Thursday, March 02, 2006

Photo Booth Friday

UC Berkeley, 1987

I completely forgot about this photo booth "project" I did back when I was nineteen and all deep and shit. I didn't actually go to UC Berkeley. I just wandered around the campus like a fool hoping I'd get a degree via osmosis, through big prayers. Hmm, not much has changed.

During this time, I lived at the University Hotel on Shattuck. I rented a small room which overlooked the avenue, and it had flimsy walls, a saggy twin dressed in over-bleached sheets and a pedestal sink. An oxidized mirror hung above the sink, but I don’t remember a dresser in the room. But I built a bookshelf out of scraps of wood. It was like an altar for the few books I had transported in one box in the '79 Ford Escort which had blown a head gasket within seconds of reaching Berkeley. I had left the car where it died a few blocks north of Telegraph. The door to my room, Room 2, had been painted brown about seven billion times over every kick and punch mark. It was also miscut letting in triangles of hall light, and it made the most frightening sound when rattled.

Room 2 was not a suffocating cell as some had suggested. Above my bed, I had hung a Georgia O’Keefe poster of a bull’s skull that floated against a water-blue sky and a clean, beige desert. I had one lamp that gave off pretty lighting; lighting that I imagined would be in the finest of homes or rooms because of how it illuminated my books and my poster and my bed. I’d sit on the skin-thin charcoal carpet -- the type that lines garages -- and I read Alice Walker and Garcia Marquez and I listened to my radio. Once the sun set on Shattuck, the confrontations began and no matter what time it was, even when they woke me at every hour, I strained to hear what they argued about, what they were shouting. Why were they shouting at three in the morning? I’d peek over the window sill, a half a foot above my bed and I squinted to see their expressions as they slurred their words when they fought.

Every resident of the University Hotel shared one bathroom which, from Room Number 2, was two doors to the left and six doors towards the interior of the hotel. Walking down the hall towards the bathroom, the light dimmed to darkness as the hall disappeared deeper into the hotel. It was a precarious trek to the bathroom. I would always hesitate to go from the lighter side of the hall to the darkness. The energy did not swirl; it was stuck in place. You waded through the vibe to get to the bathroom. You didn’t have to hear the rumors and stories of the University Hotel to feel the thickness of the hall.

Every Monday night, I took a long bath in the bathroom because it was cleaned on Monday afternoon. Through the hall I ran with my shampoo that I used for bubbles and my soap and my towel; a set of clean clothes. I’d lock the bathroom door quickly and pretend the bathroom was my own. The toilet was chipped and the lighting was grim; one exposed 40 watt bulb. The floor was grey-white and patterned with tiny octagon tiles. There were many tiles missing from the floor exposing the concrete beneath. Large, permanent orange streaks like brush strokes ran from the tub’s faucet to the drain. But it was clean on Monday nights and I filled it with soapy hot water and I would slip into my fabricated luxury. I closed my eyes and relaxed there until the water was tepid and until I wondered too much whether the bath tub was really clean at all.



I suppose I'm also deeming the end of the week: Gratuitous Gorgeousness Fridays. Here's Maya washing dishes. It was only a matter of time before I could get her to dance. There's also a picture of Papi & Mina & Lupe watching a basketball game. Happy Friday, familia. This is a long way from the University Hotel, from where I'm standing.






19 comments:

Melinda said...

Those last two photos just ripped my heart out. Amazing.

Rebel Girl said...

What faces!

ESB said...

you could easily turn this entry into a short story, you know....and your girls are just drippingly gorgeous...

lovegreendog said...

i held it all in until i scrolled down to the last two photos.
beautiful writing and images.

acumamakiki said...

LOVE the photos of Maya busting a move. I also love your photobooth image.....really wonderful story.
I have to go back and look at the photos again.

Deb R said...

You had very pretty hair for 1987! Usually in pictures from around then people have hair that's either huge and permed or short and spiked.

LOVED the kid pics. Those are wonderful.

madness rivera said...

Thanks for the photo comments. All three of us are booty-poppin experts, a la Beyonce. Oh yes we are!

And Deb you just like my hair because that's when I used to color is red!

Marigoldie said...

Dee-licious.

la vie en rose said...

what a journey you have had my friend!

tina said...

More, more! We need the full-on Madness autobiography, I think.

Maven said...

You know what, I love the idea of Gratuitous Gorgeousness Fridays. I might have to institute them one of these weeks. And also, I love this post. It has me thinking about the places I've lived (none so picturesquely squalid and adventurous as yours) and why.

andrea said...

I don't know which I love most-- that fabulously experimental photobooth project or the photo of maya dancing. apples and oranges. I heart them both for many, many different reasons.

and your accompanying words... couldn't drink them in fast enough, they were so good.

LJ said...

What a juicy description of your earlier life and room.
And your daughter is a delight to see.

julia said...

good LORD you have gorgeous children! I love these photos of them, too ... such spirit.

julia said...

How did I forget to say that I loved your PBF submission? That's an incredible collage.

And I used to haunt Berkeley, too. It's special, isn't it?

Meegan Blue said...

The photo collage is fantastic and a wonderful story to go along with it. But the thing that really got in this post is Maya. She is so beautiful it makes my heart hurt. How do you do anything but just sit and watch her face all day? And your youngest too! My goodness, the beauty in those girls is astounding.

Michelle Fry said...

I love the photos but the story was the best part. I could really picture your room and that bathroom where you took your bath. I would have been too timid at age 19 to claim the bathroom long enough for a bath. So, your boldness made me smile.

Alexandra S said...

What a wonderful snapshot of that time in your life- so many details that brought it to life. I lived in North Berkeley during college and it was nice to hear all those words that use to be my everyday world-Telegraph, Shattuck. I felt a twinge of nostalgia and yet, I wouldn't want to go back to that period for anything! And your daughter is so beautiful! I hope she thinks so too!

madness rivera said...

Thanks again for all the great comments!