela and Susan’s, it was starting to feel normal.  Even, perhaps, a bit routine.  But really, who in their right mind gives up their home and puts themselves in others hands?  Who would commit to such an ambitious agenda of staying with different people every day and attempting multiple projects at the same time?   Bela told me about Paul Erdos, a mathematician who spent his life traveling from the home of one colleague to the next.  He would live with one person and work on a math problem.  When the solution was found and the results published, Mr. Erdos would make his way to the next place and the next challenge.   My journey reminded Bela of this.    I found this story both inspiring and strange when I was told it that day.  I’m finding it less strange as I write this 2 weeks later.  I’m starting to understand why musicians like to tour.  Your surroundings are new every day and people are always interested in entertaining you and being entertained by you.  The whole experience is a bit addicting.   I’m also definitely enjoying the freedom from paying rent.  It’s  like a having a weight lifted from your shoulder.  I can’t say that I’m saving as much I had hoped I would, I am spending on much more satisfying things, like film and coffee.   We talked some more and I investigated some art work that his daughter had done as a child.  It had intrigued me since I had walked in the door.  Below is a photo of “The Boat House”

We then conducted the interview, which I laughed throughout, and I took my requisite photos before getting ready for bed.  Before calling it night, Bela showed me some proof sheets of photos he had taken.  They were very impressive.  He was also working on book and I’m very curious to see it when it all comes together.  At this point I was definitely tired.  Between the events of the previous days and the thought provoking conversation, I was done for the night and quickly fell asleep.

In the morning I awoke and said goodbye to Bela and Susan as they headed out the door and to work.   I enjoyed a cup of coffee and some more watermelon and sat with Stanley for a few minutes.  I then took some photos around the house and outside as is my usual routine, before packing it up and heading on out for the day with a haircut and another couch on the agenda.

Oh, and one more thing….to give you an idea of where my head was at during this first 10 days, on rotation on my iPod in my car were… Patti Rothberg – “Between the 1 and the 9”, specifically, “Perfect Stranger” and “Looking for a girl”, as well as Ryan Adams – “Gold”, specifically, “Firecracker” and “Rescue Blues”.  For a few of those days, I would get in my car when leaving the place I had spent the night and play “Firecracker”.

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About 50 Couches in 50 Nights

My name is Dean MacKay. In June and July of 2010, I slept on 50 different couches in 50 consecutive nights. I took photographs of the couches, both as a couch and as my bed. I took portraits of my hosts and interviewed them. I documented their homes on film and digitally as well as in a journal. I was treated to home cooked meals and intimate secrets. I was cared for when I was ill and checked in on after I was long gone. There were sleepless nights and busy days and times spent discussing the past and dreaming about the future. I drank a lot of coffee at a lot of different coffee houses. There were old friends who became closer and acquaintances who I now call my friends. There were even strangers who invited me into their homes. Threads were woven among them all. My skills were honed as I practiced my craft on a daily basis. I learned many things about my hosts and I continue to learn many things about myself. These times are unforgettable. This journey was initially born out of necessity. The economic times had taken their toll. But the fruit of this labor is not simply financial. It is emotional and spiritual and societal. I tapped into something that is still developing. And as it develops I will share with you this knowledge as well as providing you a way to share it with others. I hope that you will support me as this journey continue and grows. I plan to unveil many things from this work including a coffee table book on the couches, and perhaps other books and a documentary. I'm also hoping to get the blog carried on a major website. Of course, and second project is also in the works although what form it will take has yet to be determined. Any assistance or advice that you can offer to further these projects is welcome. Your support, both financial and emotional, is crucial to my success. Thank You. © Dean MacKay 2010

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