The chair doesn’t talk to me every day as it turns out. I have found myself talking to the chair and getting nothing in return. If that doesn’t sound foolish, you should try it, particularly when someone– to wit my manager Emily– happens in on me. I look as crazed as all those New Yorkers with ear buds talking on the phone to someone that no one can be certain actually exists. My predicament, in a nut shell.

Today, however, my chair greeted me heartily as I walked in the door. “You’re in early.” The chair sounded English chipper.

“You know it isn’t that early for me,” I replied. “It is 9 and I have shown up as early as 7:30.” It was my turn to be a little grumpy.

“Just thought I would tell you that your almost brand new office chair is about to die.” This was said exuberantly.

“What do you mean? And it is at least five years old.”

“It’s losing bits. A screw person and a washer person are on the floor and it is just a matter of time before the seat person gives way. Lose fifteen pounds and you might save the seat person for a while, but on the whole, the chair person is going fast.  And five years versus four hundred. Get real.”

I went back to my office and did indeed see a screw and a washer on the floor. I put them back in, but the screw was stripped.

“Told you so,” I heard in a sing song voice from the other room.

“I can fix it,” I said in a return sing song.

“You won’t,” the chair sang back. It was right, I could do a temporary fix, but the chair was on the way out.

“Make you happy? Seeing one of your own die like this?”

“No, no,” the chair shot back, “not at all. It’s an affirmation of how well I am made that I have lived so long and some new-fangled, nuts and bolts relative lasts for five years at best. I am happy because of my survival, not because your chair is dying. Besides, we don’t see death the way you do because we know we will come back in some form or another. It is really a testament to those things you deal in and spectacular British craftsmanship. You should be as happy as I am.”

“You are still boasting,” I maintained. The chair didn’t bother to reply, it was humming, ‘Rule Britannia” and I was certain there was also a self satisfied smile, but I wasn’t certain where to look for it.

The potential mine of information that my chair can offer to me is staggering when I think about it. However, it seems averse to spilling the beans on its own history, other than telling me that it comes from a tree that germinated eight hundred years ago. Perhaps, I thought, I could tease information out of it slowly, a few questions here, a few questions there. “Tell me about the tree you came from?” I asked not altogether innocently.

“Swietenia mahoganii is what my tree is called. It is often called the finest cabinetmaking timber in the world. In all modesty, I have to agree.”

“I know what you are. What I want to know is what it was it like to be part of such a grand tree.”

“Not that much different from being a chair, really. Every day is a new day. One moment there were natives, what that oaf Columbus called ‘Indians’ and then there were Spaniards enslaving the Indians and then the Indians were all gone and the Spaniards brought black slaves over to work the land, kill trees and grow sugar cane. Pretty basic, really.”

“But surely, your time was well spent as a tree?”

“I don’t think you get that not being flesh and blood like you, we people that can’t walk around and actually do things to other things, are built with patience. I am luckier than most. I became a chair along with fifteen colleagues, all from the same tree. I have seen a great deal of the world compared to, say, your average light switch which gets fondled a lot but never gets to go anywhere. No, I was very lucky to be made a chair. Do you realize how many people have sat on me over the years?”

I was getting to the information I really wanted to learn. Who made the chair and what place and family he was made for, information that I could use in selling it. This is provenance although I didn’t think I could prove it as all I had to corroborate it was the chair. Would it talk to just anyone?

“I know what you are trying to do,” the chair said, “you want a provenance. Well, I can tell you all sorts of specific information, but it will do you absolutely no good whatsoever. We were made for a house that no longer exists for a family that no longer exists and the paperwork on us no longer exists. The cabinet shop that made us was absorbed by Gillows many, many years ago and their paperwork no longer exists either. So, perhaps we can talk current events?”

“What about some of the people that have sat on you?”

“Bums, all of them,” my chair chuckled, “nothing but bums.”

You can’t imagine what an advantage I feel I have with a chair made in 1745 that actually speaks, or should I say, talks, to me. It, I still can’t give it a gender, always seems a little grumpy but if it is over seven hundred years old in aggregate, I can forgive it just a little bit. After all, who else in this world has a talking chair, particularly one that speaks English?

“So,” I started up one morning, “why doesn’t anyone else know about the human quality of things?”

“Easy,” said the chair, “they do. Only until recently, particularly when your presidential candidate Mitt Romney told everyone that corporations were people and then that Jack Welch and his wife reiterated it in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, people thought of corporations as entities. But now that it is obvious that corporations are people, I, for one, decided to speak up. You can’t imagine how ill used we, the things you call objects, as well as corporations, can be.”

“I don’t doubt that,” I responded, “but then an object is made by humans. “

“Aren’t babies made by humans?”

“Show me a chair that you have produced,” I said, “and I will look a little less skeptically at your claim.”

“Objects, as you call us, don’t make things. Remember the Mamaluks? They didn’t reproduce, couldn’t reproduce. Were they not people? Besides, robots do make things all the time. They made the car you drive, hundreds of them. The BMW family is proud of their gene pool, you know.”

“Enough,” I said. “I would rather hear about the tree you were made from. When was it planted?”

“It wasn’t planted, it germinated in the soil and grew. It germinated just after the end of the 13th century. By 1730, it was over four hundred years old with a canopy that stretched seventy-five feet in every direction. You talk about magnificent, that tree was stupendous. There are few trees alive today that could hold a candle to it.”

“Who cut it down?”

“Some Spaniards. We learned Spanish as they were working on us and then when we were heading to Spain, the British intercepted the ship and took us back to Liverpool. That is why I know English. I have to say I felt a little sorry for those Spaniards. They spent three hard months cutting us down and into large planks.”

“So what happened when you got to England?”

“We were sold. I ended up in a cabinetmakers shop in Yorkshire where I had a French man carving all my bits. He was a weird old guy, but he was a great carver. If you look at the eight of us, you will see minor variations at best and if you had seen all sixteen of us together, you would have been bowled over. It is only fitting given the tree we came from.”

“I agree,” I said, “you are a great set of chairs.”

“Just don’t sell us to someone who doesn’t get where we are from—we are history, after all. We are a lot more than just something to sit on.”

On this point, we could both agree.

I’d said hello to my chair on return from Canada and heard nothing so maybe I had dreamt the whole thing up? That is until I started walking back into my office.

“Phooey,” I heard. “Phooey?” I asked.

“You heard me. I said phooey, and I meant it.”

“Is this attitude on your part or did you miss me?”

“Miss you? Miss you? Do you realize how old I am and what your two week absence means to someone who has been around in one form or another for over eight hundred years?”

“How do you figure that,” I asked?

“You do realize I am made of wood, don’t you, and that wood comes from trees and that trees live lives just like chairs and people do. I come from a mahogany tree that was over four hundred years old when it was killed. ”

“Not chairs,” I interjected, “just people. Trees live and they die just like people. Chairs are objects, not people.”

“So here you are talking to an object?” The chair’s logic was pretty good.

“Well, you may be an hallucination.”

“The one you sent a post card to?”


“Listen, buster, you better get used to thinking of me as people. Same with everything on this planet no matter what it is made from. We are the world, and you people that are flesh and blood are just an eensy weensy bit of it.”

“Ok, ok,” I said. “I will start thinking of you as people. But for those ‘people’ that don’t actually talk to me, I can’t do it.” A loud murmur erupted in my gallery. It was completely incomprehensible, an unearthly noise really.

“You have upset everyone here,” the chair said, “and particularly your plate glass windows which, I might remind you, serve a pretty important function in this space.”

Insurrection, I thought. “Well,” I said, “I still can’t believe corporations are people, no matter what you say.”

“Hey,” the chair shot back, “do you use an ATM? Just think about what you have said before you start saying who are people and who aren’t.” The chair started humming the tune from the old Coke commercial, the one that goes, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company…,” and I realized that the chair could actually be right. Maybe we are all people.

It is existential dilemma day today as I will be roaring into Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I said to my chair on departure that I would send it a card therefrom. Was I absolutely nuts? The chair is not a person, no matter how much it speaks to me. Or is it?

I mean, in essence there are really only two ways to look at the universe.  One is that there is a God and that man is God’s greatest work and that man (us) was put on this planet for some higher purpose. The other is that we are but a grain of sand on the shores of the infinity we call time. We came and we will go as others have before us. Where does a talking chair fit in?

I am not so sure I wish to jump into either boat now that my chair is talking. The paradigm has shifted and neither position seems to justify the chair’s loquacity. I mean, what do corporations think about why we are on this planet? Perhaps they have the answer. Would GE or Apple or perhaps JP Morgan kindly speak up and help me out on this issue?