The reading chair saga: I nail the ending, sit down and shut up

by Hugh Gilmore
Posted 5/21/21

I know, I know, the world is waiting to see how I resolved my reading chair dilemma, so now I can finally finish this series of columns and tell you the happy ending.

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The reading chair saga: I nail the ending, sit down and shut up

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I know, I know, the world is waiting to see how I resolved my reading chair dilemma, so now I can finally finish this series of columns and tell you the happy ending.

You probably think I'm kidding, or possibly blustering, about the world awaiting this news, but it's true. I've been writing for this rag for 15 years and I've never received much mail concerning anything I've written, not till I wrote that my favorite reading/TV/movie chair went south and I needed to replace it.

Really, you'd think people would identify more with one of the cultural, literary, or social topics I've written about in a decade and a half, but no, people seem to identify more with a column where I lament lacking a place to stash my butt – and read a book or watch a cable series or a rented movie. Here's a recap of what happened:

Twenty-five years ago, my wife bought me a Raymour and Flanigan burgundy leather swivel recliner with an ottoman for my birthday. I loved it at once. I read hundreds of books while sitting in it and watched countless movies and TV shows. It got me through the Trump years and my addiction to CNN new stories. I sometimes napped in it during quiet afternoons. When stuck for a writing idea, I'd push the recliner nearly flat and lie in it, arms behind my head, until an idea or a good line would arrive and catapult me back to work. I sat in that chair so often, for such a long period of time, I was afraid adhesions would form.

But over time the leather wore through on the arms and the seat padding flattened down. My back ached when I sat in it. The holes in the arms looked and felt like exit wounds that had dried stiff and rough. The chair had to go. I couldn't take the back pain.

I went back to Raymour and Flanigan the way people go back to the Spouse Store. "I want this same model, exactly, only I want a newer one that looks exactly like the old one used to look. No sagging, dents or dings." Their answer, once I read between the lines, was, "We don't carry that model anymore. We make a cheaper version: Not real leather. Narrower. Uncomfortable. But, just to keep it real, we charge more for it. Twice what you paid back then in the Garden of Eden."

Huh. That set me on a quest to find my dream chair somewhere else. I investigated the leather swivel recliners sold by every store in the tri-county area. Not even close. I searched online for hours. Sympathetic readers of this column sent me suggestions of where I might look. Some sent pictures. Other said I might get lucky in a used-furniture store. But no, none of them was my style.

For a while I conducted a meanspirited investigation of all the twisted, misleading terms manufacturers use to sell "leather"–covered chairs and sofas. About 90% of the "leather" recliners out there are not actually made of leather. Most of their upholsteries are to leather what particle board is to a walnut slab. They are made of cowhide scraps that have been mixed with bonding agents, like latex or polyurethane, pressed to shape and polished. Here are some of the creative industry terms that manufacturers use to deceive shoppers: Leatherette, Faux Leather, Vegan Leather, Pleather, Bonded Leather, Blended Leather, LeatherSoft, Vintage Leather and (my favorite) PU Leather (polyurethane).

Sometimes one can learn more than he wants to know. Instead of feeling empowered by my hard-gained knowledge, I felt discouraged. I got to feeling nothing like my original chair was out there, or ever would be. For one brief, shining moment I'd known the pleasure of the perfect chair. Then the curtain came down, the lights went up, and the side exit doors flew open. Reality again. De ja vu.

Shoulders hunched, the backs of my eyes squelching tears, I kicked a tin can down the sad road of lost loves until, suddenly, as if on cue, I stopped and looked up: Paul D' Orazio Custom Upholstery, on nearby Bethlehem Pike. I drifted in. I showed the man inside the cell phone pictures of my chair I'd saved. Mr. Paul D' Orazio, Jr. said, "Yes, we can fix this. Re-cover the arms, repad the seat, sure." Ah, but can you match the color? He held it against some patches in a sample book. "Yes, we can match it." Same material? "Yes, it'll look like new."

I brought it in a few days before Easter. They said Paul senior would call me with a quote. A few days later he did: $600.00. I didn't know if that was a good price or a bad price. I wanted to negotiate. But I didn't. "Yes, go ahead." And that was how I resolved my months-long dilemma.

Last Thursday the shop called and said the chair was ready. When I went to pick it up

Mr. D' Orazio, Sr. apologized for keeping me waiting so long (five weeks), but explained that because of Covid-19 he can't get help the way he could before. He used to have a crew of 14 people, but now very few. He's placed ads. No one applies. "I understand," I said, "but here it is. And it looks good, so thanks."

What a great weekend I've had. I sat in the chair to read. To see a movie. And just for old times' sake, the evening news. We're still getting to know one another, me and my chair. It'll probably take a while. Maybe the trust is gone. But in the meantime: Thanks for all the cards and letters.

Hugh Gilmore lives and writes in Chestnut Hill. He says it's unlikely we'll be seeing him much up on the avenue now.

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