Thursday, February 18, 2010
Is a naked couch still a couch?
The day we stripped the couch it was overcast and cold. It really was perfect weather for the dark deed at hand. The sky, a lowering slab of solid grey, sent a cold, metallic light filtering down through the tree branches to where Morgan and I carried the couch from its most recent temporary home beside the driveway, where it sat covered in pine needles and drying leaves.
While the couch had become somewhat of a thorn in my side, what with the agonizingly long process we went through to make a decision about it, and then it taking up residence outdoors for so long, I really didn’t want to strip it that day. I even became angry at the prospect of the whole thing, and reflected a scowling, grumbling demeanor back at the skies which crowded in closer and cast out damp air like a giant raspberry on the verge of freezing.
The weather was quite willing to oblige my bad mood. As I trudged backwards across the gravel driveway, grasping the exposed wooden frame underneath the couch with one hand while trying to keep the other planted firmly on its taut and somewhat slippery rounded back, the cold from the half-frozen ground seeped quickly through the thin wall of my rubber boots and made short work of my thick socks. My toes were ice cubes before we’d barely begun.
We set the couch down on the green metal arms of Morgan’s portable saw mill, which put it at just the right height so we didn’t have to bend down awkwardly to dismantle the couch. I stepped back and looked at the broken, battered, cushionless thing and realized the magnitude of what we were about to do. It had originally been my idea to reupholster the couch, but now faced with the first step of that project a part of me felt like I couldn’t bring myself to tear it to bits. This was our couch, the couch. Would it be the same without its ‘70s stripy orange? Would it not just be any old couch? Would it be a couch at all?
Morgan made the first fatal stab and slash with his knife while I stood there contemplating. He then took the flap of fabric in his hand and ripped a giant strip off the back of the couch. I reluctantly grabbed the frayed edge left behind and pulled on it. The fabric was thick and sturdy and didn’t appear to want to be removed from the frame. I had to take it in two hands and use the weight of my whole body to rip it away.
The crisp November air bit cruelly at my hands making them sting. They felt as though they might break into pieces so I hid them in a pair of work gloves, but the gloves made it difficult to handle the fabric, I may as well have worn oven mitts. They felt awkward and useless as the fabric slipped from my grasp again and again until I balled up the fabric in my fist and yanked as hard as I could. My fingers still froze and ached inside the gloves anyway.
Morgan and I toiled silently on either end of the couch, the sounds of tearing fabric filled the air between us as we worked our way through various layers of different materials, taking pictures the whole time so we would remember how the couch was constructed when it came time to rebuild. It was way more complicated than I expected.
As we peeled off the first layer - the once shimmery stripes, the actual personality of the couch - a pile of fabric strips grew on the ground between us. It was as though our couch had disrobed to step into a shower and left it’s clothes piled unceremoniously on the floor.
The more we pulled it apart the harder it looked to put back together again. There were layers of thin cardboard filling the spaces in the armrests, straw underneath, and yellow foam stuffing that was shaped in wide rectangular sections and looked like a mouthful of old teeth. It had given the back and arms a billowy, familiar shape. Then we found burlap and, in spots, there was also a cotton wool-like material that appeared to be randomly placed, like some kind of runny white icing poured on a cake as a last minute thought. We tore all that out, ripped out staples and the piping along all the edges of the couch.
There were strings that attached the outer fabric to the frame in places and threaded right through the middle of the cardboard and the stuffing in the most inconvenient ways. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of those threads and tried to wrap my brain around that conundrum before tearing those out too.
When the flurry of destructive activity subsided, we stepped back and looked as the couch sat completely denuded. Springs that had supported the weight of many a creature coiled and undulated through wide open spaces between the delicate curves and dead-straight runs of the wooden frame. It was no longer the couch. The magical qualities held in the fabric and the tiny buttons that pushed into the toothy grin of the foam backrest, highlighting its contours and folds, had vanished.
We gathered up all the scrapped bits of fabric and foam and cardboard that lay strewn about on the ground around us then carried the much lighter couch frame to the woodshed where it could dry out before we stored it under the house.
It may have been the same frame, the same shape the same springs and wood, but without the fabric, the personality of the couch was gone and fuzzy pictures of the reupholstering job were barely shadows in my mind.