The Match Game 

Awash among the swatches

Awash among the swatches

”Tell me again why having a baby means buying a sofa?“ my husband asked as I combed the paper for furniture ads. ”Honey, we’ve talked about this: The baby has to sleep somewhere—so the den is going to become our bedroom, the living room is going to be the den, the old bedroom is going to be the new office, and the old office is going to be the nursery.“ Clear as a newborn baby’s soul.

We’re planning this fruit-basket turnover because we don’t want to move away from the neighborhood we love, not even for a bigger house, so we’ve got to make room in the house we’ve got for the baby we’re getting. Since the children we already have already share a tiny room, something has to go. What’s going, we’ve decided, is the formal living room.

”I’m not asking why a seven-and-a-half-pound baby, who isn’t even here yet, is making me move every stick of furniture in this house,“ my husband said. ”I get that much. What I don’t get is why a seven-and-a-half-pound baby needs a new sofa to spit up on.“

I tried one more time to explain: ”The living-room sofa is uncomfortable, but we can’t move the futon—which is comfortable—into the living room because there’s no privacy in the living room, and the futon is where our parents sleep when they visit. If we don’t put the futon in the office, our parents won’t have anywhere to sleep when they visit, and they visit a lot.“

My husband seemed to be with me so far, so I pressed on. ”Unless you’d rather let them sleep in our bed while we camp out in the living room.“ He shook his head. ”So now do you see why we need a new sofa?“

He shook his head but this time admitted defeat: ”I guess I don’t have to understand why we’re throwing out a perfectly good sofa to make room for a baby. If a pregnant woman says we need another sofa and can afford another sofa, I accept that. Just please get something sturdy and comfortable, not one of those cushions-across-the-back jobs that make you think you’ve been sucked into a black hole.“

I didn’t appreciate this implication of hormone-induced irrationality, but the important thing was the green light on the new sofa; time to stop talking and start shopping.

My problem was where to shop. Since there are only two pieces of furniture in our house not donated by relatives or discovered at garage sales, I had no idea where to begin. With the Yellow Pages open on the passenger seat, I set off into previously unknown regions of mercantilism, my only companion a sticky-fingered, insatiably curious toddler. To keep him out of trouble in places filled with expensive fabrics and fragile lamps, I strapped him into a backpack every time I reached a furniture store.

With a baby tilting me backward and a swelling belly tipping me forward, I careened through six different furniture stores before giving up. It’s impossible to test-drive a sofa with a baby on your back. Every time you lean back, he squeals.

”I’ll make a deal with you,“ I told my husband the next Saturday morning. ”You go pick out a comfortable sofa, and I’ll stay home with the kids. When you’ve found something you like, write it down. Then you stay with the kids while I pick out the fabric. We’ll have a sofa ordered by the end of the day.“

My husband was suspicious. ”You’ll settle for any couch I like as long as you get to pick the color?“

”Right.“

He picked up his car keys and headed out the door.

He was back a moment later. ”Which store is the cheapest?“

A full week of pioneering efforts had yielded nothing for me, but my husband accomplished his mission in less than an hour. He picked out a sofa with a high, firm back and sturdy arms, one that a salesman named Charles had assured him was even good for a weak back. Then it was my turn to check out swatches. Five hundred of them.

That’s how I met Charles, winner of this year’s Patient Sofa Salesman of the Year award. Rapidly discerning my abject ignorance of color, texture, and fiber, he kindly took me under his exquisitely tasteful wing. I described our multicolored, baby-poop-disguising rug and showed him a remnant from our recently re-covered wing chairs. ”I’m thinking of something in gray,“ I told him, ”Something that won’t show dirt.“

”Oh, let’s steer clear of gray,“ Charles suggested gently. ”Gray is for train stations in Russia.“

When I left the store an hour-and-a-half later, I carried four Charles-approved fabric samples to try next to the rug. I knew at least one of them would look great.

I was wrong. The greens made our red chairs look like Christmas; the tans washed out against the off-white walls; the damasks quarreled with the rug. I headed back to the store. Charles again greeted me warmly and helped me choose four other samples to take home. ”Now keep these overnight,“ he urged me. ”Live with them in lamplight and full sun before you decide.“

It took only a moment to see that all four were wrong. I sneaked back to the store, hoping Charles wouldn’t see me and condemn my hopelessly plebeian taste. He spotted me crouching behind a large wing chair and pawing through the gray swatches, but he patiently came over to offer another round of advice. This time we found the perfect fabric for my living room, something that was sure to work with the rug and the chairs and didn’t look like a Russian train depot. I brought it home, and my husband and I admired our new sofa swatch by lamplight.

During the night, though, my husband had an epiphany. He shook me awake. ”Make-out factor.“

”Huh?“

”We’re completely forgetting the make-out factor. Why are we buying a sofa with a sturdy back? A sofa with a sturdy back makes you sit up straight. We need a sofa for making out on.“

”Honey,“ I pointed out, ”we don’t have to kiss on the sofa any more. We’re married. We can make out anywhere we want.“

”Yes, but one day our 16-year-old daughter’s going to bring home a date, and they’re going to hate that sofa.“

It was late. ”Sweetheart,“ I said, ”we don’t have a daughter.“

”But one day we might, and we need to think of her when we buy this sofa.“ I don’t know much about sofas, but I know that when a man has decided to factor sexuality into the furniture-buying equation, he cannot be budged. The next day we drove back to the store.

Charles the Brave was undaunted. He showed us a good kissing sofa, and we started all over again with a new range of fabric swatches made by that sofa’s manufacturer. This time it took six trips home with 24 different fabrics over the course of five days before I finally just dragged my living-room rug to the store and stayed there until we found a swatch that looked good with it. Charles approved the choice as ”daring but lovely.“ He’d taught me a lot in a week.

Despite Charles’ approval and my husband’s, and despite my own relief at having the shopping ordeal finally over, I know I’ll have to wait at least 16 years before I can be absolutely certain we ordered the right sofa. And the truth is, I’m not at all sure, even if we actually have a daughter, I’ll want to know the verdict.

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