The Chairs That Made This Country Great

Or, don’t let the bastards get a better view than you


It wasn’t so long ago that, upon deciding to attend an outdoor movie or jazz on the beach or Shakespeare in the Park, all one had to pack was a blanket and a basket of snacks. Part of the pleasure of culture under the stars was the odd confluence of cosmopolitanism and camping, heightened by the feel of the cool ground beneath the blanket and the democratic sensibility of sitting on the same level as everyone else. Then along came the collapsible chair-in-a-drawstring-sack to shatter this sylvan egalitarianism and reduce the blanket-bringers to looking at the hairy ankles of the seated fellow in the preceding row.

Folding patio chairs had been around forever, but in the realm of cosmopolitan camping they had never displaced the humble blanket. The folding patio chair at a public event—perhaps because of the general cultural agreement that patio furniture belonged on a patio—had about it the whiff of the downscale. Dragging an unwieldy folding chair into a large crowd looked effortful; the onlooker wondered what was coming out of the faux-wood-paneled station wagon next: A table? A blender? The chair-in-a-bag, however, was sleek and sporty. One could toss it effortlessly over the shoulder and carry it like a skinny athletic duffel. It was, in modern terms, a disruptive technology, and it did what disruptive technologies always do: It forced all of us—even those who initially found it unnecessary, crass or ideologically troubling—to adapt.

Soon chairs-in-bags were everywhere. At youth baseball games, which almost always come equipped with bleachers, nobody sat in the bleachers anymore. Bleacher-sitters were outsiders; the moms and dads in the know sat in debagged chairs behind the backstop so that they could better coach their children and apprise the umpire of his shortcomings. Players receiving scant playing time wandered from dugouts and sat down with their well-prepared parents. If you wanted to sit behind such families, you had to stand.

Every disruption, though, is ultimately disrupted, and the salvation of the second-row families arrived in the form of the big & tall chair-in-a-bag. Have you seen these things? You can perch a good five feet above the ground, like a pigeon on a low branch. The armrests can now accommodate a meal of three courses, served all at once. We’ve moved into the era of the adult high chair. Now, whether we’re at the kid’s ballgame or the Trio Under the Tree (cellos, wine and ants!), we can peer over the head of the poor schlub in front of us who has only an ordinary chair-in-a-bag.

But the last word has not been had, because in the Republic of Disruption, there are no last words, only people vibrantly competing to say them in the hopes that, this time, last really will mean last. My wife and I recently attended an indoor archery competition in which our son was competing. We sat down in the third row of little plastic benches that the range had graciously provided. Our view was not perfect, but it was not much worse than the view from the second row or the fourth row. We spectators were spectating on a level playing field. Then they arrived: a rangy, athletic-looking couple in their mid-60s, half a head taller than the rest of us even without the aid of advanced seating. Slung over their sturdy shoulders were two very long, slim bags.

Mr. and Mrs. Tall walked past the fourth row of chairs, then past the third, the second and the first, and set themselves up in the newly discovered Zeroth Row. They loosened their drawstrings and drew their swords: five-foot-high collapsible chairs clad in sleek black fabric. They sat down immediately in front of the people to our left, who were working busily on their digital devices and seemed not to notice. In fact, nobody seemed to notice. It was as if a collective signal had been sent: “Resistance is futile; the Slumberjack Big Tall Steel Chair is now available for 60 bucks on Amazon.”

Never stop improving, America!

Greg Blake Miller will read from his book, Decemberlands, at 6 p.m. on October 6 at the Coffee Press in the Paseo Verde Library. Information:

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