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Couch #19 - Greg

Couch #19 – Greg – June 18th, 2010

Couch #19  belongs to Greg.  Or more specically, to his girlfriend, Nicole and him.  They live in the Bartlett Building, in a converted loft that Nicole owns, in the Historic Core of Downtown Los Angeles, California. They live their with their chihuahua, Princess.  Nicole and he have a group of friends, called Tren Way Bicycle Gang.  One of the members of the group had the couch in their office on Magnolia in Burbank.  He had a little IT business there.  They used to have after hours parties there and Nicole absolutely loved the couch.  Initially another friend took the couch for a while, but then wanted to get rid of it. Nicole and Greg were moving into the loft and arranged to pick up the couch. It was 4 sections long and was too large to be moved into their place.  Nicole and two friends just couldn’t get it around the tight corners of the old downtown building.  Once they had tried everything, Nicole then hired two guys she found on Craigslist who struggled for 3-4 hours with it.  They were able to get it up the stairway to the fifth floor,  but were not able to get it down the narrow hallway to the loft.  Once they had done all that they could Nicole then contacted friends who had had some reupholstery done recently for some advice. The people that had done the reupholstery work took the couch then proceed to chop off and remove one of the sections and reattach the arm.  It was now a smaller,  3 section couch, and was able to be moved into Nicole and Greg’s place. As you can see, it has a lot history among their friends.  And it is definitely comfortable to lie on.  Greg is employed doing IT work at NBC TV Stations in Burbank.  Greg and Nicole like riding bikes and camping, and they are  into photography and music. Greg is just getting into playing music.  They also like seeing bands and watching movies.  Opposite of where he is at now, which is being environmental and green and riding bicyles, Greg raced motorcycles as a kid, off-road, in the desert.  He was really good at it and successful. Greg then went off to college and gave it up. It’s kind of dangerous.  Bicycles are alot cheaper and safer.

Greg and I met through the photo-nerds yahoo group, which is also how I met Bela, and some other of my host. The yahoo group was started by a former teacher we both had and is a way for like minded individuals to post about photography related topics, whether it be about equipment, exhibitions, or even one of our photos, it has kept us in touch with each other.  Greg and I first met in person at LACMA when a a small group of the photo-nerds went to see some exhibits there. That was October 2009.  We are kind of two friends that have come together because we have a lot of common interests.  Greg and I are just getting to know each other and have only seen each other in person a few times, while staying connected on the yahoo group and on facebook.   Greg thinks that my “50 Couches in 50 Nights” adventure  is a really cool project, and  that I am going to have alot of success with it.   He wanted to be participate, get to know me better, as well as show off their place.  Greg likes The Fall, specifically “Cyber Insect”.  Greg is now a vegetarian/vegan, but in the past he really liked carnitas.  Nowadays, it’s bean and cheese burritos.  Greg enjoys the Coen Brothers films, especially “No Country for Old Men”, as well as David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” which had just seen in a theater downtown.  It had been 20 years since the last time he saw it.  Greg thinks that it is a very ambitious project I am doing by not only sleeping on the couches, but also by getting alot of information from the people I am staying with.  He thinks that it’s even better than the original concept.  Greg also feels that it’s kind of cool that I’ve met some people for the first time the day that I slept on their couch.  Greg lives in a fairly old part of Los Angeles.  It’s close to Skid Row.  There’s lots of crotchety older homeless people. That fits in with how Greg feels.  He feels kind of old and grumpy.  Greg also likes historical buildings and this neighborhood is full of them.  He likes the old theatres on Broadway.  Nicole likes the Bradbury Building.  Looking at the modern building and the lights from the roof at night is cool, but most of the time he finds himself looking at the buildings in the neighborhood during the day from the street, specifically the building on the southwest corner of 7th and Broadway which he passes most every day on his way to the subway.

I left Melony’s house and headed for the Starbucks in nearby Toluca Lake. I got my usual grande Pike Place and settled in to catch up on some things. Usually this meant reading and returning email, catching up on facebook, reading my horoscope for the day, checking in with my upcoming couch hosts to make sure that everything is still okay, and possibly working on a blog or at least uploading some photos. It could also include paying a bill or two as despite not having to pay rent, I still had a car to deal with as well as credit cards and outstanding bills related to my old apartment.

In addition, I also got a kick out people watching at the various coffee shops. I wish that I had made more notes about it, although since it didn’t seem related to this couch project, it didn’t seem important at the time. But I do remember some of the characters. Specifically at this Starbucks you got certain types. There were your homeless or homeless looking type. They would wander in, sometimes with an old Starbucks cup in hand and use the restroom or simply sit. They weren’t disruptive or anything, but they also were not customers of any sort. Sometimes when I was there for long hours like I was on this day, I would see them come and go more than once. Also at this location were the wheeler and dealers and the creatives. There would be business meetings of various degrees of importance going on nearly every time I was there. I remember one time there were these two men looking at each other’s reels on a laptop and discussing the footage and the edit and everything. Apparently they had worked on a project together and were claiming use of the same imagery and discussing how to handle it. One gentleman was very polite and businesslike. The other guy, well, I thought he was going to fly off the handle at any moment. And it wasn’t necessarily in the direction of the other person, but more of a general anger. Another time there was older man, two middle aged men, and a young woman. They seemed to be discussing a script with the older man leading the way and the others doing most of the writing. I got the feeling that the woman was sort of an assistant who thought she was also a writer and apparently they let her think that. She was quite attractive. And yet another time, I remember a later middle-aged man waiting for someone to have a meeting. He was there with his assistant who was carrying all of his things and talking way too much. He must’ve been someone impressive since when he was gone from his seat, she would brag on the phone to her friends about where they had gone and what they had done. I don’t remember hearing any names being dropped other than ones like “Spago” and “The Ivy” and other fancy restaurants that they had been to. It was all quite intriguing and often distracted me. And, of course, there was the general interaction between the staff and the customers. Some people were regulars and friendly and the barristas honestly seemed to enjoy seeing them. Other customers were demanding and bossy and you could sense that the people behind the counter enjoyed these patrons much less. It is quite curious to see the different attitudes of people. I mean, how hard is it to be nice and polite? Especially when people are preparing your food?

I stayed at Starbucks ’til about lunchtime which for me was probably 2pm on a day like that. As I wasn’t meeting my Greg until late that evening, having lunch that late was fine. As I would eventually need to end up downtown for the night, I decided that the afternoon in Hollywood was in order. I made my way to one of my favorite places, California Chicken Cafe for a chinese chicken wrap and broccoli pasta salad on the side. As I was nearby, I then parked the car for the two hours that I could in the a residential and permit only neighborhood, and camped out at Stir Crazy, a coffee shop to work some more and kill some time. There got an iced tea. Upon reviewing my facebook activity for the day it seems I finished a blog about Couch #8 (Jay), uploaded some photos of Couch #7 (Buffy), and had the Beatles and Linda Ronstadt (“Golden Threads and Silver Needles”) in my head. The blog was finished before I left Starbucks, with the rest of the work getting done at Stir Crazy or later in the day. This would be the second to last blog that I would rush through trying to keep up. But more on that in the next blog posting.

After the two hours that I could legally park near Stir Crazy, I left there and headed downtown. I drove around looking for free parking near where Greg lived, but wasn’t able to locate any. After a text message exchange with Greg, I was directed to a block where the parking would be reasonable even on my tight budget. It would be $5 to park overnight and $5 more if I wanted to leave it there for any portion of the next day. I paid the $5 with the intention of getting up early enough and moving the car. Once that was taken care of and I was sure that I could get in the car once Greg had arrived home, I grabbed my laptop and a couple things and was on foot. I had looked online and found a coffee shop of sorts near Greg’s place and so I would camp out at the LA Cafe nearby. I was warned by Greg’s girlfriend, Nicole, not to drink the coffee, and after having coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon, that was not on the menu. Instead, I got a vitamin water and grabbed a seat outside and continued writing and photo editing while people watching on Spring Street. The only person that sticks in my memory was this stunningly attractive woman who showed up at the cafe with her book and sat and read. I was a bit tired of sitting at the computer and tired in general at this point and so I was easily distracted from my work. She didn’t make it easy to concentrate either.  I was told later that there are college students in the area and that they often end up at the cafe.  This woman seemed to fit that description as well.

Greg showed up and I packed up my things while we exchanged hellos and how do you dos. As I was catching him up on things, we walked to my car to pick up my other things. The entrance to the parking lot that I had used was closed at this point and so we had to walk down 7th Street to another gate. While we were doing this we discussed whether or not I had enough couches. I told Greg that nearly every time I had posted a blog, I had received new offers of couches. Today had been no exception. I had received two new offers of places to stay. Before I knew it, if I had wanted to, I could seemingly do this endlessly. As you already know, I did stop at 50, but even as I type this I keep considering going back on the road and doing more. While that would leave no time to ever finish a book or do anything else, it would make my life a bit more interesting again and new round of couches or another round on the old ones might just reveal something I haven’t learned yet. I’m not committed to doing it just yet, if at all,  but I am thinking about it all the time.

We grabbed my things and wandered back to Greg’s building. He had just returned home from work and it was Friday, so he was a bit exhausted. We took the elevator up to his fifth floor apartment and sat down and had a beer. He lives there with his girlfriend, Nicole, who was still at work. In addition they had a little chihuahua, Princess. Overall, I like Princess, but that dog is a bit crazy. Initially she always acts like I’m some intruder or threat in the house. I get that. I’m a stranger and she’s guarding the place. Eventually, however, Princess warms up to me so much so that she’ll let me pet her. I’m good with animals overall to the extent many times I get along with people’s pets better than most of their other guests do. Occasionally it’s surprising how well I get along with them. In this case, however, after Princess would warm up to me, there would come a moment where she would just turn and snap at me. Not it a really vicious or dangerous way, but definitely in a surprising and defensive way. I don’t know how many times it happened on this visit, but by the next morning I almost started timing her to see if there was a pattern.

We grabbed another beer and  Greg started cooking some veggie sausages and some squash for dinner. While he was doing this we continued to catch up. The last time that I had seen Greg was on the Poppy Roadtrip with the Tren Way Bicycle Gang on April 3rd, so it had been a while. On that trip, Greg had invited me to travel with his group of friends since he knew it would be an interesting photo adventure. That day, we took a van load of people and then some, up to the Antelope Valley to see the abandoned “Polaroid” House, sit among a grove of trees, visit an a couple of abandoned farms and explore the detritus that lay about on the grounds. We ultimately ended the day laying in a field enjoying a feast of cold cuts and other things that his friend Marino had brought for us. It was quite a day. I have some of the photos up on my facebook page, but still have yet to have the rest processed. Perhaps when I finish this project that will grab my attention once again. Anyway, Greg tended to stick with this group of people and they tended to travel, so I always wanted to hear about his adventures.

I also began to wander around the place as I do when I show up at my home for the night. I want to take it all in and not miss a detail of the place. In my wandering here, on the wall, next to one of Greg’s “Monkey” photos was a piece of art. It appeared to be a woman in a nightgown and stockings, sitting on a bed, drinking something from a funnel. When I asked Greg what this was about, I was told that it was Fern. Rumor has it  that Greg’s friends met Fern in a roadside motel in Newberry Springs, CA, did beer bongs with her.  Or perhaps it was simply that a photo of Fern had been found at one point and that the artwork created mimicked the photo. Jason Hadley had done the piece, and so only he and his girlfriend Elizabeth know the true story . Apparently Fern appears in many pieces of art and in many forms. It seems that she even had a Friendster account at one point, which eventually got deleted when she pissed off a potential suitor who wanted to bring her to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Fern also actually got invited to exhibit in a women’s art show as well.  I found it all very curious myself then, and continue to find it intriguing. While I had seen many pieces of art on many of my host’s walls, this was my kind of work. It was dirty without being crude, and not at all sexy. It told a story which asked more questions than it could answer. It was no surprise to me that Fern had become a legend among his friends.

We ate our dinner, which was quite. I’m not necessarily a fan of the non-meat sausage but in this case it was fine. The squash was a summer squash of some sort and was delicious. But then again, I am a fan of squash. I’m not exactly sure what kind of squash it was. It was a yellow squash or a zucchini or even a spaghetti squash. It was a different form than the yellow squash, but tasted quite similar. Again, I definitely enjoyed it. After dinner, with another beer in hand, we headed up to roof. The roof was one of the great things about living in this building and so it was a must stop for my visit. And it was impressive. It was nice night out, so I welcomed the time outside, but it was really more about the view. From Greg’s roof, the skyline of Los Angeles was right in your face. It really was quite incredible. This would be yet another night that I would have a view of this city that I call home. We stayed up there for a while talking some more and I took in all angles. In addition to the skyline, we noticed that on one of the roof there was a gathering going on, but more interestingly, while investigating that, I noticed that you could see into many of the people’s homes in that building and the voyeur in me scoured the windows which had their lights on for any signs of life. I remember there being one woman at home on her computer by the window. She sat staring at that screen motionless for so long that at one point I was sure it was mannequin. Then she would type or move to reveal that she was, indeed, alive.

After a little back and forth on the roof exploring all that there was to explore, we headed back downstairs to the apartment. It was getting late at this point and Nicole would be home soon. Nicole did arrive home shortly thereafter and Greg prepared dinner for her. She had had a long day at Ikea would have to go back early the next day for training, so we would not be staying up late. That was fine with me as I was exhausted and the relaxing effects of the few beers we had drank were taking hold. Nicole did some cleaning while dinner was being made and the she and Greg caught up on some things while I sat and checked my email quickly. We then all sat down on the couch and Nicole told me the story of the couch which Greg would recount the next day on tape and which I have explained above. I also looked around commenting on the “Bosom Buddies” on VHS collection. Greg played some music while we all laughed and told tales. Before much longer was time for bed and after we all went through our nighttime rituals, and the couch was dressed in fine linens it was off to dreamland, even for Princess who tucked away in her adorable little dog tent bed.

I was awoken only briefly by the sound of Nicole getting up and leaving for work. I believe that I said goodbye and thank you or something but I was barely awake, so it very well could’ve all been in my head. Eventually I did wake up, but Greg was still sound asleep. I was supposed to move my car by a certain time and that time was quickly approaching. I was nervous that I should I not move my car by a certain time that a tow truck would be called in to have it moved for me. Looking back on it now, I’m not sure why I thought that as it was a $5 parking spot and towing the thing would cost far more than that. Regardless, I was nervous about it. With a trunk full of many of my possessions, and with little money, the last thing I needed was a tow charge or to lose the stuff that I did have. So, I sat there and read through some email and checked my facebook and any number of other things that I do to kill time. The appointed time came and went and Greg was still not up. I searched the table for some house keys but without luck. I then tried, as I did above, to calm myself down and make logical sense of the situation. I was getting nervous for no good reason. Greg got up a short time later and began making coffee with his AeroPress. It was at this time, that I asked Greg for the keys so that I could check on my car. I was also hungry and so I wanted to get some breakfast grub for us as well. Keys in hand I ventured out onto 7th Street first in search of an ATM so that I could get some cash to pay for everything. I had noticed a 7-11 a few blocks away and so I headed there. I belong to a credit union and the ATM’s at the 7-11’s are surcharge-free for credit union members. I walked back towards the parking lot, but didn’t fail to notice the crowds shopping on the downtown streets. Most notably were the hispanic women with children mesmerized by the cheap jewelry in the windows of the jewelry stores. To me, they looked as though they were already struggling to make ends meet and were dreaming of things that they were told were important to have. This was yet another case of people being told what they should want and the people buying into it. But then again, maybe I’m projecting too much of my own ideas and bias onto this. The other thought that went through my head as I saw this was that I would definitely have to take a walk around the block later and take some “street” photography photos. There was so much material here.

I continued down the street, doing my own sort of window shopping, and arrived at the parking lot. My car was blocked in as the lot attendant did his best to take advantage of every inch of real estate. As I was only there to pay my additional five dollars to keep the car there a bit longer, it was not an issue. I then head back to LA Cafe to pick up a couple of cinnamon rolls. While I was there, a dude, probably in his late 20’s showed up. He appeared to be wearing a sweat shorts and flips and a hoody sweatshirt unzipped almost all the way. He also had sunglasses on. He flirted with the counter person but was failing miserably. She looked more like a down-to-earth hippy type of girl and was not impressed. When he asked her about her plans for the night, she responded with something like “Sleep. I’ve got be here at 6am.” And it was said with almost a contempt in her voice. I ordered my cinnamon rolls and left. When I got back upstairs, Greg had coffee from the AeroPress ready for me. I sat down and checked my email again and enjoyed my breakfast.

After getting a little sugar and caffeine in my system, I grabbed my cameras and wandered around the apartment. Couch photos still needed to be taken, an interview and a portrait still needed to be done, and the place still needed to be documented. As I wandered around Greg and I talked some more. I noticed and found humorous, a bumper sticker that read “My Drinking Gang has a Biking Problem”. There was also a trophy for some event that the Bike Gang had made up. I also got a kick out of the file box which included folders for things like “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Santa Con Songs”, mixed in with “HOA Statements” and “IKEA Perfromance”. We also discussed his band, of sorts, Bouncehausen. He told me how one of the songs that they covered was by Hechizeros Band.  They had taken the chorus of  Die Antwoord “Enter the Ninja” (“I i i i i, I am your butterfly, I need your protection, be my samurai”) and added it into the middle of Hechizeros Band’s “El Sonidito”.  As you can imagine, this is quite hilarious.   In addition to this, more music played on the iPod, including “Third Uncle” by Brian Eno. I was most familiar with the Bauhaus cover of the song, so I was thrown off a little at first, and had to ask Greg who was doing this version. After all of this was done, I said my thank yous and good byes and headed out the door.

I decided to take a moment and wander around the neighborhood taking some street photography shots. Most of these were taken with my digital at my hip and aimed in the general direction of the subject. Other than the woman in a clown outfit, I didn’t get anything fantastic. Well, except for a “What are you looking at?” from some crazy lady on the street. I did take some photos of the Los Angeles Theatre, Clifton’s Cafeteria, and some graffiti art as well, before making my way to my car and off to the YMCA for a much needed shower.  I had to get myself cleaned up and together before making my way to Fullerton, behind the Orange Curtain, and my next couch.

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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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