Tuesday, November 02, 2004

the guest bedroom

So our little trip to Tahoe this past weekend brought to mind something I find fascinating but hadn't thought about for a while. We went with another couple and stayed with their family who live there in town. Maybe some of you have also pondered the meaning behind this phenomenon toward which I cast my curiosity. It is known as … the guest bedroom.

After this pregnancy journal, I swear I'm gonna write a guide book called America's Guest Bedrooms: the Underbelly of Suburban Life. And since I always tie in my blog entries clearly and exclusively to having an unexpected baby on the way, I think I'll propose that I am pondering such things as guest rooms now because of the nesting instinct we all know goes along with pregnancy and motherhood. The preparation of house and home for the new arrival. The thought that goes into decorating the spare room with duckies of the proper color – colors which, naturally, must be determined by the sex of the fetus. We all know how infants demand separation on the basis of gender from the moment their little pee-pees and wee-wees form in utero. I don't think I have to tell you that, if you're having a boy, at a certain age, say, three years old, you'll have to trade in the duckies all together for more manly ornamentation, say, grenades. Girls may keep the duckies until they trade them in themselves for creased posters out of pre-teen magazines of some hunka hunka 20-year-old singer whose favorite color is blue, just like hers(!).

Don't fight it. It's biological. … kinda like … this nesting instinct, to which people in the know will assign any move on the part of a pregnant woman that resembles domestic thought in the least. Dad tip: Offer to carry large heavy pieces of wood if your partner decides she must build a giant stork for the front yard. (Sorry, got carried away. Was I lapsing into the language of the What to Expect If You Want Be Accepted into the Monomaniacal Society of Mainstream Bullshit book du jour again? I give you my wrist. Go on and slap.)

Now that you understand fully my motivation, I return you to our regularly scheduled blog, "the guest bedroom."

Guest bedrooms of people my age and generation have, until recently, usually consisted of a futon mattress on the floor and a computer. This cozy set up has begun to change somewhat, but I don’t want to admit that. I remain in my mind a sloppy college student and so must my friends. Guest bedrooms of the older generation, now these are fascinating.

If a kitchen is the soul of the house, the guest room is the appendix – you don't really need it and the rest of the house functions perfectly well without it, but as long as it's there you might was well use it. They are never in progress. They are always finished products. Quite. They sometimes don't match the rest of the house. They are often somewhat sterile and wallpapered with pink rosettes. There are lamps, gold-trimmed and chairs, not so much stark as simple. These rooms are warehouses of odd, but proudly displayed trinkets. I try desperately to imagine the day of the decision…"I think I'll puuut….the vase of fake tulips….um….riiiight….Here! Yes, that's it!"

I remember one guest room we slept in at the house of a friend of a friend. On the nightstand there was a clock radio and a picture frame. The picture frame, displayed in decorative colors clearly chosen to match the décor in the rest of the room, contained no family snapshot. Just the thin reproduction of a photo of smiling models the manufacturer had slipped in, and over that, the price tag. I suppose you could look at this item as proof of some unfinished project, a crack in the veneer. But I see it as determined in its drive for completion, so much so that the items in the room need not be necessary or sentimental, only the right color (like the duckie nursery).

Despite the fact that they aren't used very much, there is never any dust in rooms like these. And there is nothing cluttering the space. I grew up in a house where clutter and stuff ruled large. Consequently, specimens like the dresser top empty of anything but a doily and the fake tulips intrigue me to no end. It is as strange and beautiful a thing to me as an exotic jungle bird. I approach it slowly. I am drawn to it in wonder, yet almost afraid, as I have nothing in my realm of knowing to compare it to. I brush the tail feathers lightly, the silk leaves ruffle under the silk flower petals and then return to still.

Sometimes you can find paintings hanging in guest bedrooms, oils, say, in heavy wooden frames that are signed with a last name corresponding to your hosts'. These dark landscapes or portraits of children with large, round eyes have been painted by a grandmother or an uncle no longer living who was, your hosts will tell you upon inquiry, an artist. You know instinctively and with a certain sadness in your heart that their artistry never went beyond the guest bedroom stage. The reason for this is either because they had other, "real" work to do – dishes and dusting, or paid work that cracked the palms of their hands and won them a seat at the head of the table. Maybe their art only came out of the garage after they'd passed away.

The most extreme examples of the type of guest room I'm describing really lie just this side of hotel rooms in terms of character. They have no personality on their own, but wait for the personality you lend it with your visit to leak out little by little from overnight bags that spill tiny tubes of toothpaste and jolly ranchers, themselves a shock of black against the rosettes and doilies. However, for all their quiet façade, these rooms usually have a secret past. Most only became guest bedrooms after the kids moved out and many years went by. If you look closely, you might find little signs of this other time, like a wink to the past. It might be the first few letters of a childhood nickname barely scratched into the dresser. Check under the fake tulips.


Anonymous said...

So, I was in *ahem* target the other day, and walking past a shelf of fake flowers I chuckled, quietly, thinking of this entry and that perplexing vase of tulips. And as I was standing there, minding my own business, a woman and her mother come up behind me. The woman rushes toward some fake sunflowers and says "Oh, wouldn't these look nice in my living room, mom?" and the mom says, "Oh, yes, on that little end table!" They placed not one but THREE bunches of these dust-gathering items in their cart and rolled cheerily away, toward the discounted post-halloween candy corns. That moment, it seems, DOES happen.

Anonymous said...

(Oh, that was me, Katie)

kalisekj said...

Hey, I have enjoyed...your blog is informative - even entertaining.

I have a halloween sites. They pretty much covers costumes and masks related stuff.

Thanks again and I'll be sure to bookmark you.

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