When most Americans think of 1973,
they think of Richard Nixon and Watergate.
For me, 1973 was the Year of the Chair.
I will tell you why shortly.
Those were my college days, and
the days of living in crowded Little Italy in Cleveland,
where everyday everyone battled
for a parking place near their house.
Even with my tiny red VW Beetle,
which never started
when its distributor cap got wet,
it was a struggle to park
within a 5-minute walk of the apartment.
Those were the days
when the City’s sanitation workers,
a.k.a garbage men,
picked upon Monday’s trash maybe on Wednesday.
Too often, your car competed with garbage cans
for a place to park.
And in the springtime,
when the spirit moved folks
to throw away
what they held onto for too long,
there were more garbage cans and boxes
than cars parked on the street.
Our neighbors to the west of us–
the strange ones nobody knew or rarely saw–
every spring engaged in some potlatch type ceremony,
where they threw out what seemed to be
most of their belongings,
including a huge ugly brown stuffed chair,
that I suspected doubled as a sumo wrestler
on Saturday evenings.
I will forever recall
one fateful late Monday afternoon,
when I arrived home from school,
went to my little red Beetle,
and readied for my drive to work.
Trash was piled as close as possible to the front,
rear, and passenger side of my car.
Extricating my poor car from the trash
would be no easy matter,
but something no less that must be done.
The object was to get my car out,
without toppling the mountains of garbage
surrounding my little car.
Finally, I decided to slowly pull the car forward
and attempt to nudge the trash out of the way.
Those old stick shifts never were very reliable,
as you will shortly see.
I thought I had the car in first gear, but somehow
it jerked into reverse, and sure enough
the mountain of trash behind my car
was sent flying in all directions.
I was pissed and mortified at the same time.
There was no time to clean up the mess.
After all, it was those damn nobody-knows-em neighbors’ fault
in the first place.
With nobody to be seen,
I pulled my Beetle away from the curb
and off I drove for work.
No sooner did I reach Euclid Avenue,
when car horns began honking.
Surely everyone is crazy, I thought,
as I drove to the traffic light at Severance Hall,
where the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra plays.
Then I learned the reason for all the honking.
The guy in the car to my left points frantically
to the rear of my Beetle.
Confused, I turn to see what is the matter.
I thought I was hallucinating.
There, at the rear of my car, was THE chair.
Not any chair, but the goddamn sumo chair,
which we dodged every day in front of the house.
Dumbfounded, I jumped from my car,
in the middle of rush hour traffic,
and discovered that the 400-pound chair
was no longer the street’s problem, but mine alone.
I quickly sized up the situation:
sumo chair on my bumper,
a dozen or more baffled people
standing in the nearby bus shelter,
and the esteemed Severance Hall just twenty yards away.
My primal instincts kicked in at this point,
and I began spasticly jumping up and down on my bumper,
trying to free my little car from the wiry arms
of the dreaded sumo chair.
By now, a crowd had gathered to watch.
Without looking at them,
I sensed their eyes fixed on me.
One last jump, and the sumo’s hold was broken.
Now, what does one do with a butt ugly 400-pound chair
in front of the City’s respected concert hall?
I grasped one sturdy arm of the chair,
and with unexpected Herculean strength,
I dragged the chair from the street
and onto the sidewalk, directly in front of Severance.
An older Asian man, waiting for his bus, was screaming at me
that I couldn’t leave this chair here.
He indignantly informed me
he played violin for the Orchestra,
and this act was highly insulting.
I screamed back at him: It’s not my goddamn chair,
and I have to go to work!
I leaped back into my car and sped away.
In my rearview mirror,
I saw the crowd swarming around the sumo chair.
For the next two weeks,
the chair proudly maintained its position
in front of the home of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Everyday I drove by the chair.
Eventually my embarrassment gave way to humor.
Even to this day,
I quip about endowing an honorary chair at Severance Hall;
perhaps for a violinist.