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Couch #15 - Ryan and Mariah

Couch #15 – Ryan and Mariah – June 14th, 2010

Couch #15 belongs to Ryan and Mariah. They bought the couch about 2 years ago. The previous couch was not comfortable. You would sink into it and Mariah was even having back pain. The current one is bonded leather. Ryan has taken some long naps on it and finds it comfortable. They live in a beautiful home in Woodland Hills, California at the far west end of the San Fernando Valley. They have 3 children, Gwen and Grace, twin 3.75 year old girls, and Billy, 10 months old. They don’t have pets yet, but the kids are starting to ask for them. Ryan works at Summit Entertainment in Technical Services dealing with DVD production and TV Versions and stuff like that. Mariah is a stay at home Mom. They like to go to the movies and dinner as a couple. Ryan likes to golf, he used to ride bikes and should more. He likes to swim. He watches way too much TV including the Lakers and the Dodgers and, of course, spends time on Facebook. Mariah hasn’t had much free time since the kids were born, but she used to like to hike. She does still work out, and does crafts, including sewing, when she can. She also likes to read. Ryan is also on a softball team as well as in a band. The band rehearses 2 or 3 times a month on Sunday nights and plays the occasional gig. It’s 5 middle aged guys, 4 of them, with kids. They love to rock out. Ball and Chain is the name of both the team and band. Mariah makes all kinds of different baby gifts and has some stuff in boutiques. Ryan won a reality show, it was a weight loss reality show, but ha since gained most of the weight back. He was The Biggest Loser back in 2005. He was also Laker Boy.  According Ryan, Mariah drives like a maniac.  Mariah grew up in a small town of a thousand people and was student body president. Ryan and I met at and worked together at MGM for about 5 years from 2000 until 2005. Since then, Ryan finds it easy to follow along with people lives on Facebook, including me. Ryan and Mariah have found that once you get married and have kids and move to the suburbs you start get complacent and have to make a conscious effort to bring something new and different to your life. Having some guy you knew from work come and stay on your couch is kind of fun. It brings something new to the mix which they don’t do enough of. Ryan’s phone ringer is the Black-eyed Peas “I Got a Feeling”. Mariah sings “You are My Sunshine” to her kids multiple times each day. She used to love Depeche Mode, but not so much any more. It definitely doesn’t work during spinning class. So maybe one of her favorites would be Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. Mariah also likes Yozen Frogurt (Frozen Yogurt), and has that almost every night. Ryan’s biggest weakness is donuts. I was wearing my Randy’s Donuts shirt that day but had not brought any donuts. Mariah likes the film “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” which had been mentioned by one of my previous hosts. Ryan likes “Pulp Fiction”. Ryan thinks that this 50 Couches project is either really awesome or an incredibly inventive way of being homeless. Either way it’s fun and interesting. They are both interested in seeing the culmination of the whole project. Mariah wondered if I ever get nervous. I told her that I’m nervous staying with complete strangers. I mean how do I know that they aren’t rapists or killers? And how do they know that I’m not. It’s a bit crazy. My whole life is a bit crazy.

I left Zeeva’s place much later that I had planned. Not having accomplished much in the last few days, I was anxious to get back on track. I had been sick for a few days and had travelled up to Tehachapi and Agua Dulce so I had been busy. I also had not been able to check my email at Zeeva’s and as Ryan had not yet confirmed with me for that night. So, I really wanted to check my email. I guess that I could have called him, but as it was a work day, I didn’t really want to call unless I absolutely had to. While Zeeva had more interesting tales to tell, and while I had wanted to explore Vazquez Rocks, I was more anxious to get back to Los Angeles and play catch-up, before I lost another day. So, at noon, I loaded up my things and got on the road. I kept my camera in the front passenger seat, shooting an occasional photo of the scenery on the journey back.

Once I got back in town, I ran through many of my routine errands. I stop at the Post Office in Hollywood to check my mail. I had gotten my unemployment check and therefore went immediately to deposit it at my credit union up near Warner Brothers in Burbank. I don’t have much income coming in, so I rely on getting this check to keep me alive. Once that was done, it was back to Hollywood to the Y for a shower and to change clothes. With all of the running around, I hadn’t had a proper shower since I left Jess and Ben’s on Saturday afternoon. That was two days earlier. As you can imagine, I really needed one before I was out in public further. Since I was somewhere new every day, I had always wanted to take at least a quick shower every day, but many times, when you show up at someone’s house and get caught up in the atmosphere of the visit and the project, there just isn’t time for one. I only have limited time in each home and with each host and I really want to take advantage of it as much as they want to. This past weekend, with all the traveling and distractions at the last two places, a shower just hadn’t been in the cards. Once the shower was done, I went to Samy’s on Fairfax to get film. They were still the only place that the film that I like and so it was there that I had to go. I usually bought the film in a 5-roll “Pro Pack” and this is what I asked for that day. There was a Pro Pack that was opened as well as numerous, loose, single rolls, and so the sales person asked me if it would be alright to give it to me that way. It was fine with me as it was the same cost and I had no attachment to the extra packaging. He handed me the film in a bag and charged my debit card and off I went. Only, when I got the car and went to organize the film in another bag, I noticed that he had given me 6 rolls and not 5. I had been frustrated most of the day due to my anxiousness and the fact that I wasn’t going to get anything done again. Being given that extra roll relieved some of my frustration and put a smile on my face. Maybe it was wrong, but I kept that extra roll and drove away. I had to make one more stop before heading up to Valley to find a Starbucks and camp out ’til Ryan got home. That stop was at CVS. I don’t remember what I had to get there, but I do remember hearing the Billy Joel song “It’s My Life”. As I wandered the store picking up what I needed, I listened. I first thought of the show “Bosom Buddies”, but then the lyrics struck a chord with me. I especially got a kick out of the lines…

They will tell you, you can’t sleep alone in a strange place
Then they’ll tell you, you can’t sleep with somebody else
Ah, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space
Either way it’s okay to wake up with yourself

I left the store with the song still circling in my brain and started to make my way towards Ryan’s place in Woodland Hills. While sitting in traffic on that trek, I saw another inspiration for the day. It was a bumper sticker that read “Not all who wander are lost”. Apparently it’s a J.R.R. Tolkien quote.  Obviously this also hit home and still does. Another thing I should note for this day is that instead of my usual endless listening of an album or even just my iPod on shuffle, I listened to NPR. This is interesting to note because before this adventure, I had always looked to be informed and entertained by All Things Considered or some other program. Now, however, I was being informed and entertained by my hosts and so when I was in the car, I really just wanted some music. I was getting information overload. Why I wanted the news this day, I’m not sure. Anyway, I arrived near to Ryan’s house with about an hour to spare. I located a Starbucks, grabbed a coffee and a chair and worked on catching up. Before I knew it, Ryan was texting me and it was time to move.

I arrived at Ryan and Mariah’s home and was immediately greeted by their twin daughters, Gwen and Grace. I put my stuff and broke out the cameras and immediately wandered into the back yard snapping away. Ryan and Mariah and I exchanged pleasantries and discussed dinner while I tried to grab a good shot of the girls. We discussed the schedule as not only did Ryan and Mariah have to go to work in the morning, I also had to make my way to animal rescue for my weekly volunteer duties. My minimum needs, other than dinner were an interview with them as well as portraits. Of course, I would also need to take before and after shots of the couch as well covering their home as well as I could given the schedule. In some places I’ve got much of the next morning to explore the home, but on days like today, that would not be possible. I would have to shoot some stuff tonight and some early in the morning before I left. And I would have do this all while staying out the way. Once we were all on the same page and dinner was ordered, Ryan got ready to leave and go pick it up. Well, Grace wasn’t too pleased. She ran over to Ryan begging him not to go or to at least take her with him. There were some sad faces, but after Ryan picked up her and convinced her that he was only going to pick up dinner and would be back quickly did she finally relent and let him leave.

After he left it was time to play Disney Princess with Gwen. In this video game you have to dress up a Princess in her appropriate clothes or something like that. I wasn’t pay attention so much to the game as I was to taking photos of the girls and Mariah. Gwen finished her work and printed out a picture that she could color. Then it was Grace’s turn, but unfortunately, it was at that point that the computer decided it wasn’t going to work. After a few attempts at getting it to work, it was decided that Gwen and Grace would play dress up until Ryan got home. So, off to their room they ran to get all dressed up. Sunglasses, tiaras, and other things were tried on and posed in and I managed to get a few shots of that as well. I find children to be some of the most interesting subjects to shoot and therefore get caught up in the moment with them. I really enjoy just sitting on the floor with them and feeling like a child again myself while I capture the moment. It really is fun.

While we were playing dress up, Ryan returned with dinner. We would be having something called “The Stimulus Package” from the Stone Fire Grill. It was a pizza with tri tip, and a salad and breadsticks. He got everything set up, while the girls cleaned up as did I. Also joining us for dinner would be Billy, Ryan and Mariah’s infant son. He had been sleeping up until now but would be getting up for a little bit. I was entertained by him and as we sat down for dinner and ate, Ryan and I also finally started getting caught up. We had worked together at MGM, but I hadn’t work there since late 2005, and we hadn’t really kept in touch outside of an occasional note on Facebook or Myspace before that. I filled him on what I had been doing and where I was at and he told me about his work as well. We discussed what other MGMer’s we had kept in touch with and what and how they were doing. I always find this conversation interesting, but unfortunately it doesn’t always lead me to follow up with some of the people who maybe I had lost touch with. Some of that I think is by design. Had I really wanted to keep in touch with them or they, with me, we would have. Perhaps we just have room in our lives for just so many people and when we hit that limit we don’t accept any more. Or maybe it’s chemical. Much like love, you just know when you are attracted to someone and want them in your life. Anyway, we talked some more and finished up dinner and it was time for the kids to go to bed. I logged on and checked my email and cleaned some photos off of the digital camera while Ryan and Mariah took care of their parenting duties.

Once the kids were quietly tucked away, Ryan and Mariah were ready for their close up. I got all the cameras ready and shot some photos of them and then we got down to business with the interview. Once the interview was over we had a bit more conversation including Ryan telling me about a “Twilight” screening that a friend of his was at where Jimmy Kimmel made an appearance via satellite. At that point Mariah headed off to sleep and Ryan and I settled down in front of the boob tube. I hadn’t watched much television and also welcomed some non conversation time with a host. I hadn’t had much of that. In addition, while I have my own shows, it’s always interesting to see what someone else picks. Ryan had Tivo’d a show called ” The Good Guys” which stars Bradley Whitford as an old detective ala Jim Rockford, but played in a comedic, over the top way. The straight man is Colin Hanks. It was pretty funny. We chatted a little bit during the show, but mostly about the show and about how different a role this was from Whitford’s part on “The West Wing”. We watched that and then it was time for bed. The kids would be up early and as everyone had places to be in the morning, so sleep needed to come soon. Ryan got the couch made up for me and I brushed my teeth and got myself ready. We said goodnight and after checking my email one last time, it was off to dreamland.

The morning came quick, but I had slept well. I don’t remember if it was Grace or Gwen, but one of them was up, with Ryan watching Dora at around 6am. I believe it was Grace. I woke up and made some room on the couch so that Ryan and Billy could sit there. Grace really loves her brother and the interaction of the two them was precious as well. Of course, even in my groggy state I was capturing the whole thing in photos. The kids had their cereal and I started wrapping up the photos of the couch as well as their home in general. I had a bowl of cereal myself while everyone got dressed and then it was time for the girls to show me their dance skills. While Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” played Gwen, and to a lesser extent, Grace put on show. They really seemed to like dancing and I was quite amused. This was too cute. Mariah had gotten up by this point catching the end of the show. While further preparations for the day were being made, I finished up documenting their home and packed up my stuff. With a quick goodbye I was out the door and on my way to sit in traffic and make my way to the animal rescue and later, yet another couch with more children.

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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