Too Much Gussying Up 

Some things best left alone

Some of my friends have started shopping for recliner chairs. They’re being sneaky about it, and they won’t admit to it unless they’re half-full of gin. As far as I know, only one of my pals has actually had the courage to buy herself a recliner. “You can’t even tell it’s a recliner,” she told me. “It looks just like a wing chair.” Then she hinted that I might want to go down to the furniture showroom and have a look.

No thanks. No closet Queen Anne recliner for this boy. I’ve got a fully recognizable recliner chair, and I’ve had one since I was 6, when I ran my mother off hers and onto the sofa. I am all the way unashamed of my great, big scissor-action recliner, with its handle the size of a boat oar on one side (DEPLOY FOOTREST! KA-CHOOM!), and its kangaroo pocket for magazines on the other. Truth be told, if the Publisher’s Clearing House Consolation Prize Patrol showed up at my house with one of those extra-fancy recliners—with yaw and pitch controls and auto-massage and heating coils—I’d put that bad boy in front of the TV, put my little table with my fingernail clippers and drink coaster next to it, and throw a fit if I came home and found anybody else in it.

I might even do like my friend Jim’s parents, who, when presented with a pair of custom monogrammed floor mats for their truck, felt that the mats were way too nice to go in the truck—so they deployed them at the feet of their matched recliners, where they remain to this day.

To my way of thinking, though, there’s something a little loose in the American psyche when we have this urgent need to gussy up our common household items. For instance, take common everyday floor vinyl. A country that can put 12 men and several dune buggies on the moon should not devote a great deal of time, money and effort to manufacturing, shipping, selling and installing floor vinyl that looks like pegged oak or Mexican tile. We need to let vinyl be vinyl. Shoot, we need to vinyl to be vinyl, which is of course plastic; don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Same deal with kitchen countertop: Call it what you want (like trade names Corian or Formica), but it’s plastic. There is no good reason to make plastic look like butcher block. If you want butcher block, cut up some wood, get out the yellow Elmer’s glue and clamps, and make yourself some butcher block. (Be careful, though. Let down your Lysol guard for a minute, and real-wood countertop turns into a rip-roaring Stomach Bug Festival.)

Corian—the expensive plastic countertop—is marketed as having the look of marble (which it does not), when it ought to be sold as a perfectly good and useful white plastic. Formica—the more affordable plastic countertop—has been tortured into every faux finish known to man. I have been in barbecue joints that had barn-board Formica on the walls. I have seen fake-slate Formica. Hey, if you want slate counters, you can have the real thing for the price of a nice used car. I personally favor the looks-like-plastic Formica: It looks good, it works good, and it’s cheap. It’s something American Cyanamid ought to be proud of.

But I worry about what happens to all the countertop that’s just so butt-ugly that nobody buys it. For years, I’ve had this recurring dream that they secretly melt the stuff down and make it into those awful marshmallow orange-slice candies you only see at Halloween.

Here are a few other things that bug me:

♦ Perfumed toilet tissue. The vanity of this is unspeakable.

♦ Sheets with floral prints. Sheets do not need pictures. My mother-in-law once gave Brenda and me a set of floral sheets that had such thick ink on ’em, they scraped up my knees. I think she did this to me on purpose, and I’m not all the way over it yet.

♦ Fuzzy cozies on commode lids and tanks. Who thought this up? I’m convinced these things are both a symptom of, and a cause of, many nervous breakdowns.

We’ve got to get over this urge to gussy up. Remember, even plastic is an all-natural ingredient. So far, no supernatural ingredients have been confirmed. If you find any, let me know.

Walter Jowers can be reached at


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