In the last thirty-five years, Taffy hasn’t changed her apartment. For the sake of clarity, it’s a three bedroom fully owned condo that doesn’t have a single bedroom. We call it Taffy’s apartment, though, and nothing changes. Ever.
In the last seven years, since I moved to Chicago, I have earned a key to not just the apartment (which was given to me when I was 16), but also the security door. That security key is good for the front door and the garage. Once, Ipstenit and I drove, but generally if we’re gone for just a weekend, we fly out of Midway, spending about 5 hours in transit, door to door.
If I travel alone, I always try and take the RTA. I enjoy the ride on the more casual public transit, where the anger prevalent on the Chicago lines is missing. No bums sleeping on the trains, no crazy people. Well, maybe a few, but the ratio is much less. With a transfer from the Red line to the Green (or Blue) at Tower City, I suffer an hour transit in calmness. If I take the Blue line, I get off at Shaker Square and walk a couple blocks, but the Green will take me to Coventry and drop me off across the street.
Either way, I walk into the building through an unimpressive entry into a newly decorated foyer. I hesitate at calling it ‘new’, given that around 1990 they merely traded the 1940’s decor for 1980 greys and blues. It’s not my style, but no one really uses it anymore as anything but a passage way.
Up the back stairs is my favored entrance to the second floor, but when I’m lugging luggage, it’s the elevator. The second floor foyer is home to four front doors, and Taffy’s has someone else’s name on it. Her birth-name, which no one has called her sine World War II, presided on the door, even though her alias (yes, Taffy) is on the buzzer. Not even the garage men call her anything but Taffy. As of late, they transitioned to calling me Miss Ipstenu, instead of Little Taf, or my given name. I suppose it came as a shock when I started visiting on my own, taking myself to and from the airport.
The second floor lobby used to be bland. When Dorothy Fuldheim lived there, I recall it being nicotine yellow. Now it’s a fresh white, with the same grey carpet as below, but with paintings. Taffy’s take up the longest wall, which she shares with no one, and the other occupants of the floor seem to suffer this well, matching her artwork rather nicely.
It’s there that change ends, unless you consider paint and moving art as change. The front door opens on a linoleum hall way, with a closet for coats holding it’s own closet for luggage, off season attire, and various sports items we kids have brought over the years. I can’t begin to imagine Taffy on the sled. The hall empties into the living room, throwing the piano and it’s built in hutch. The wall leading to the piano has a china cabinet that my Aunt demands is hers, and I have acquiesced without a fight. I do love it, but A.S. has first call to that. The couches in the living room are a pair of six-foot long green ones, built in the 1960 pseudo asian style, pattern-less. The ugly as sin love-seat, in an off white and brown pattern, has been abused by no less than six cats and five dogs (not all at the same time), and is in quiet desperation, needing a re-stuffing and a recovering. The glass and metal coffee table holds stone fruit which perpetually confuses the novice visitors. The table behind the back couch, the one closest to the piano, holds my favorite object de art: the fountain. It’s two women (mother and daughter I assume), and the mother pours water from her pitcher into her daughter’s bowl. Some other ridiculous fugly art is scattered on that table, and a few plants (a fern and two other swabs of greenery) face the window. Behind all that on the wall is a Picasso self portrait, hidden by a lamp that my father’s new wife said we should move to better see the painting. I agree. Another modern painting is hidden by the lamp on the end table by the other green couch. Don’t ask me why.
The living room drifts into the dining area, where the expandable dark wood table sits pointing at the window and the marble shelf. The shelf is decorated by the same iron and green glass candle stick and painting of glasses looking at a night scene that I can’t describe well. It’s a panorama on white with two circles (joined by a nose bridge) showing different views in shadows of blue. The left ‘eye’ is looking at a landscape, while the right shows a man in a cap and a trench-coat, wearing glasses. I always think of him as a spy, captured in his own view. Below the marble shelf (which is supported by two thick, brown wood L posts that I’ve run into may times in my youth) is a sketch of the Cleveland Arcade, looking at where Taffy’s store used to be. The wall between dining room and kitchen has an ancient, Asian style painting of flowers and birds. There are many paintings of flowers, but rarely any real ones.
The kitchen is off a swinging door, galley style and very 1960s, with linoleum, metal cabinetry painted white, and weird counter tops. I imagine it was all the rage when the building was built, but for me it’s outdated and yet comforting. I like the kitchen. Ipstenit and I spent three days cleaning it last year, and it clings to the rampage faintly. I’m not surprised, since my father the slob has visited. He thinks he keeps a clean house, but even with the language barrier between myself and his new wife (she speaks Japanese and French, and only a little English), I can tell she too suffers his lack of cleanliness.
The kitchen remains the center of the apartment. We all sit around it, even though there’s hardly room, and kibitz while we cook or clean. Dad and I used to ‘hide’ and clean in there after dinner, and since he and Ipstenit are of similar minds with crowds (extroverted introverts), I cede my place of refuge to her every time. After all, I grew up with the cacophony and parties, and as much as they aren’t my style, I find that I enjoy them. As of late, I’ve taken to recording Taf’s after dinner recollections on MiniDisc.
Still, the entertaining rarely takes place in the living room, though when I have the chance to entertain, I prefer it over the other rooms. The back bedroom, aka Dad’s Room, gave up it’s shower for a tiny washer and dryer, and while it possesses it’s own exit, houses only a tiny daybed for sleeping. When alone, I sleep there or in the living room. When I’m with the Mrs, we use the futon stashed in the closet of my Aunt’s room/Taffy’s office. That room changes the most of any, having gone through at least three couches that have varied between sofa beds and day beds. Currently it’s a sofa bed, but only my aunt finds it comfortable. That room and my father’s have no air conditioning, though both have fans. It’s still beastly hot in summer.
The entertainment center is Taffy’s room, the one with the exit to the patio. The decor there has never changed in my life. The carpet remains a green and brown striped oddity with a green sofa bed (oddly comfortable), a glass bookshelf, framed sheets of cut-out dolls, a fancy mirror, her dresser and the armoire. This story is part apocryphal, since I can’t verify it. My great grandmother used to live next door, which I knew though she moved out before I was born. Gigi used to come over and visit all the time, though Taf says it was to cause trouble. Gigi knew that Taf entertained parties at the apartment all the time, and was familiar enough with it that she habitually neglected to tell her bridge buddies that the rampant, single mom party girl, was Taffy her daughter. The whole birth-name fuss must have helped, I presume. Still, Gigi aparently never knew the secret of that green armoire.
I am intimately familiar with that armoire. It taught me, much in the style of Auntie Mame to her nephew Dennis. I was tutored in the oh so adult ways of bartending. Ah, yes, the armoire houses Taffy’s hard liquor and cheap white whine. You name it, we probably have it here. There’s glass holders, a little bucket for ice, lights, and really the only thing missing is a mini fridge for cooling champagne and vodka. Then again, there’s a second freezer in the kitchen for meat.
Everyone greets in Taffy’s room. Everyone drinks there. Appetizers are brought there (normally by me) and if the weather’s nice, we spread out onto the patio. Taffy’s bedroom is the only room in the entire complex that has an exit to the patio and subsequent rooftop garden. Everyone else has to use the side entrances, but from Taffy’s we can go directly. I grew up thinking of the garden as my personal playground, running around up there, lounging in the sun, and grilling whenever I saw fit. My parents were married out there, Taffy’s 80th birthday was held out there. Our family friend, Jane, used to live across the street and came over for years to tend the gardens.
As I sit in the living room, looking out at the quiet street and the small front lawn, I think back for the lifetime I’ve grown up in these walls. From birth to today, Taffy’s apartment has been my center. I know that with a phone call, Taffy will be happy to see me or any of my friends arrive. She loved it when, last year, I invited some of my local friends over while I stayed for a week, bringing my psycho cat for the duration. Taffy has, as always, loved to entertain, and this tradition is one I’ll uphold.
Then again, 40 people are coming over in an hour. Maybe I’ll just keep it down to a couple guests and a quiet dinner. After all, while Taf has me to lug food and drinks around for her, Ipstenit would revolt.