Recently I performed with a “mixed bag” of improvisers for the Slapdash International Festival of Improvisation here in London. We created our own little format for the show called “the mullet” – short in the front, long in the back. Heh, get it? Anyway, before the show as we were all getting to know each other the very funny Jim Libby noted that his favorite object in any performance space was the sofa. Think about it, sofas are some of the most memorable pieces of furniture in anyone’s life. He asked, ‘can you imagine your childhood couch?’ I could, couches have a lot of life. So, I started thinking about the ‘couches of my life’ and a lot came out of it.
Let’s start at the beginning. The blue sofa in Natalie Lane. This bad boy makes a lot of appearances in old family videos. Wanna see footage of my sister and I fighting over a recorder? Done. How about yours truly rolling on the floor in a diaper wailing over a Pepsi. The “I WANT A PEPSI!” temper tantrum lives in infamy in my family. Oh hey, there’s that blue couch. It’s also the couch I fell over and landed in a trip to the hospital (The first of many in my youth. Clumsy kid. Clumsy human, really). I remember sitting on the blue couch and saying goodbye to our next door neighbor/ best friend Eric the night before we moved out of the house on Natalie Lane. It was a very sad night.
Then, ah…the floral sofa of Ardin Drive. The fabric had an awful, stiff texture. That poor, poor couch. Not only did our cats tear its corners to shreds (because my father refused to ever discipline his cats), but they covered it in fur and all too often with feline vomit. Ick. However, Pursey and Sukey were not the only ones to ever get sick on it. In fact, I had that inaugural pleasure. On the day the new couch was delivered, I spent the afternoon with my sister Alyson and my aunt Colleen at the movies. We went to see The Mask, I believe. I left the theater with an awful, awful headache (and no it wasn’t because of how bad that movie was). My aunt took me back to her house immediately. I was crying so hard we had to skip Burger King (Aly was pissed). I was having my first migraine.
When my aunt dropped me off at home later that evening, I walked right in to the living room and promptly threw up all over the brand-new, just-delivered sofa. My mother was furious. She sent me straight to my room. I was mortified and really mad at my mom. I was sick! Why was she so mad at me? It wasn’t until years later that I realized my mother hadn’t had a new piece of furniture let alone a new anything in years. We were always a family of second-hand or hand-me-downs. This was a brand-new sofa. Not only was it new, but it was high quality. Built to last. And I puked all over it. In my adulthood I’ve come to appreciate very deeply how much my mom has sacrificed over the years. I literally have to beg her to go buy herself something new every once in a while. She’s always thinking about me and my sister. Almost never, and certainly not enough, about herself. We bought another new couch about a decade later. When we threw the old one away, I saw the stain underneath the cushions. I didn’t think about being yelled at that day. I think about being sick and feeling really awful and how my aunt Colleen took care of me. I think about how she loved taking me and Aly places. How she was simultaneously so fun and so caring. And I just really miss her.
I spent a lot of time with that couch. I slept on it when I had a flu on Thanksgiving and missed going to my grandparents. I writhed in pain when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. But then felt a little better when, in the first time of my life, a boy brought me flowers. I sat on it, toes tapping, waiting eagerly for my prom date to pick me up. I watched really bad horror movies with my best friends on it. I grew up on that couch.
My grandparents’ couches are also really specific. There was something so luxurious about them. Even when I was little I was like “oh wow, this is a nice thing.” I knew I wasn’t allowed to put my feet up on their tables and I should only eat in the kitchen or the porch. Though from time to time I would sneak Andes chocolates from Popsy’s office and watch tv. I also spent a lot of time on their couch when I had to go home sick from school. My grandparents would often get me and my grandmom would either make me poached eggs and toast or grilled ham and cheese with soup. Sometimes, then, I could eat on the sofa.
My adolescence and teen years were filled with so many other legendary couches. The Beshenichs had a famous L-shaped couch in their family room. I ALWAYS aimed for the corner section. I spent many-a-night falling asleep on the couch as my friends and I went late in to the night playing video games, board games, or listening to Pete and Andrew make up dumb songs. And nowadays, when I go over for Christmas or visit on Thanksgiving for dessert, I still claim the corner. There was the couch I spent about 4 hours making out with a boy on (who was in a band! surprised?) when I was 16 and felt so rebellious because I told my parents I was at a friend’s house. That boy engaged now. Then there was Ellen’s couch. Ellen threw the best parties. Even the most typical seen-in-every-high-school-movie party where there were kegs and people locking themselves in bedrooms. No synchronized dancing. However, the couch was always the center of everything in all of its brown plaid, unchanged since the 70s glory. And was where I ran when the cops showed up at the door one night. Diana’s “comfy couch” in the basement was a thing of wonders. You just looked at it and knew that thing had been really lived in. We often spent hours sitting around her kitchen table talking about all things life/boy/high school related. When it got too late, we’d move to the comfy couch. That still holds true.
And then we come to college, my years at Drexel University. The greatest couch in that era was Mindy’s at 3609 Hamilton Street. That thing was like kryptonite. No matter what time of day, no matter what season, what activity. That couch was NAP TIME. That couch came to represent a lot in our friendship. It was a place where we cried about things – things that were scary about this new stage of adulthood, things about our families that were messed up. That couch was a “safe place.” It was also a thing that proved you don’t need to be doing anything in particular in order to feel close to someone. Just being in the same space together, feeling them around could be enough. We spent about 8 hours one day watching Lifetime and eating pizza and it still remains as one of the most memorable days of my college life. And nothing really happened. I just remember feeling like I truly had a best friend. And sometimes Mindy would throw parties. And sometimes people would share a lot of feelings on her couch.
Jarret’s couch was also a place of wonder. It was just so him. I was first introduced to Jarret’s couch via Sunday Night Dinner. This was an “elite” gathering. Really it was 5 or 6 of us each Sunday who were lured over to Jarret’s where he would pretend like we had any say in what we watched that night. I suggested Monsters Inc…and we ended up watching Casino. I loved those nights, though. It was something I could always look forward to. Something to make Monday seem less dreadful. There was always a lot of wine. The night always ended with port. And Jarret’s cooking got consistently better. The tradition lives on, so I’m told.
Drexel also had its array of typical frat boy front porch couches. Broken-down, nasty black leather couches to throw your coat down on a party and hope it was still there at the end of the night. Nothing really memorable happens on those couches. They’re just part of a place, a feeling. That moment of “yep, this is college.” And you hold your red solo cup and hope growing up gets better, or maybe never changes, depending on how you feel that night. Either wholly infinite or wholly trapped. Or just totally drunk. COLLEGE.
Really though, I owe much of my college sanity to the couches in the Green Room of the Mandell Theater. I could always sneak off there during breaks for a quick nap. Sometimes you’d find a fellow Drexel Player in there and you’d dish on the latest player gossip. Or you’d find the really sneaky actors napping during strike (they were then instructed to wait until everyone else got their food before they could eat). Or if you had a class in the green room, you always claimed a couch spot. Sometimes they were used as set pieces and that would really annoy you because now they weren’t available for napping. Oh, if those couches could talk. (See above photo)
There was of course a couch for first love. We curled up together one night watching 30 Rock. “So, what do you, like, refer to me as?” He asked as Liz Lemon was most likely eating something on screen. And after that moment, we were official. I look the leap while spooning. It’s a really sweet memory, that no matter how much things hurt in the end, I can still smile about. I think of that couch fondly. The home-cooked dinners we shared on it. The water ice I brought him after his wisdom teeth were pulled and watched “25 Years at the iO” on Netflix. Or sometimes we just put on a record and lied together on that couch. It was a good couch.
Then, I come to think about the “metaphorical” couch – what I refer to as my therapist’s office. We sat in chairs in our meetings. But we all come to think of a shrink’s office as the patient lounging on a sofa while the doctor sits in some large leather chair holding a clipboard. I’m writing about this because I think people don’t talk about therapy enough. Unless you live in New York. We’ve come to accept that people meet online, that everyone is on some sort of weird diet, or that we feel free to talk about our sexual exploits …at brunch! (Once again, maybe that’s just New York. It’s definitely not London). However, we still feel shame about seeing a therapist. Or, at least I know when I tell people that I see a therapist off-and-on over the years they get this concerned look on their faces. Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy!
Quite the opposite really – for me it means I’m self-aware enough to know there are problems my parents, best friends, Ben and or Jerry, and especially I can’t fix. There are issues I need an outside ear. I need a space where I feel free to say what could be unsayable. Not having to hold back is liberating. Everyone should try it. The time I’ve spent on that couch over this past year is what helped me get through the most challenging few months of my life. I felt so utterly lost when I first moved to London. My session was something once a week where I knew I could let that all out. I didn’t have to fake what a great time I was having so people at home wouldn’t worry or so I could try to force myself into believing I made the right choice. And I uncovered a lot about myself along the way. If you’re doing something to help yourself, there’s no shame in it. I think most people look at going to therapy as some sort of admission to being broken. When really, it’s something you can do to keep yourself together. If we can brag about what a great session we had at the gym this morning, why can’t we brag about what a great breakthrough we had at therapy? I’m not saying we need to spill out everything to everyone. Therapy is deeply deeply personal and we also shouldn’t treat people like our emotional dumping grounds. I’m just saying we shouldn’t have to hide it.
And when I returned back to Philadelphia for the Christmas break – I mostly just wanted to hang out with my friends on their couches. I wanted to have Mindy cook dinner for the OGs and watch the Jersey Shore together. I wanted to sip beers with Fran and Di and make fun of each other for hours on end. I wanted to eat cheese and drink wine with Julie. I wanted to watch old black and white films with Becca. I wanted to enjoy doing absolutely nothing with Tinuke and Jemma. And I just wanted to hang out with my mom, my dad, and my sister and feel at home. Because I hadn’t for a long time. At least it felt that way. There’s something about the right sofa that just brings you home. I remember experiencing that for the first time in London at my friend Rosie’s. Her flat felt so homey. It just felt right. And then later on my friend Jess’s sofa where her little dog Bridget sat on my lap and we unearthed our shared comedic take on the world. A lot of things happen on sofas.
What are your favorite sofa (or sofer as my Brooklyn-raised father would say) memories, dear readers?