This one is kind of an old chestnut. Anybody who’s hung around with me much in the last few years has probably heard it, and probably more than one, but because I have nothing else on my mind to write about and in the interest of posterity I’m setting it down here for once and all.
Years ago, before I ever met the future Mama Dog, I had a Less Satisfactory Wife. One day, looking to furnish our new apartment, the Less Satisfactory Wife – let’s just say LSW – and I answered a want ad and found ourselves in possession of several odd and mismatched pieces of furniture, the most relevant to this story being a recliner. It was in good shape and cushy, upholstered in an orangey brown somewhere maybe in the neighbourhood of burnt umber. I had grown up in a house of recliners but had never had one to call my own. In my year away from the nest I had sorely missed the opportunity to recline, if only on the sly. Now I envisioned – and soon set about arranging – a recliner of my very own positioned facing the TV the way God intended, with an end table next to it on which to set my tea and whatever I was reading. As it turned out, we didn’t get an end table, so I had to fashion one out of three boxes of comics, but hey, we were young, 21, 22. We made shelves out of bricks and boards and a desk from an unfinished door set on two filing cabinets.
Time passed, infidelities were committed, and a change of scenery was indicated. A few days before my 25th birthday, I packed up all my belongings and stuffed them into a storage space in Berkeley. At the centre was the recliner, maybe a little less cushy for the extra years of use, but still a fine specimen of reclinus americanus chairii
, and a sad sight to behold locked away in the dark with nothing to support but a box of “Misc. Living Room Stuff,” as the label so tellingly had it. I went back to Edmonton, thinking I’d stay with my parents until I figured out what I wanted to do or until I couldn’t stand it anymore, whichever came first. Of course, it was “couldn’t stand it anymore” that came first, roughly 24 hours into my stay, but it took me several weeks to pry myself free. Then I bounced around. A month in Vegas. A couple of months in Pleasant Hill. Then mi amigo Bernardo and I got the place on 41st Street in Oakland, and the chair was free once more to spread its wings and sit in front of the television. This time, it had a companion. On the other side of the table (no boxes now) sat Bernardo’s easy chair (not, alas, a recliner). Both chairs were resolutely directed televisionward, just like Joey and Chandler’s chairs on Friends
(though that was many years later). I would guess that if my chair had salad days, these were they – except possibly that Bernardo had cats and it was during this period that the stuffing started popping out of its shins after recurrent use as a scratching post.
It was only a year before the chair was back in storage. I bummed around from place to place, spending time in Vancouver and New Orleans before winding up back in the Bay Area and finally coming to a definitive end of the road with the LSW. I ended up in a dodgy sublet on Parker Street in Berkeley, again with Bernardo. We were two single guys at a very low ebb, and nothing could reflect it more clearly than our inability to get our shit together enough to at least buy futons. It was a two-bedroom apartment. The guy we sublet from had all his stuff locked up in one bedroom. I called the other, which was totally empty. That left Bernardo with the living room. Although that meant I got the privacy, Bernardo got the couch. He actually had something to sleep on. What did I get? That’s right. The recliner out of storage. This was what I called the Year in the Chair, and it may well have something to do with the chronic lower back pain I suffer from now.
I guess that’s when the chair really started to take a beating. A recliner’s not meant to be slept in every night, and I was doing that every night. Did I mention this was a time of low ebb? My life consisted of going to work, coming home, and watching television. Didn’t even have a recliner to watch from either – it was in the bedroom and the TV was in the living room. Oh yeah, I guess I got drunk now and then. It was a time of very determined inertia, and while I can’t say the recliner was my only friend, it sure seemed like my best one.
It was only one year, though. In the summer of 1993 everything returned to the storage space and I went back on the road. I ended up in New Orleans again, this time staying there nigh on three years. They were lean years, financially speaking, and maintaining the storage space was a bit of a burden. Housing was cheap in New Orleans, whereas the storage space in Berkeley raised the rent every year. I was bemused to realise in the first couple of months that I was paying more for storage than I was for housing. Still, somehow, I managed to scrape the money together every month, if not by the due date than at least before the final warning and impoundment of my belongings for auction. I paid a lot of late fees. It seemed worth it. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that one day my recliner and I would be reunited.
In 1996 I was back in Oakland and had what seemed like a relatively permanent address. I was nervous to do so, but moving everything out of storage after seven years seemed like a step towards stabilizing my life. I didn’t go too nuts with it, mind you. Most of the stuff just went into the garage, where it could continue to mildew. The recliner, though…that came into the living room, where it could watch TV anytime it wanted. The years had taken their toll. It had a funky storage smell that no amount of airing out could truly cure. But then, the whole house had kind of a funky smell by then, and the chair didn’t particularly stand out. Nobody complained. The chair had a home for its twilight years.
In 1998, Mama Dog and I moved in together in an apartment down the street. For a while I was sort of between residences. I still paid rent at the house, and that’s where I left all my stuff, including the recliner, which Mama Dog had tactfully suggested might look better over there than in her home. I suppose that was foreshadowing, but I didn’t notice. Bernardo, the perpetual roommate, could keep an eye on my chair. I had other things on my mind.
In 2001, Mama Dog and I bought our house, and the time had finally come to consolidate my belongings from all my former residences. Still, she had a curious resistance to placing the chair in its natural habitat in the living room in front of the television. She seemed to think that the least accessible basement room – what long-time readers of this faversham will know as the Crap Room - was a better place for it. Well, I had to admit, the living room was kind of small, and with the couch and big table and all, there really wasn’t much room for a chair. I figured someday when I had things sorted out in the basement, the chair could be the centrepiece of the – oh, I don’t know, let’s call it the rumpus room. Sure. I could figure out how to put together a rumpus room. I’m always up for a rumpus. And perhaps we’ll take a trip to the big rock candy mountain, too.
Now, they don’t do it in quite the same way anymore, but around these parts we used to have what was called the “Bulky Waste Pickup Day” or, less formally, “Big Trash Day.” Once a year, on a different day in each neighbourhood, the City of Oakland would collect oversize trash – appliances, tires, hardware items, computers, scrap metal, and, oh, yes, furniture. The night before Big Trash Day – Big Trash Night, we called it – was kind of like a carnival. People would wander through the neighbourhood, looking at their neighbours’ leavings, scavenging garbage they thought they had a better use for. We’ve picked up several small items that way, shelves and cabinets, many of which are now waiting in our back yard to be put out on the sidewalk in some future Big Trash Night. It’s no longer a neighbourhood affair these days. You call to schedule your own individual pickup any one day of the year
. It’s really not the same thing, but oh, as ever, well.
It was still traditional Big Trash Day in 2002, though, when Mama Dog suggested gently that maybe the time had come for me and the chair to go our separate ways. It was never going to make it up into the house and all it was doing now was holding up a still-unopened box marked “Misc. Living Room Stuff” and making the Crap Room smell funny. It required a certain painful amount of soul searching, but I was forced to conclude that Mama Dog was right. The chair was the solace of my dead years. It had been a staunch ally and a rare comfort in trying times, but it was a relic of the days when I was afraid to live, and I didn’t really have any business holding onto it while going about the business of making a home and a life. It was hard, but it really did have to go.
When Big Trash Night came, I hauled it and several other items of outlived usefulness onto the sidewalk in front of our house. Then we went out in search of useful things that other people were casting off for unfathomable reasons of their own. Big Trash Night goes well into the wee hours, and every now and then I would look out the window to see a group of people taking the measure of my chair, maybe trying to figure how they could haul it home without a truck or how they could convince their wife that it was worth grabbing despite the smell. Many looked. Nobody took. Not even the professional scavengers cruising the neighbourhood in their groaning pickups took it away, which I still can’t help finding a little insulting.
In the morning, most of the other crap we left out had been picked clean, but the chair was still there, parked at the edge of the curb. I heard the City trucks when they came, and I looked out the window just in time to see two burly men swinging the chair between them – one, two, three, and over the lip of the truck. It banged and clattered and diesel roared down the street. I gave a little salute. I thought perhaps I could hear “Taps
” playing somewhere in the distance, though that was possibly my imagination. I was glad I’d looked in time to see it go, but it was bittersweet, like making it to the hospital before the end of your loved one’s prolonged mortal illness. I felt, I guess, a little at peace with my past.
That poignant sense of well-earned calm lasted until I was on my way to work. As I rounded the corner at Ayala Street, I happened to see the Bulky Waste truck stopped at the opposite corner. There were two burly men, and they were swinging some other poor mope’s mildewed easy chair off to its final reward. One, two, three, and over it went into the back of the truck. The difference is, this time the truck was parked at such an angle that I could see what happened next. This horrible maw of grinding metal closed in on the chair and snapped its spine. It open and closed, mashing the chair into splinters before my horrified eyes. I stared, too horrified to look away.
Until that moment, I swear to God, on some level I thought my chair had gone off to live on a farm in the country where it could chase rabbits all day long.