The Truly Ugly Chair


‘Left in the street, unwanted and alone’

The news that The Child had scored her very own First Apartment (with a roommate, but still) sent me down Ugly Furniture Memory Lane. Visions of the bookshelf-made-with-planks-and-bricks and the headboard-fashioned-of-an-old-quilt-thrown-over-a-piece-of-plywood flashed before my eyes.

Oh, and let’s not forget the black fake-leather sleeper sofa that was so heavy it splintered the railing while being hoisted over the balcony so it could help furnish my own First Apartment — a $105/month fourth-floor walkup on the dodgy end of the loftily-named Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. My landlord was not amused.

I owed my collection of stuff to sit on, sleep on, and in which to store things to my Mom, various thrift shops, and certain absconded boyfriends. And I was grateful. Well, maybe not to the absconded boyfriends. When you’re in your twenties, ‘furniture’ does not occupy a top spot in your priorities.

But there does come a point when you look around and think: Hmmm…what does it say about me that I own a lighting fixture made of tongue depressors? Or: What statement am I making, exactly, when People come over and the first thing they see when they enter My Home is a battered metal hospital desk with a Buitoni Ravioli decal stuck on the side?

Yes, I hang my head in shame to admit it, but this was the state of apartment affairs when I was in my Thirties (and not Early Thirties, either). The Dude and I were ‘together’ by this point, living in a one-bedroom ground-floor apartment so close to a busy sidewalk that random strangers used our bedroom air-conditioning unit (which was, seriously, two feet from our heads) as a cocktail table. No kidding. Many mornings found its surface littered with beer cans and Cheese Doodle packets. At least the revelers who left them had gone.

Which brings me to the topic of Letting Bad Furniture Into The Apartment in the First Place. Now, while I’m not saying that everything I chose was in impeccable taste (my budget being what it was), I can definitely say that the Buitoni-decal-decorated-desk was not one of my contributions to our merged decor. As with many relationship issues, there is a lesson here, and it comes from ‘When Harry Met Sally’.

This is the Rob Reiner/Nora Ephron movie where Harry (Billy Crystal) thinks he can’t be friends with anyone he is sexually attracted to. Sally (Meg Ryan, with normal lips) disputes this. But it turns out (spoiler alert, if you’re one of the Three People Remaining in America who don’t know the film) that he’s right.

But before that happens, we see another relationship develop, between two people played by Carrie Fisher and the late, great, Bruno Kirby. These two are originally fixed up with the title characters, but end up with each other. (See the movie; it’s really good, and you won’t be sorry. As opposed to another Reiner film, ‘The Bucket List’; see my Birthday Post for more on that one.)

Anyway. They move in together (into a Movie Apartment, meaning that no Actual Person who is a writer for a magazine, even a cool magazine like New York Magazine, could possibly actually afford it). Bruno (‘Jess’, in the movie) wants to install a hideous wagon-wheel coffee table in the living room. Here it is, in a screen shot from the movie:

Billy Crystal (Harry) gives Marie and Jess his verdict on the wagon-wheel table.

Billy Crystal (Harry) gives Marie and Jess his verdict on the wagon-wheel table. Meg Ryan, pre-plastic surgery as Sally, tries to remain neutral.

Pretty awful table. But trust me, I’ve seen worse. I once dated a guy with a coffee table made of an empty electrical-cable spool.

Anyway, I’m going to post the entire scene at the end of this story so you can watch it for yourself. (Skip ahead now if you’re bored, but you’ll miss what happens with the Ugly Chair.) With the table, Marie gets her way:

Jess loses the argument, and the Wagon-Wheel Coffee Table

Jess loses the argument, and the Wagon-Wheel Coffee Table

See? The coffee table — and this is very important — never really makes it into the apartment in the first place. This is a lesson I would have paid good money to have learned before The Dude and I set up housekeeping. But ‘When Harry Met Sally’ did not exist at the time, so I could not watch it, much less take mental notes.

Trust me. We had stuff in that apartment that shouldn’t, in hindsight, have made it in the door. The afore-mentioned dented-steel desk was one. The Truly Ugly Chair was another. (The dreadful tongue-depressor lighting fixture was there when we moved in.)

So. Just how ugly was this chair? Well, let me say that the photo featured at the top of this post is too good-looking. I was afraid if I used an uglier picture, no one would read my post. And a photograph of the actual Truly Ugly Chair does not survive (pity). But, if you blend these three specimens in your mind’s eye, you’ll have some idea of its true hideous nature.

OK? I think you can probably imagine it: Black, sort of Mid-Century Modern Gone Mad. Kind of like the kidney-shaped coffee table of chairs. So low-slung that if anyone actually ever sat on it (which hardly ever happened), that person’s knees stuck up around his or her chin level. Oh, there was one Living Thing that liked to sit on that chair: our cat. Which meant that it was always festooned with a fluff of cat hair. (Especially attractive on black upholstery).

I decided that the Truly Ugly Chair had to go one night when we came home from a trip. Have you ever noticed that you really, truly see your home when you’ve been away from it for a while? Well, on this occasion, when I dragged my jet-lagged self and trusty Tumi through the door, I saw that chair. And realized it just had to go.

Now, in New York City they have this great custom. When you want to get rid of something (a broken TV, a table missing a leg, a used mattress), you just put it out on the sidewalk. And presto! It’s gone. Usually within seconds, if not minutes. I once put a big cardboard box of mismatched shoes on the curb on my way to the laundry room. When I came back with my folded towels — poof! No more shoes.

But the Ugly Chair? Nope. No takers. It sat there. And sat there. And sat there some more. Days went by. The building super put it in the trash. The Dude took it out of the trash and placed it neatly on the curb once more. It got rained on. And snowed on. It sat there until we had to go away somewhere for the weekend. When we came back, it was (finally) gone. We still don’t know if someone took pity on it, and took it (are you out there, New Owner of the Truly Ugly Chair?) Or if it got put back in the dumpster, and went on to grace the Fresh Kills Landfill with its prescence.

So. Let me leave you with this thought: The best way to keep Ugly Furniture out of your home is to never let it in there in the first place. Oh, and before I forget. Here’s that scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’, as promised. Have fun. And if you’d like to read another New York City apartment story, this one involving a celebrity and not ugly furniture, don’t forget to check out ‘Horowitz Plays the Bedroom’.

New York City. November 2014

2 thoughts on “The Truly Ugly Chair

  1. Ruth Meisenheimer

    Everyone should start with an ugly chair with various creative side pieces! We had a couch, very small TV and a set of new encyclopedias, a toddler and brand new baby! 55 years later the kids are gone, the couch is FINALLY gone (husband’s favorite napping spot & recovered lots), but we still have the like-new encyclopedias (antiques?) and a small TV. There are wonderful, mis-matched tables to set a glass of wine on though!!

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