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, 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 who owned 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.) A photograph of the actual Truly Ugly Chair does not survive (pity), so I’ll try to describe it for you.

Let’s see. It was black, in a style I’d call Mid-Century Modern Gone Mad. Kind of like the kidney-shaped coffee table of chairs. So low-slung that if anyone ever sat on it (which hardly ever happened), that person’s knees stuck up around his or her chin. Oh, there was one Living Thing that liked to sit on that chair: our cat. Which meant that it was always festooned with fluffs 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 — really saw it. 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

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10 thoughts on “The Truly Ugly Chair

  1. OH MY GOODNESS, I HAD THAT CHAIR!!!! The one in the picture!!! Except mine had wood arms. And the fabric was sooooooo worn. And I can’t say my current furniture is noteworthy because I have been waiting until my son moves out and the cat goes to Kitty Heaven to get REAL furniture. My cat has lived a good, loooooong life…

  2. OK, this was HILARIOUS. And, that scene from When Harry Met Sally was CLASSIC. That’s one of the best movies ever to be made, and not just because Meg Ryan didn’t yet have her over-stuffed sausage lips.
    My ex and his roommate found, quite possibly, *the* ugliest love seat to ever grace this planet. (I bet it’d go well with your chair.) They found it by a downtown dumpster. I’m fairly certain they had to empty it of its heroin needles and condom wrappers before taking it home. It was the most ugly floral pattern I’ve ever seen. The colors? Poop yellow. Poop mustard. Poop brown. And poop blue. Yes, there is a poop blue. They thought washing the cushions would mask the smell of dead hooker (it didn’t), but all it did was shrink ONE of the cushions. So, only one person could sit on only one side of the thing. That is if you were brave enough to come within ten feet of it.
    My long-winded story was really only meant to detail the fact that I think having a truly hideous piece of furniture is a rite of passage. We all had an “ugly chair”.

    • ‘Poop blue’! ‘the smell of dead hooker’! Every time I tell myself I’m a pretty funny writer, you come up with stuff like this (!) And yes, I agree: Harry/Sally is one of the funniest movies ever made — and we ALL had an ‘ugly chair’ xoxo

      • LOL!!! That means a lot, even though you’re just as funny! For serious! It’s one of my fav movies, because it came from a time when humor was so much more simple! It’s just genius!

  3. 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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