Is civilization possible without the chair?

I mean, think about it. Plenty of animals make their own beds, but did you ever see even the sharpest rat sitting down in a chair?

The chair is no mere piece of furniture; it's a concept. It says something about human power. It is political. Long, long before the kings of Scotland were crowned on the Stone of Stone, the idea of a throne must have existed. After all, if you could afford to sit down in the presence of strangers, that is, enemies, and not stand ready for combat, it must mean you didn't fear them very much. Where do you think the word chairman came from?

Even today, in an executive office, the chair has mojo. Try asking the boss for a raise when you're sitting in a chair lower than the one across the desk.The chair: what a wonderful invention. Who was the FRI, fur-clad genius who discovered that it was possible to rest without lying down? Who first sighed the sublime sigh of a sitter subsiding, spent, onto a seat?%TIn our homes, this curiously ambiguous emblem of authority and relaxation is almost a member of the family. Can you imagine everyone standing around the living room after supper chatting or reading or watching the tube?

My grandfather, an old soldier from the Gold Rush days, took up woodcarving in his last years and made a marvelous mahogany armchair, all claws and scrolls and subtly sculptured sitzplatz. It was always my father's chair in the dining room, and mine in my turn. Once in the '50s a woman friend, a feminist ahead of her time, railed bittlerly at this chair - not at me, particularly, but at the chair - for its mute sexism.

I no longer sit in it because it is getting arthritic, but it still stands at the head of the table. It insists, on being there. Move it off to the side, and the whole room looks wrong. What can you do?

My father also had his special armchair, by the fire in the library, deep, profoundly comfortable, with a high back and generous arms: a chair to read his Herald Tribune, but never when he was around. Something made me get up and offer it to him when he came in the room. Not that he was in the least threatening, or that I was in the least polite. It was something in the chair.

We still have that chair, all but reupholstered to death, and are about to retire it, but people still shy away from sitting in it unless I insist.

My mother also had her special chair; elegant, dowel-backed, efficient. It was the chair she sat in to write checks. If she wanted to relax, she would lie on the sofa.

Another one, a fine old wing chair, used to be stationed by a window in the living room overlooking the lawn and the valley beyond. It was in a nook, so you could sit perfectly still in it and someone lookiong for you to do a chore would walk right past. I decided to make it my official reading chair. But it was too formal, too sternly straight-backed, so I never warmed to it. We still have that one too, in the attic, too valuable to throw away, not valuable enough to sell, unaccommodating as ever.

Another disaster is the loveseat, which is good for nothing except arm wrestling.

You can tell a lot about a family by its chairs; whether it's socially ambitious, puritanical, lazy, whatever. Some living rooms you go into and there are all these springy-bottomed, stiffbacked antique chairs, with such a high chamber that they don't seem to want you to sit on them. You can't feel really welcome in such a place, and you wonder if even the people who live there feel welcome.

Doubtless those chairs were Louis XVI, Chippendale or some such. Which brings up the question: Why didn't the master chaircrafters make comfortable chairs? Why were chair backs and arms considered status symbols? Was there some social prestige attached to sitting up straight? Is this the origin of "Don't sloch!"

The more you think about chairs, the stranger they get. The electric chair: Why? Wouldn't it be much more practical to put the poor soul on a stretcher? Even in the gas chamber, the executee sits on a chair.Maybe it is a vestige of the homage paid to the sacrifical victim from times primeval.

Remember the Fearless Fosdick episode where the archriminal was a Chippendale chair, and at the end Fosdick gets to say, "You'll get the chair, Chair!"

Chairs. The seat of civilization. One cannot conceive even the lowliest hovel without a chair, though it may lack beds and tables. Chairs. They have arms and legs and feet and backs and seats just as we do. They are with us all our lives. High chairs. Potty chairs. Nursery chairs. School chairs. Lawn chairs. Deck chairs. Captain's chairs. Director's chairs. Sedan chairs. Dentist chairs. Swivel chairs. Wheelchairs. Folding chairs. Camp chairs. Ladderback chairs. Windsor chairs. Huey Newtown chairs. Eames chairs. Barcelona chairs. Morris chairs. Butterfly chairs. Rocking chairs . . .