A couple of days ago I went over to my parent’s house and I understood something about old people. We sat in the bedroom because that’s where they were when I got there, and I noticed that the curtains on both windows had small holes in them. And then my eye fell on my dad’s bedside radio – it’s old. Really old. It belonged to my husband’s father. It’s really big, much bigger than a breadbox (and you won’t get that unless you are of a certain age) and brown, and has a giant black knob that you use to turn it on with a very definite click. And a giant black knob to change stations. There are certainly no buttons to push. When this radio was built, I’m sure the wonder of the push button phone hadn’t even been invented yet.
There’s a couple of things going on here, and to explain I have to digress a bit. Because growing up, I lived in a visual household. Appearance was everything. Both my parents are artists and boy, did they notice every detail of EVERYTHING – people, places, and us kids (one of us was too short, one weighed too much, one would look so much better when the braces were finally off, and so on). So I noticed too.
But as I got older (meaning – grown up and in my own household) I realized that the commentary on appearances trended toward the negative. I didn’t really care if a person had an ugly figurine on a shelf – it was theirs to like or dislike, not mine. I didn’t want to hear about their good or bad taste.
For example, let’s talk about a building. If you head west on the 405 in Los Angeles and take the Santa Monica Blvd. exit, you’ll see a building on the northwest corner. It’s just a building and I never thought anything about it. But a number of years ago, when my dad was going to be a guest on the Charlie Rose show, he needed some new clothes for the trip to New York so I volunteered to go to Los Angeles with my parents to shop. (Which, when I think about it, was a ridiculous thing to do because I know about as much about fashion and men’s clothing as a turnip.) As we made the turn off the freeway, this is approximately how the discussion went:
“Look at that building. Is that one of the ugliest buildings you’ve ever seen?”
“Who would want to work in a building that looks like that and right next to the freeway, too.”
“The architect was not very creative, and the color is ugly too. I mean, just look at that…”
Get the idea? That innocuous building became the building forever marked as the Ugly Building. Because of my husband’s carcinoid we go down to Cedars Sinai frequently, and when we get off the 405 at Santa Monica I ALWAYS see that building and I want to say to it, it’s ok, you’re just a serviceable building. Not everything is a masterpiece, and something has to be built on this land. The good part about being near the freeway is that your workers can get there more easily. Don’t worry, building.
Lots of other things got criticized too: So-and-so sure was a bad housekeeper. Did you see the grime on that lampshade? Why did she ever wear something that color? That woman should never wear short sleeves. These people need to replace their carpet. And on and on.
As the years went by, I realized I was still harboring remnants of that critical streak. Sometimes my husband and I would go to a large, lovely old person’s home for a fundraiser or something, and I’d look at the carpet and how shabby it was and wonder why the heck those people didn’t replace it. Obviously, they could afford it.
So here I was, sitting in my parent’s bedroom looking at the holes in the curtains. (The carpet’s a bit shabby too.) They hadn’t noticed the holes and I sure as heck wasn’t going to point them out. I realized they couldn’t even see them (they were small holes, but still). I told my sister, who said even if they knew they were there, they wouldn’t replace them because it would cost money – and right now my father’s primary goal is to leave as much money as possible to us kids. That’s probably just about how the old people with the shabby carpet were feeling, too. The carpet was just old. It still worked. Like the people.
And I was sitting in my parent’s bedroom looking at that old, clunky radio, thinking, Wow, if anything could be called ugly in terms of today’s sleek designs, it’s amazing that Dad has that in here…and I realized why my husband’s dad’s home office was always such a junk pile. Because all that stuff was still serviceable. Why get rid of a decrepit chair you can still sit in? Just put a cushion on it. At some point, my dad had made the transition from “That’s so ugly I don’t want it in my house” to “it works.” Those old people were at the forefront of the “reuse and recycle” movement before we even knew it was something good to do.
Then I came home and was sitting in my bedroom looking at my curtain. It isn’t even a curtain. In the morning the heat from that particular window would wake me up, so I took a piece of fabric left over from the big curtain, and a piece of blackout material that was left, and clipped it onto slats on the blind. And as I contemplated this all, I realized that I had no motivation whatsoever to turn it into a real curtain – because it worked. I’m 63, but I bet that when I’m 73 that cloth will still be clipped to the blind. It works and I have other things to do.
I noticed the big curtain over the sliding glass door that my daughter had to lengthen because these doors are so much taller than the ones in the old house. And I see the line when she sewed it, and it doesn’t look great, and she tells me to get a ribbon or something and put it along that seam and the curtain will look so much better. But then I’d have to go buy some sort of ribbon and affix it to the curtain, and that would be traumatic because it would be crooked and ultimately look like a cheesy ribbon stuck on a curtain. If it ever gets done, it’ll be my daughter who does it because she’ll do it right and it’ll look good. But it works just fine the way it is.