Coffee Table Book Proposals: Five Monologues Meant To Be Read Aloud

by Nell Boeschenstein

I wouldn’t be an ideas person if I didn’t have ideas about how people should talk about the weather, and I’ll be honest: I love talking about the weather provided it’s done right. And of course there are right ways and wrong ways to talk about everything. This book is a book for people like me. We’re a market unto ourselves, us weather-lovers. This book wouldn’t be about the extreme weather that the networks love and it wouldn’t be about fair weather either, but about ordinary bad weather. This book is a book of photographs of people who don’t know they’re being photographed. Photographs taken from afar by strangers. Snapshots from the street. Pictures of people hiding from the skies, pictures of people running and hiding from the rain. Maybe they are hiding underneath umbrellas. Maybe others are shielding themselves with newspapers or with the cotton hoods of their sweatshirts, or with their hands. You’d be surprised how many people try to hide themselves from the weather with their hands. A photograph would take up about a third of the page. Centered, because I would like to have plenty of white space around the image. On the facing page would just be the location and the weather report for that particular place on that particular day, as well as maybe the inches of precipitation that fell. Typed out, matter of fact, like the ticker-tape at the bottom of CNN. It would be fun to know how right or wrong the weather report got it. These are the facts about the weather we need to know to get through the day. The idea came to me a year and a half ago. I was standing in the lobby of a big company building in Times Square and it was raining cats and dogs. I was waiting to see if the rain would let up as was everyone else around. But then through the lobby barged this mother with a baby in a stroller. She apparently couldn’t wait for the rain to stop before she went outside, baby, stroller, and all. She pushed that baby through the lobby, the sound of her heels echoing throughout the room. They were headed across the marble floors, for the exit and the rain. Actually, it was not quite a baby, but more of a toddler because it could talk. As she pushed it closer and closer to the door and the rain and the outside world, the child kept screaming, for all the lobby to hear, “OH NO! OH NO!” In this book I would want to freeze-frame that scene, so that as a reader I could walk up to that baby—to that page—and say, “Kid, you don’t know what you’ve got comin’ but you’ve got the right idea.”

Weather aside, nature, generally-speaking, is also an important thing to consider and I do that, too, from time to time. Remember a few years back when the face fell off of that big rock in New Hampshire? That was sad for some reason. Really sad. That was a famous face, a celebrity rock. It was on the state license plate: that’s bigger than getting your own stamp. I mean, one minute there was a gigantic old man face on the side of a mountain, and the next minute it was just a pile of rock like any other pile of rock, only perhaps maybe larger than the average rock pile. I think about that face a lot. Time just wore away at it until it fell off, I guess. That’s what happens. To all of us, not just to rocks. All I’m trying to say is that I like it when nature looks like something else and think that there’s enough in that idea to warrant an entire book of photographs. I want to do a book about faces that occur naturally. No, none of that Virgin Mary on a piece of toast crap, but perhaps an icicle that looked like Margaret Thatcher could be found. Or a pattern in the sand at the beach that looks like a Robert Plant. It would be like how kids are always sitting around on the grass or looking out the window of a car and looking up at the clouds and thinking they see unicorns or kittens or ponies or whatever it is kids always want to see but that’s never there. This would be like that only this would be for adults. This book would appeal to the child in us, to that part of us that is always looking for the sky or the trunk of a tree or some patch of grass and thinking that we see in that sky or tree trunk or patch of grass is exactly what we want to see, but which are no longer unicorns or kittens. No, these days I think we’re looking for faces. I think that’s what we want to find when we look around and that’s what this book is about: It’s about us looking for each other. It’s about what we’re looking for when we stare at tree trunks or at our own reflections in shop windows. If you saw this book sitting with its cover out in Barnes & Noble maybe you’d begin to understand, just a little bit, that what you’ve always been looking for is company. Yes, even when you didn’t think you wanted it. Even when you said you were just as happy alone.

Then there’s this idea: the idea of putting the feeling of a hangover down on paper, not in words but in pictures. This book could be a way into that idea. It’s also a way of tapping into that notion of contemporary office angst. I call it Going Out on the Company Card. I mean, I prefer the way Nights Out on the Company Card sounds but I’m worried that “nights out” might technically limit one to just nights. Strippers and stuff, which is fine, but this is bigger than that. I would want to get some of those awkward after-work-goodbye-to-Joe-Schmo-cocktails in there and those are pre-dinner, pre-“night.” Those people have families at home. Otherwise, without the awkwardness, with only big tits and Armani suits and big stomachs and dollar bills popping out of g-strings, it’s too much dark, not enough funny. It’s too creepy. People won’t want to read that. Artists might, but real people, the coffee table-book-buying public won’t. The idea here, though, is really the idea of a specific image I’ve had in my head for a years now. It won’t go away. It’s a photograph of the bitter end to an extravagant evening. I could find it, this picture, if I knew where to look. It’s happening somewhere all the time. Tell me if you can see it. It’s taken in a hotel restaurant, the windows of which look out over a city. A major metropolis. Tokyo, maybe. Although it’s hard to know since I’ve never been there. Regardless, the view from the room is of a city that has a million lights like little bird beaks poking out into the night. If you could lie down on this city, it would hurt. It’s all men around the dinner table. About 9 or 10. That’s not a political statement. A woman in a tight floral dress has just finished another set at the piano and is plowing through the chords of those regretting rien motions for the third time that evening. That’s not a political statement either. Mahogany wood, white tablecloth, red wine. It was a prime rib meal, but by now, ties have been loosened, a pant button or two undone. It’s the last toast of the night. No, just listen to me. There have been many. To making this work! To you! No, to you! To us! Ah, to us! But now it’s his turn. He is the star of this photograph. He works hard when he feels like it. His sleeves are rolled up. There is a white nubbin of saliva in the right corner of his mouth and a gleam of sweat on his forehead. His nails were last chewed a day and a half ago. The lights of the city are at his back. You are glad you don’t have to pay this bill. He’s standing; his glass of Johnnie Walker is raised; his mouth is open, and he’s saying something. The back of his pink throat is at the very center of the photograph. No one is listening but you.

This idea is less original than some of the others since I know for a fact that books like this one have been published before and have sold. All the same, it’s maybe not the idea that matters so much as where I take the idea when I pick it up and run with it. The books like this that have been published before have been called things like The Haystacks of Poland or The Doors of Ireland. You know the kind of book I’m talking about. This one would be pretty pictures like those, but it would also have a deeper, darker, more existential theme. Dark, but not too dark for decoration. What I’m thinking about is a book of photographs of telephone booths and payphones from around the world. When I was little I was obsessed with British telephone booths. I wanted to go to England just so I could stand in one, maybe call my mom from one. The red ones in particular. The black ones grew on me, but it was the red ones I really loved. Does every kid go through that phase of loving the red telephone booths that pop up unexpectedly beside the roads the meander through the British moors? Well, that’s just kind of it: even if all kids used to have such a fascination, they don’t and won’t anymore. I mean, do kids these days even know what phone booths or pay phones are for? What stories do their parents tell them of the way things used to be? The photographs in this book would tell the story of the ways we used to talk to each other. These booths are reminders of the past and they are everywhere, with their wires hanging out and their no dial tones and their graffiti and germs. When are they going to disappear entirely? The systematic removal of public payphones, it’s going to happen. There will be town council meetings and quiet resolutions will be made. It will be a dispersed story told over the course of years and years in local newspapers, in the minutes from mayoral agendas. We need to document what our communication landscape used to look like while we still can. I’d definitely want a shot or two of those English phone booths. One would need to be in the middle of the countryside overlooking a moor. Another would be amidst the hustle and bustle of a city. Blurry bodies passing in front of it and behind it. Of course you understand that the shot I’m most looking for though is of a broken down payphone in a subway station somewhere. Could be New York, could be St. Petersburg. Whatever made the best picture. I have always wondered who the people were who called other people from the subway and whether anyone was ever able to really communicate that way. I guess now I will never know. That—a station in New York or St. Petersburg—would be the final image because it would be about us not hearing each other. The receiver of the old broken down subway payphone would be dangling loose from its cord. A crowd of people would be waiting for some train that was running late as usual. You could almost smell the foul stench of rat and urine and almost hear a voice from another time bleating through the static of the dangling telephone, “Hello? Hello?”

This is the last idea I have in me, maybe the last one I will ever have, so hear me out: A montage of the scabby knees of little boys. Ages three to eleven. Is that a good demographic? Or is that pervy? If it’s pervy, I could also do another, related book of the scabby knees of little girls to even things out. I could even have a poster series to go along with each book. Like, an image from the book and then below it something like, “Let the healing begin”? It’s perfect for teachers in the market for some new classroom décor. I really do think kids these days are sick of posters of puppies and dandelions. They’re more sophisticated than that, kids these days. When I was in school we were already outgrowing puppies and knew something about irony. I can’t even imagine what kids these days are onto. Anyway, the stories behind the scabs would be the captions. I would barely need to do any work for this at all, just ask a kid a question, take a picture, and put the two together. “Pushed down west entrance stairs by third grader he has a crush on.” “Was running around his backyard pool when he tripped on an errant hose.” “Victim of scooter and gravel related incident.” “Found in a puddle of tears amidst a patch of foursquare.” “Says he forgets how it happened.” The knees would be in color, yes. One knee per spread. The right hand page should be all knee, the facing page should just be white with the caption across it. Not centered in the page. Maybe in the bottom left-hand corner. Black type. I prefer Garamond varietals. The pictures would be close ups, but not too close. Close enough to see the details of the scab, but far enough away to get a sense of the heft of the leg, its age: a third of the thigh, a third of the shin, and the background out of focus. These backgrounds could be anything. They could be a playground in the forest, a tarmac under the heat of the south, a middle class living room of Persian rugs, a kitchen table and a half-finished glass of lemonade, sun, only sun. These knees might not be easy to capture. The scabs themselves might have faces if you looked long enough, if that’s what you were looking for. Or resemble places you’ve never been. This book is just a little ditty about life, you see. The people we’ve met. The things that have hurt us. The things that may or may not leave a mark when they’re gone.

Nell Boeschenstein

Nell Boeschenstein’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, This Recording, The Millions, The Believer and elsewhere. She is a contributing writer for The Morning News and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and has a website at