Ever meet someone who’s really into a specific kind of furniture? I don’t mean the workaday influencer wannabe with a midcentury modern fetish or your friend who parrots pages from the latest Dwell, I’m talking lifers who while away hours trading Eames tables on eBay or people who can point out the choicest character lines of a Sauder desk drawer from across a crowded room. You know they’re out there somewhere, of course, but until you meet one, it might be difficult to grasp just how far down this (ultimately very practical) rabbit hole it’s possible to go.
I thought I knew tables and chairs pretty well. I’ve sat in plenty of different office chairs and even voted on one as part of a company initiative (my pick did not prevail). I’ve soaked up nuances simply by living with them. But I was wrong. I do not know tables and chairs. Scott does.
I met Scott by way of a fellow worker who was looking to take advantage of the same company voucher we were being offered from higher up for purchases made as a result of enforced work from home. We were tipped off by another coworker who unabashedly plays bagpipes on Zoom meetings and worked from mountaintops on his honeymoon for the simple stupid reason that he is a highly suspect overachiever. I don’t really think this guy works as hard as he does and gave a side-eye to the recommendation, but I also have no proof he doesn’t, appearances often feel like everything nowadays, and I needed a chair. Project the lifeless dweeb you don’t actually have the motivation to be and pass it on.
Anyway, we go out to a far-flung suburb in the general vicinity of where I’ve often tested cars. I’d been around that neck of the woods often enough, but Scott’s workshop-cum-warehouse (the business for which hearteningly does, in fact, have the word “chair” in it) off a foliage-laden backroad was new to me. My coworker had struggled to get hold of Scott all week but finally wrangled an hour-long appointment; there we were, then, coming in out of the rain to call his phone and have him let us in to check out the offerings. We were 30 minutes late, but I take forever to make a decision unless I’m on a deadline. I was confident we wouldn’t need it.
A middle-aged man in a polo tee and a tuft of white hair above the button, worn jeans and camo-coated all-weather birkenstocks (highly breathable, no socks) answered the door. This, apparently, was Scott. “Let’s find you a chair,” he offered half-benevolently, half-absentmindedly. There was the aura of dangerous focus in his delivery that suggested he was a genius or a savant, the kind of focus that forgets to pay mortgages or buy toilet paper but never forgets the feel of a Herman Miller Aeron.
As he led us to the main space and wandered the rows of chairs, he got to asking us questions about what, exactly, we were looking for in a chair. Metal? Wood? Leather? Mesh? Fabric? Managerial back? Executive back? Adjustable? Wheels? Black? Blue? Gray? Red? He had it. He had it all. I perused the half-lit warehouse with a kind of languid care, poring over neatly lined Keilhauer Reeves and Vitra Visasofts, examining for the most obvious scuff marks because I didn’t really know what else to do aside from sit in them all. It dawned on me I was in over my head. Did I know what kind of chair I wanted? Beyond a mesh seat, I apparently did not, at least not right away.
“That one’s got some slight blemishes to it, but it’s in good shape overall,” Scott pointed my way, briefly interrupting whatever he’d been saying to my far more indecisive coworker. He’d been talking with her this whole time, feeling her out for an idea of what she was looking for, pulling chairs out from the cluttered shelves beyond the rows, moving buckets to catch roof leaks, and explaining how the business worked. We learned he had a partner in Hershey, Pennsylvania, who he met through furniture sales before eBay banned him for selling too many items per day despite his substantial seller experience and verified purchases, a bizarre ruling that came as news to me and got me thinking about how bad eBay’s fraud prevention alerts must be for them to trouble for someone like this. We learned that one set of chairs came from a well known ad agency downtown. We learned that if one of us wanted this chair right here, it normally retails for $3,000 but if we wanted it now, his partner said to offer it for $600 but he’d give it to us for $500. There were desks I didn’t want evidently culled from bleak office spaces either downsizing or going out of business, a warehouse full of pandemic furniture and ghosts of business past. There were Eames tables we could sell at a significant profit if we held off for a couple of weeks. And oh, there was a 30-day return policy if we didn’t like something, no questions asked.
I went with a Teknion Nuova Contessa (which is deceptively heavy, caveat emptor). My coworker got something leather-lined and an actual Eames table, about which Scott offered that the Eamses got their start making leg splints for wounded soldiers during World War II, a thing I never would’ve thought to look up.
Then we went into his office to pay. Scott sat at a three-monitor desk turned to the farthest corner while my coworker and I sat on the near side of a table in the middle of the room peering over his shoulder at the screens. I took a look around and immediately noticed a hideous three-foot papier-mâché figure with a business suit and blonde hair, two golden elephants with their noses up, a line of vintage luggage, a giant framed portrait of the 1889 launch of the USS Maine, and a bunch of $2 bills, also framed. I didn’t know which thing to ask about first, but it had to be one of them; Scott was the slowest typist I’d encountered in years. His personal mail is an AOL account. Some tech, apparently, is not his strong suit. We were going to be here awhile.
I asked about the papier-mâché figure. “Oh, that’s Donald Trump,” he said earnestly — which was good, because as obvious as that should’ve been, I could not help but be awed by the incredible lack of skill on display. It was awesomely bad, the kind of travesty only the most devout yogurt-brained MAGA adherent could compose in sincere commemoration. But Scott liked it. “You know, you’re the first person to ask me about that. I like to collect things that are rare, or that I think will have value eventually,” he followed up. “My wife’s Mexican and a Democrat and I’m a Republican, and y’know, it got a little difficult when he said that thing about the immigrants, or they said he did” — I also did not know which single “thing” he was referring to here — “but anyway, she kept trying to break it, so I had to bring it to the office and hide it from her. I have my Make America Great Again hat up there in the closet,” he zagged before a moment of strange grace. “I hope I’m not offending anyone.”
I asked about the elephants. They were from India. “I like to travel, done a lot of traveling,” Scott said. “I was in New York, Charlotte last week. Next week I’ll be out west. Been to China. I ate cat out there. Fatty. I wouldn’t recommend it. But you gotta try it, you know? My parents used to go all over the world. My mom only took me on one trip, though, when we went to India. I did opium in a hut.” Not with his mother, I had him clarify, as he finally finished printing out our receipts and ushered us to bring the car around the side and load up. There was more luggage at home. There was nothing to ask about the USS Maine or the $2 bills, so instead I did the math and realized I’d be saving 88% on my chair. Half a year into this pandemic and more than an hour into this visit, my home office had finally started to take shape thanks to a cat-eating, opium-smoking office furniture expert.
I spent the rest of the day in an autumnal smirr getting drunk and watching egrets do laps. I ended the night with beer that specified a limit of one draft per customer. One step forward. One back.
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For no reason at all just yesterday, I remembered the band Sparta. I really do not know what triggered the memory of them existing, but as often happens with these things, I decompressed from work by aimlessly clicking around and seeing where it led, which turned out to be a 49-minute YouTube video discussing gear tech that I had absolutely no interest in viewing for its entirety. Still, I was on the video long enough to learn that Sparta has a new album out in the year 2020. Mostly just curious as these musical tastebuds are behind me now, I went and listened to “Believe.” It’s not bad; in fact, if you close your eyes, it’s basically the best U2 song that U2 has made in 20 years.
I was briefly excited, but where was I going to write about it? My usual home is maybe the most lax daily music site I know when it comes to deadlines, but Trust the River’s April release was way beyond relevant even for them. There was nowhere to put it, really. So I listened, and that was it.
Which is how Trust the River fell into a space that the music criticism community wrings its hands over every few months. In addition to debating how music should be covered and critiqued (the who, the where, the how, the why at all), there’s also this recurring problem of what to do with music that isn’t bleeding-edge new but also isn’t anywhere near forgotten classic or anniversary reissue status. Sometimes labels will throw publications a bone and do a hasty reissue or repress in a limited quantity or sell the album off to a higher-profile label, but these are pandemic times. No one has any money, the industry is as top-heavy as it’s ever been, and everybody who’s got a really good record from a year ago probably isn’t going to get noticed because just think of all the new music being made every day, think of all the fucking records. How do you cover something from 2018 that you’re excited about but has no news peg? Where do you put that? And what kind of person would read it?
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Franco Morbidelli is in a strange limbo. Like Danilo Petrucci, he took a wayward route to get to MotoGP by way of Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Academy, then the European 600cc Superstock championship, then three seasons in Moto2 where he scored nine podiums and finished fourth in 2016. In 2017, he took eight wins and should’ve cruised home to the title ahead of soon-to-be-teammate Thomas Lüthi by more than he did. He was obviously talented but still a little imperfect, still a little rough around the edges.
In his first year in MotoGP, he rode an unlovable Honda to 15th overall and often looked adrift on a bike only one man could extract the maximum from (Marc Marquez) and only two others (Cal Crutchlow, Dani Pedrosa) ever looked even remotely comfortable on. His talent was being wasted there, so he packed up and moved to a Yamaha satellite team for 2019, where his smooth style was sure to complement the bike better and he’d ostensibly be leading the brand new Petronas squad alongside French phenom Fabio Quartararo.
Fabio blew away everyone’s expectations last year and often challenged Marquez toward the end of the season, then took the opening two races of 2020 in Jerez to assume command of the rider’s championship. He says he’s not worried about the championship and has been quick to remind everyone he’s only in his second year, but you do have to wonder if maybe it isn’t getting to him a little. In any case, his value has skyrocketed and he’ll be in the comparatively beleaguered factory Yamaha team for 2021. The ink has dried on that contract.
It took Franco Morbidelli 41 races to win his first grand prix. He’s not new, but he feels like a slow burn who’d be peaking right now if he hadn’t been brought into the Yamaha fold just as his teammate was. That San Marino win was literally flawless. He’s only seventh in the championship right now, 13 off the back of Quartararo and 19 off leader Andrea Dovizioso. But he’s been on the podium twice, the other a second place. One DNF was an engine failure, the other a horrific crash not of his own doing. In a year with four first-time winners and at least 10 guys capable of winning on any given weekend, 19 points is nothing, less than a race win and it’s all still to play for. Where might Franco be without those DNFs to his name? What kind of contract for 2021 might he have with those performances?
Yamaha have to put him on the same bike again next year because they don’t know what else to do, they just know they can’t afford to lose him. Because look, there are a lot of good riders who haven’t yet shown themselves, who have scuff marks and maybe didn’t get the right break, scores of guys who never will, and as a team, you have to figure out what to hold on to and what to let go. You never know what’s going to have value eventually, you know?