I hope everyone is enjoying their July 4th weekend. I know I am. I thought I’d post this essay from three years ago. It was picked up by the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada, so I had to change the spelling of a few words to coincide with Canadian English, which is the same as British English, but don’t worry—I changed them back.
I was trying to relax the other day, which shouldn’t be something one has to try to do, but there you have it. I was looking for something to do while I was relaxing.
Does anybody whittle anymore? I remember unfolding the long, semi-sharp blade of my Cub Scout knife when I was ten or so and saying to myself, “There is absolutely nothing left on this earth to do, so I think I might fix to whittle.” And so I did. The problem was that I really didn’t understand the end game. What was I supposed to make? I mean, besides a small pile of curly wood shavings. A dining room chair seemed a bit lofty, so I made a spear. That made sense since I started with a stick, so the hard part was already done.
When it felt as if any more whittling might simply be overkill, I stopped. Perfection, after all, was obvious. Since this little hand spear was good for absolutely nothing, I tossed that bold experiment aside, found a longer stick and set out to whittle a much more useful spear. Which I did and which would have come in handy if somebody needed a ten year old to go back in time eight thousand years to slay a wooly mammoth.
I thought about this the other day as I was sitting on the back porch, wondering where my pocketknife had gone. I couldn’t find it, although I’m sure it’s in the pocket of a pair of pants or shorts or possibly in the lint trap of the dryer. It’ll turn up eventually. So as I sat there wondering where my knife was, I was lamenting the fact that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pass the time by whittling. I would need to relax in some other way. Relaxing, as it turned out in this case, was going to require some thought.
I hear fishing is great for people who want to do something while actually doing nothing. I’ve been meaning to get more involved in that, but I have this burgeoning whittling career and besides; this would mean I’d have to get a tackle box and poles and stuff to put in the tackle box and possibly one of those hats with hooks in it. I wouldn’t know where to begin.
No, for me, if I’m going to relax, the most I want to do is read or put my feet up and stare off at trees and birds. I like my relaxing to be immediate and as unfettered by travel as possible. If a person has to travel somewhere to relax, they really are living in the wrong place.
A few years ago we decided that the perfect medium for relaxing at home in the summer would be a pair of wooden lawn chairs or what the French call, a chaise lounge. I think they call them that here too, but the phrase doesn’t sit well with me. I may as well curl up on a fainting couch the next time I want to have a nap or start calling raincoats “slickers.” Where does it end?
Every year, we wheel these chairs out from the garage and into the backyard in anticipation of the many relaxing moments that will be stolen out of otherwise hectic days. This year was no exception, but they’ve been parked out on the lawn for about a month now and nobody has yet to sit on them. Not even once, and the odd thing is that they look so inviting; the most comfortable thing in the world actually, but I said that about those big rope hammocks that hang between palm trees until I actually used one.
I should point out that these lawn chairs did not come with cushions, which didn’t make any sense at all because they need them, so Mrs. G. bought two really thick cushions and a couple of pillows from the Barn of Pottery. I believe this ensemble cost more than the chairs, which we got online from the Mart de Wal.
The first year we got the chairs, we rolled them out to a perfect spot under the shade of a majestic white pine tree, and dropped the cushions and pillows onto the naked slats. Man, they looked good—like something one would see next to the infinity pool at George Clooney’s place. I was ready and fully charged to do nothing. I got my book, I got myself a cold drink, and I was all prepared to do some five-star lounging.
The little drink tray for my iced tea was slid out from the bottom of the chair and the back was angled into one of the four preset spots. This should have been amazing, but the instant I sat down, the cushion and I went sliding about halfway down the chair as if on rollers. I ended up flat on my back with my legs up in the air like a dead June bug. Well, this wasn’t comfortable. Not one bit. All that was missing from this scene was a pair of stirrups, a bright light, and a gynecologist.
I went into the house, lifted up the rug in the foyer, and chopped off a piece of the rubber that holds the rug in place. I then placed that between the cushion and the lawn chair, and voila—no more sliding.
As I sat there, I quickly realized that the angle I had chosen was not designed for anything with a spine, so I tried to adjust it. Bolt upright wasn’t good either and the only other options were two degrees from perfectly flat or perfectly flat, so I gave up reading and fell asleep. When I woke up about fifteen minutes later, I wasn’t able to feel anything from my waist down. My wife said that I should stop complaining, so I challenged her to sit on the other chair for more than ten minutes. She couldn’t do it. “It feels like I just had an epidural,” she said. It was hard to believe that something that looked this good could be so uncomfortable.
“Try the pillow,” she suggested, so I did. First I stuck it behind my neck, which contorted my head so far forward that my chin was resting on my belly button. “How do I look?” I said, “Because man oh man, I feel great!”
“That doesn’t look at all comfortable. Try it behind the small of your back,” she said. I tried that and I could hear things crack that probably shouldn’t have been cracking.
“You sound like castanets. I think you’re getting old,” she said. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable, so the chairs stayed undisturbed in that spot on the lawn as nothing more than good-looking props—except for when it rained or threatened to rain.
We’d be sound asleep and my wife would hear a little rain falling and suddenly bolt out of bed. “Oh my God … the cushions!” she’d cry. She would then race outside in her pajamas to save the cushions from the rain. Meanwhile, I’d stay in bed, ambivalent to the sodden load that would happen if they got wet. Honestly, who makes cushions that will be used on outdoor furniture and decide not make them rainproof? So the cushions and the coordinating pillows would clutter up the porch until all threat of rain went away.
This simply wasn’t going to work, so Mrs. G. found covers that snapped over everything like a big lawn chair shower cap. Now the formerly attractive chaise lounges looked like small pop-up campers parked side-by-side in the backyard. “That’s attractive,” I said. “You should take pictures and send them to Pottery Barn. Maybe they can put them in their catalog. You know, the one they send out to KOA campgrounds.”
To make matters worse, the chairs had to be moved every time I cut the grass. I did this until I noticed that the grass underneath these plastic covered Easy Bake Ovens had turned into two perfectly rectangular patches of death. At least that saved me from moving the chairs and mowing under them.
So that’s where we are again this year. The chairs are naked out in the yard, this time with the cushions in plastic bags in the garage. It’s the end of June and nobody has even attempted to use them and the only one annoyed by this is our dog, Milo. He keeps looking up at me and wondering when we are going to set up his outside dog bed.
“Later,” I said to him. “Right now, it looks like rain, so leave me alone. I’m trying to relax.”