A Special Chair

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Ever since Victor started working for MySky, he had been complaining about his back. He could hardly walk, he said, all the muscles in his lower back were frozen up and the stiffness was rising. When he turned his head too quickly he saw a flash of light, like Saint Elmo’s Fire.

Alex and I made what we thought were helpful suggestions, for example, why didn’t Victor try yoga? Victor shook his head reproachfully. “Are you guys kidding? I can barely walk.” Alex knew a massage therapist; I had a friend who had been in physical therapy. Or he could try acupuncture, Alex suggested, there was a great little man on Mission Street who had cured Alex’s carpal tunnel last winter. Or he should swim, I suggested, or drink, said Alex, or try Pilates, I suggested, or the Alexander technique, Alex said; it had become a contest to see which of us would run out of remedies for back pain first.

Alex offered ice and I countered with Ben-Gay; Alex came back with heating pads and I riposted with a special mattress, Alex said special pillows, I said special pillows were only an accessory to special mattresses, Alex conceded, but then, with an air of great finality, told Victor that it was his shoes, and if only he bought the right shoes everything else would fall into place. I told him to consult Erin who had literally hundreds of cures for back pain, culled from five centuries of folklore. Victor thanked us curtly and went back to his groaning.

“Could anything be more obviously stress,” Alex wondered. We agreed that what Victor needed was a psychiatrist, or sex, or separation from the madmen at MySky, or all of these things. Then the chair arrived. It was in the kitchen when I came home from Java Man one afternoon, a black leather armchair, sheeted in transparent plastic. Victor sat next to it, reading an instruction manual. He reached behind the chair, winced, pulled out a power cord, and plugged the chair into an outlet. Slowly, not like an electrical appliance coming on, but like a genie coalescing out of smoke, an icy blue light on the base of the chair began to glow. “Electric chair?” I asked. “Back chair,” Victor said. “It’s pretty big to go in the kitchen.” “I know, but it doesn’t fit in my room.” Victor raised himself up stiffly and settled into the chair. He closed his eyes, and smiled a small, crooked smile. “It vibrates,” Victor said, and, after that, nothing more.

I retreated to my room and waited for Alex’s aggrieved knock. “What the fuck does he think he’s doing?” Etc. Alex hypothesized that Victor’s enormous chair compensated for a substandard penis, or accommodated an aggrandized notion of his own anality. He mocked the chair, he condemned the chair, he told Victor to move the chair, and got the same response I did, namely, that the chair could go nowhere else.

The chair became the center of our collective existence. Victor complained to me that Alex was jealous of his, Victor’s material success; Alex hissed at me that Victor had become one of them, the terrible people, who signed over their soul in exchange for oversized, ugly products, that were nothing but a conspicuous waste of materials married to a modicum of technological trickery, this, this yuck! And Victor told me that he was in pain, and the chair was the only thing that helped. The chair said nothing. It merely glowed, suffusing the kitchen with that blue light.

It was—probably—the destruction of Victor’s special chair that provoked him to move to Menlo Park, although, given what happened with MySky, I’m sure he would have moved sooner or later anyway.

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