Are You Part of the Recovery?

posted Oct 14, 2009, 11:16 PM by Brian Carpenter   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 11:05 AM ]
Back when I was in college, I worked at a gas station. it was a decent job. i sold gas, snacks and bait. Sure it smelled a little fishy, but it paid and it gave me plenty of time in the afternoons and evenings to study a bit on the clock. 

One day a guy came in asking if he could park a truck in the side lot for a bit. He was a furniture distributor from High Point, NC. For those of you who do not know, High Point is a furniture Mecca. I'm not saying that people pray facing there, but there is an awful lot of top quality furniture made there. Folks in North Carolina tell tales of factory-direct deals and how lucky they are to live so close to the source.

Being a savvy guy, I saw an opportunity when this fellow showed up. Now I was neither rolling in money, nor looking for furniture at the time, but I still looked over the selection of furniture up in the back of that truck. it was stacked to the ceiling with couches and chairs, ottomans and tables. All of it was covered in plastic and smelled like a new car. Wow was it clean.

All of you can remember being in college. That first apartment was either furnished by mommy and daddy, or it was picked up a piece at a time off of the side of the road. Think back and we all can remember smelling the couch before calling our friend with the truck. Is that cat pee? Is it smoke? Will the ride in the back of the truck take care of it and "air" it out sufficiently? Still we would haul it home and drench it with Febreeze before throwing a sheet over it and calling it ours.

Not this time, I thought. The cornucopia of furniture I was staring up at in the back of that unmarked box truck was all new. It was exhilarating to think that I might also be able to buy (gasp) my first **NEW** piece for furniture and that I might at the same time be able to take advantage of those great NC deals.

So I did it. I selected a chair. A blue recliner was hefted down to me in the parking lot. I checked it over to verify the feel of the fabric and that no one had ever sat in it before. It was still covered in plastic and amazing to me. The money came out and changed hands. the gas station customers were backing up and complaining that the pumps were not working, but that did not matter. I was busy.

I half-stuffed the prize into the opened trunk of the sedan I was driving at the time and tied the trunklid shut. My responsibilities at the station hit me like a ton of bricks and I finished my shift in a more responsible manner. I never noticed when the truck left or whether it evaporated into a could of mist. It was not until the close of business that I remembered the chair still covered in plastic hanging out of the trunk of my car like some soft and cushy spoiler. I stole directly home and lugged it indoors.

The moment I bumped through the doorway, I hollered out to my (then) girlfriend to come and see my prize. Sharing in my excitement, we finally pulled the plastic off the chair and arranged it in front of the TV in a prime location. My longtime friend, a second-hand vinyl Barcalounger covered in an old blanket was stuffed into a corner; instantly forgotten. Then I sat down and kicked back.

Now let me tell you, friends, that I had made a mistake. I didn't know it until that moment, but I had made an awful mistake. They say "live and learn" and it is true. I learned something valuable that day, something we all should know. So today, I will impart the (costly) lesson I learned on you. Ready?


Throughout the process of buying that chair I had never sat on it. I had checked the fabric, turned it upside down to ensure that real wood was used in its construction. I smelled it and made sure that it rocked and all, but I never sat down. It was the most uncomfortable chair ever. it was four or five inches too narrow, and there was a decidedly firm spot at the back of your knees where the padding was compressed. It did recline, but there was no options between laying down and sitting up. The arms were beautifully covered in blue velor, but they also were so square that you could set a beer down on them without threat of it spilling. It was just like somebody had covered a "This End Up" chair in fabric and made it recline. Hard and angular, but built to last.

I sat in that chair every night, too stubborn to admit that it was uncomfortable. But after a time, it was backed into a corner and the 30 year-old Barcalounger was brought back out. Even the cat did not sit in it, despite it being in an afternoon sunbeam. It was an epic Fail. One that I sought never to make again.

Years later my then girlfriend now wearing a ring, and I went around to reputable furniture stores looking for a dining room table for our new house. We were decidedly NOT going to buy off of the back of a truck. I also was NOT going to buy anything without sitting in it first. But we also were not rolling in the money either, so we still were looking for good deals.

After lots of driving and lots of walking and lots of sitting down in chairs, we found a set that we both liked and that we could afford. It fit the room well. It looked both formal and comfortable. It had two leaves and six chairs, so it could expand to accommodate guests and host reasonably sized dinner parties. It was wonderful, clean and new.

And it served us well for the past eight or nine years. But we have recently outgrown it and have been seating teenagers at the kids' play table on a regular basis. We needed a new one, a bigger one. So we looked at our finances, found that we were still poor, but through the miracle of debt consolidation, we could afford a new table and some other home improvements for only $20 extra a month.We were back in business!

Over the years we had picked out a supplier of heirloom-quality furniture nearby. It is an antique dealer who loans space to a furniture builder. We had actually picked out the size, the features, and the chairs in our "dream plan" years earlier, and this was our chance. We went, recently, to pull the trigger and realize our dream.

Now with 2 kids in tow we drove an hour to the store and compelled the owner to his post early on a Sunday morning. He was probably hoping to get back in front of the fire after the "browsers" left, but was pleasantly surprised when we declared that we were there to buy instead. We placed our order, priced it, and haggled little over the details. It wasn't until the credit card came out that he made a comment that still sticks with me.

"Oh, so you are part of the recovery, eh?" he said, looking me right in the eye. "I guess so," I replied, not thinking of what he really meant by that. It was later that i thought back to it. There have been all sorts of economic displeasantries recently. I myself have been through the ringer job-wise. This fellow immediately  brought it all into perspective. Here he was, standing in the middle of his large *heated barn on a cold spring morning in Vermont surrounded by *thousands of dollars worth of furniture and antiques. The business was not new, and neither was he, being otherwise retired. But he was doing what all sorts of other folks are also doing. Treading water, paying the bills, and hoping that the buyers would once again come in through the door.

And there we were. A family of four ready to spend some money. As the boy ran cars across the merchandise, and the little girl danced to Taylor Swift songs piped through mommy's IPhone, we went to task and probably made his week's profits that day. What is more, we set the chair builders to work as well ordering ten. We were doing it for ourselves, but in the process we helped our community get back on its feet, even if just a bit.

Now we are not sitting pretty. If Congress can not come up with a spending plan, my wife will be furloughed without pay beginning just next week. I am now a builder and also selling wood flooring, but neither of those careers is exactly lucrative, and both depend largely on others. But thankfully, money is still cheap and for those of us with good credit, it is still available. We decided to pay an extra $240 a year (over the next million years) and put a whole series of folks in the local community to work. For that antiques dealer we were part of the country's "solution" to this economic downturn.

For us, we are looking forward to the new table. And for those of you still interested, I sat in those chairs years earlier. I did not need to do it again. And you don't hit your knees on the table legs when you sit at it either.