Richard Lutz checks out his coffee table to find out who he is.
I always was entranced by a seductive TV documentary from about thirty or forty years ago. I still think of it. It was by a director called Lucinda Lambton and she filmed folks in their homes as they explained why things were on their mantelpieces: Pictures, jewellery, ornaments, postcards, sunglasses, photographs of old folks when they were young. Everything defined who the person was from the outright junk to the invaluable…. and from the deeply personal to the absolutely random.
I was thinking about the programme as I sat with my feet up on my coffee table, a coffee table we bought because it was the sturdiest piece of furniture I ever encountered. It is immovable – especially when you ram your foot into it.
Well, at the moment when I remembered that TV show, I checked out what was on my coffee table. Like the junk on those mantelpieces, it defines me, whether I like it or not. It’s who I am in the clutter of that mundane world.
So here we go:
A bunch of books that include one on food from the Black Sea (the maternal side of my family are from Odessa); the obligatory Ipad, the wooden fruit bowl with wooden painted fruit (a favourite of toddlers who like to throw things); two control remotes (a third is somewhere); a dictionary for the crossword, a list for something that was important at one time but is now forgotten; a newspaper, a small and creepy carving of a Dark Ages knight that always resembled a stunted troll, a well-thumbed copy of a book that I am slowly getting through; an old pillow to put my feet on when no one is around and I’m watching TV; a travel book for a trip we’re taking; three gloves (one has disappeared); and, not so common these days, a letter to be posted.
Also a deck of cards for a special kind of rummy called Michigan 500. Oh, and a coffee cup.
That’s my Lambton coffee table clutter in an instant. It’s history. It’s a snapshot. That’s me. I could have dolled it up, I guess, with a bunch of early daffodils or maybe a set of hefty dumb-bell weights or a cerebral book I would never actually read. But I stopped myself between the idea of taking the picture and snapping away.
From the looks of it, I guess we’re not nice and tidy coffee table owners. The table is the mission control for the living room with everything within a grab’s distance. What’s there is mundane. Ordinary stuff that somehow sums up a life lived. Just like the crowded mantelpieces that were filmed and described way back then by Lambton.
A brief slice of time. It’ll change within an hour as the cup is ferried back to the kitchen, the newspaper is chucked away, the troll gets banished to a far corner, when the fourth glove is found or when the letter is posted. And then it’ll be different.