Column: Chaise Longue Hell By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday July 05, 2005

When my mother was 14 years old, she and her three sisters combined the contents of their piggy banks and bought my grandmother an overstuffed, flower-print covered chaise longue. They envisioned their mother lying like a starlet on this piece of furniture, dressed in a sleek satin smoking gown, a slim black cigarette holder in one hand, and a full martini glass in the other. In reality, Grandma spent most of her time in front of a hot stove, cooking my grandfather medium rare steaks, an apron around her waist, a cigarette butt between her lips. She didn’t have time to recline leisurely on the chaise longue, and so it sat abandoned in her bedroom, covered not in cast-off silk and satin negligees, but my grandfather’s dirty underwear.  

When my mother married my father, Grandma gave her the chaise longue. She mumbled something about “…no woman ever having the time to make use of it, but what the hell...” My parents hauled it up the stairs and into their bedroom where it sat for over 50 years, idle except as a dumping spot for the contents of the family laundry basket. My mother used it as a place to fold clean clothes. No one ever sat in it. 

Five years ago my parents moved to a smaller house. There wasn’t space for the chaise longue. My brother, who had recently bought a home in California, expressed an interest in the unused chair. My parents shipped it to him in a moving van. When it arrived he put it in his basement, intending to stretch out on it while drinking beer and watching TV. But before he had a chance to flop down, his Doberman Pincer, Zeke, claimed it for his own. Then his other dog, Peanut, a tiny Teacup Poodle, decided he wanted part of the action. A fight ensued. The chaise longue lost a major amount of stuffing. My brother dragged it into his garage where it remained until I got the bright idea that I needed a place in which to loll while wearing silk pajamas.  

I arranged for my neighbor, Mr. Burton, to refurbish the chaise longue. It needed new stuffing. The armrests were wobbly and the legs were broken. Mr. Burton, who has been an upholsterer for over 60 years, said he could do it but it would take awhile. He sent me to Discount Fabrics on San Pablo Avenue for wholesale upholstery fabric. I picked out something to match the slinky dressing gown I intended to buy. I delivered the material to Mr. Burton and waited. 

Mr. Burton is 87 years old and a very busy man. Besides upholstering the bar stools for Oaks Card Room, (an ongoing position he has held since 1962), he is a deacon at Beth Eden Baptist Church. He didn’t have a lot of time to devote to my longue-around dreams. 

But finally, six months later, Mr. Burton finished the project. My neighbor Ché helped me lug the now beautiful chair back to my house. “Where’s it going?” asked Ché. “The attic,” I said. “I’m going to drink martinis up there and maybe even smoke a cigarette just for the hell of it.” 

Ché and I maneuvered the chaise longue to the second floor. He looked at the narrow attic stairway. “Did you try getting this thing up there before you had Mr. Burton re-cover it?” asked my wise next door neighbor. “Cuz, you know somethin’? I don’t think it’s gonna fit.”  

“Of course it’ll fit,” I said. “It has to. I’ve already bought the matching pajamas.” 

Ché and I attempted to push the sofa up the steps right side up, then upside down, and sideways. We switched directions, switched positions, unscrewed the banister railing, put a few holes in the drywall, but there was no way in hell it would squeeze through the stairwell. We left it in the hallway, blocking important traffic flow patterns to and from the bathroom. Perhaps, tactfully suggested Ché, it was time to return the silk pajamas and go down to Beth Eden with Mr. Burton and pray.