Milo Baughman and Such Relics

By the time I began visualizing what kind of sofa to manifest for my Moving On Up home during my divorced-in-my-mid-twenties years, mom announced she’d found it. “I saw your sectional at King’s,” she said during a standard unannounced drop-in, beckoning me into her Ford pick-up truck, bought with a secret appeal of on her behalf by me to the family trust. My daughters were at school, but if needed the double cab would have accommodated us all. She was a true Ford girl, my mom, always commenting on how her dad owned a Model T.

It wasn’t what I’d imagined. I dithered on the color, camel, and the texture, mohair. The clean lines made a perfect capitalized L, though it could be reconfigured into a lower case l, with an apostrophe on the side. Deceivingly simple. It was upstairs in the closeout area for a reason.

But mom had style, so I trusted her word. “We have layaway,” Pat, one of the store owners, declared. I gave my last fifty to hold it, knowing although I failed to fully appreciate the vision, the quality pitied the price, it’s value only fractionally recognized. Scuffling, I paid it off over the next several months.

King’s Contemporary Furniture showcased a treasure trove of the finest designer pieces for over three decades, the eyes of discerning Wichitans delighted by the style and substance of Tony and Pat King’s finds, where only the refined had sense enough to purchase. My parents were such folk. The two Milo Baughman sectionals—one for the living room, the other for the den, both purchased before memory and upholstered into act two years later, and the living room coffee and sofa tables, would in the end outlast them both.

Unfortunately (or quite fortunately, as you will discover in a future post), my sectional would not outlast me. I shipped my camel color mohair L-shaped sectional from Kansas to New York City where it fit into my first Manhattan apartment like a glove, though it took all day to discover this fact since the movers left it on the sidewalk all day, walking all my other items up three flights of stairs, saving my beloved sectional for last, city smoot toasting the camel color to almond.

Less than three years later I dragged it to the trash just before leaving my second apartment, another third story walkup, this time in a brownstone severely in need of renovation and infested with roaches.

Camel king sectional, it was good while it lasted:

The camel sectional and “cocaine table” at their first home in Wichita, Kansas

A few years after my sectional purchase, King’s Contemporary Furniture permanently closed. Regretfully I had not the two thousand dollars to buy a down-filled white linen sectional with Miami blue illumination running the extent of the bottom, a built-in night light to boot, spied on my last visit. In fact, I may have doubled back with my brother, James, just to see it twice.

A similarly lit white sectional

I did have enough for two coffee tables during their final close-out sale, an event metamorphosing into a seemingly cry-wolf ploy to draw in customers until finally the forgetting opportunity waits for no one stylish missed out when the doors actually shut for good.

The first table was a solid, seamless wood square priced too low to beat, also taken to Harlem and given up, this time whist fleeing my second apartment in order to avoid eviction by a slumlord of whom I’d initially been excited to rent. The thought of the family trust direct depositing rent into a black NYC homeowner’s account made me feel like I was part of the solution, but too often black progression means protecting black men at all cost, black women and their variations sacrificial lambs to unified mediocrity often misappropriated as racism.

But I digress.

I wanted to take the large, dark walnut table; I planned on spotlighting it at the next apartment, an East Harlem fifth floor unit with a terrace in an elevator building. But the steepness of the stairs created a velocity so strong, I had to let it go lest I plunge to my demise from the force, which resulted in the table splitting the wood trim in the foyer of the town home and cracking the bottom of the table.

The other table was a low profile rectangle brass-sided, smoked-tinted glass top rectangle number. It was a steal at fifty dollars. Two young King’s Contemporary Furniture workers actually made fun of me for buying it. “What is it?” another earnestly asked.

I am a sensitive lady, but not in the sartorial or esthetic vein. I gave the one with beach waved hair a twenty dollar bill and asked him to deliver it to my home.

I affectionately referred to her as the cocaine table, in ode of the drug that, as a child, looked like a glamorous, abstract waste of money.

I’d decided cocaine wasn’t for me around the fourth grade when I saw my dad go through around thirty thousand dollars in a matter of a few weeks. Cocaine was abundant then, and prior to his day binge after the death of his own father, dad’s friends—whenever dad was home—would come over to partake in the illicit drug. Traffic became so heavy, mom allowed his guests to socialize in the Mary Kay room, a converted three-car garage used throughout the years for various hustles: day care business, Mary Kay inventory warehouse, candy store, band practice, drug activity. The floors of the Mary Kay Room would eventually be covered in commercial carpet taken straight from the dumpster b-line of Town East Square’s major renovation. There would be a few glass display cases procured from the closure of Henry’s Department Store, a departure leaving a dearth in luxury goods within the Wichita market for years. Wood cubbies picked up during the remodel of my elementary and middle school, St. Thomas Aquinas, lined the walls, and a large curved desk resembling a built in bar gave the room a sense of structure, as if the room had been built around whatever business at the time occupied it—it was official.

But the door between the Mary Kay Room and the den had never been replaced; there were in fact two doors between the two spaces, a small landing separating what was once a large garage from the house, the point where dad could’ve should’ve would’ve announced, “Honey, I’m home!”

I used to peek through the glass in the door, in the small immodest places lacking coverage from the colorful curtains situated with the intent to hide parties.

But everything done in the dark comes to light.

It was a rather boring scene, except the time I saw a man overdose. He was on the ground shaking. I much preferred the days of Mary Kay: skin care classes; “I’ve got the Mary Kay Enthusiasm” shouts; smells of Angel Fire; Cadillac-driving brown-skinned glamorous black women; the overall opulence of God first, family second, career third.

There were a few occasions when the drugs trickled into the main living areas. On one night dad and his friend sat on the Milo Baughman sectional in the living room with a large scale and mounds of powder. The living room had three access points: the den, kitchen and foyer, the foyer having two access points of its own: the front door and the hallway leading to the three main floor bedrooms and a full bathroom. I walked into the room that evening and asked my dad and his ghetto star friend, “What are ya’ll putting in your noses?”

“Oh, this is baking soda, honey.”

A million little particles of insult disseminated into the air, covering me in the disappointment dad believed me so stupid to think baking soda would ever be snorted. Drug-free mom had explained to my brothers and I the reality of substance abuse at an extremely young age. Was he stupid? Now I see dad just wasn’t present enough to measure the awareness of his own.

And I see I could have easily become him. At seventeen I went to a college dorm party with a friend where a Mexican girl named Angel talked about wanting to get high. She spoke about how it made her feel invincible and she showed me a tattoo of her dead baby’s name on her arm. She was beautiful and sad and she gave me her number, which I called the next day multiple times to try the drug that contributed to a series of events for my dad, all the way to prison, and to his redemption of a achieving sobriety and spending the rest of his life helping others reach the same accomplishment. She never answered.

A handful of years later, the same friend who’d taken me to the party when we were teenagers sat at a wooden kitchen table at one of her parents’ rental properties, snorting cocaine with another childhood friend. “Get over here,” she called out to me.

I left that morning, eventually severing ties with both women at the table, only to rekindle the relationship with the one calling out to me, the one I have had a soul tie with since the age of eight.

The one who I would not have closed on my co-op without.

The one who bought my mother’s house.

The one who sold my mother’s house to a black family, saving me from being that person.

The one who I am pretty sure voted for Trump.

But I digress.

The table holding the white powder mountains is one of the few estate items I requested in my lawsuit against my brothers to force the sale of our childhood after the death of our mother, which was two and half years after the passing of our father and nearly twenty years after their divorce.

I used to stare at the legs of the coffee table through the glass top and try to find the visual radius. Though the factual radius was clearly indicated by the chrome base, the round table top’s appearance was distorted by the angle, making one side appear shorter than the other, depending on the body in relation to the piece.

When mom’s neglected house finally sold after nearly five years of bickering between siblings (hint: if you don’t want grandma’s house sold, tell grandma to leave a will or trust), I went back to Kansas to retrieve the table. It was gone.

But my cocaine table was there, having been stored in the Mary Kay room for a good decade, the cracked top from my cat knocking over a marble candleholder still intact. I considered taking it. But once again, I left it behind.

The pillage of my mother’s home felt like a reckoning of the actions of my parents and their offspring. It has been neglected. What a waste. But Proverbs 13:22 tells us “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” A tip of the hat to my paternal grandfather. And an acknowledgment everything one should receive, one receives.

But the missing Milo Baughman table was a hard pill. There are many relics of my parents’ sprinkled throughout my home, and I’d always figured the white powder knolls holding table would eventually join my collection. When I closed on my co-op earlier this year, after a hard decade of renting—a niggling fact the good Lord turned around as only He could—I couldn’t see any other table occupying the space. So I searched, and there it was, in New Jersey: Milo Baughman spider table with two matching side tables, which my parents didn’t have.

The Temptations was dad’s favorite group, and The Gap Band always sparks the memory of he and I riding together everyday after school, where he picked me up and we went to lunch before the boys were later picked up by my mother. He was a blue-eyed white man who loved soul—women, music, sports. But he was a gambler, and he played that perpetually wise Kenny Rogers track enough to pass on the knowledge of knowing when to hold and knowing when to fold. The living room octagon Milo Baughman sofa was requested by my brother, but he never retrieved any of the items he claimed to want from the house. I paid movers to clear out those last pieces, my old soul tie friend meeting them at the property, videoing me to go over those final pieces to move to storage. My brother and I no longer speak, but the last time we did we agreed on who would get what of those final items stashed away on my dime in storage. “Man, I want the bed.”

“You can take the bed, I’m going to go ahead and keep the sectional.”

The Milo Baughman octagon sofa won’t fit in my co-op, but is a great contender for my future weekend home. I’ve twenty-five shades of white swatches of upholstery stowed for contending.

And to that end, I toast the ones still in hand.

Leave a Reply