S. pointed out that a warped sheet of plywood on legs, serving as a table, is an ugly thing. A tablecloth thrown over the top merely covers ugly with excuses. One of the worst meals I've had in a long while was served on a big, warped, dinged and gouged circle of plywood. All the white polyester in the world can't disguise cockroaches on visible kitchen walls.
That's Civilization, I think: gouged, warped, and covered with a clean cloth. Last night, we were at a party in a beach town that is no resort, rather a serviceable bedroom community of surfers and the working folk; inexpensive housing near an expensive city, permanently gray skies and the faint smell of ocean must. The party was in an apartment with almost no furniture and nothing decorating the rented apartment white walls. The industrial gray carpet was stain resistant and a large window overlooked unmown state land with spiny pines where teenagers lived in the bushes. Needless to say, one bachelor lived there and another was squatting, eating donuts and writing software on the couch where he'd slept for the better part of a year.
The party took place in the living room around food and drinks on boxes covered with a sheet. Some of us sat on floor pillows, others on the swaybacked couch and mismatched wooden chairs. A friend's iPod and portable speakers provided music.
In the kitchen, a table was the only piece of furniture in a stark, white room made glaring with an overhead light. A yellow and brown crocheted table cover was in turn obscured by our bottles of wine, cheese wrappers, fruit salad containers, and takeout boxes from gourmet supermarkets. During a self-mocking tour, our host lifted up the edge of cover to reveal a beautifully crafted thing, with elegant joints and a cleanly finished surface. It had leaves, which could slide out to seat 6 or 8 people. Everything else in the apartment was perfunctory, functional, at best an ironic joke, but this was something that spoke of social interaction, dinner parties and pleasant obligations, cooking and drinking and eating. In a building held together by mold and failing stucco, here was something made intentionally and well.
Having admired this beautiful thing, and planned future engagements around it, we returned to the dimly lit living room, where people laughed, drank, grew angry, made jokes, and otherwise acted civilized.