Andy Rooney_ 60 Years Of Wisdom And Wit - novelonlinefull.com
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What happened in Red Morgan's plane wasn't a typical combat story and what happened to the crew of Francis Lauro's Fort in a raid on Bremen in January 1944, wasn't typical either, because too much happened. Mostly nothing happens to anyone on a bomber trip. Mostly the men just sit and wait to be attacked or to be hit by flak. There is always one raid-maybe two-in a gunner's tour of operations that stands out in his mind as the roughest he ever made. For Lauro's crew it was that January haul to Bremen.
They got into the target and bombed, all right. On the way out the trouble began when Murray Schrier began having trouble getting a breath. Murray was the ball turret man and after he'd told the pilot over the intercom that his oxygen mask was frozen he climbed up out of the ball turret and started for the radio room before he fainted.
The right waist gunner, Bill Heathman, grabbed Schrier and dragged him into the radio room. There was only one outlet for the oxygen masks to be plugged into in the radio room, and the radio operator, Nelson King, cut his own oxygen off and plugged Schrier's extension line in there. The waist gunner and the radio operator started to work on Schrier, trying to bring him around.
King fumbled through his heavy gloves with the hose attachment and finally started to hook the mask to the ball turret gunner's face. The oxygen mask hooks onto two small fittings on the gunner's helmet in the old-type oxygen system that crews first used and it was an old-type mask they were trying to fit to Schrier's face. King pulled off three layers of gloves he had on, exposing his hands to the fifty-below-zero temperature in the radio room, in order to tie the mask to the unconscious ball turret gunner's face.
Feeling the lack of oxygen after he took his line off the main system to give it to Schrier, King plugged into one of the small emergency oxygen bottles. As he finished the job of tying the mask to his ball turret gunner's helmet King toppled over on top of Schrier. The bottle he had plugged into was frozen and he had been getting no oxygen.
Heathman, the third man, was almost exhausted himself by that time. The other waist gunner, Gerald Will, left his gun and came into the radio room to help after calling Lauro on the intercom to tell the pilot that they were having trouble there. Will hooked his oxygen tube into the walk-around bottle he had beside him and walked forward.
With the green oxygen bottle under his arm Will got as far as the ball turret just outside the radio room before he realized that, like King's bottle, his outlet valve was frozen stiff. He turned and started back for his waist position where he could plug back into the main line which was still flowing all right, but he never made it. Halfway back to the waist window he collapsed on the floor of the bomber. Three men were lying unconscious and without oxygen.
Heathman, the only one still conscious, called forward over the interphone for help. Walt Green and Emanuel Greasamar, the bombardier and copilot, took walk-around bottles from the nose compartment and started back to the radio compartment.
"With six men tied up in the radio room our luck changed," Francis Lauro, the pilot, said. "It got worse. Our number two engine started acting up and then several F-W 190s showed up on the fringe of the formation.
"The bombardier called up to me and suggested that we go down a few thousand feet where it was warmer and where the boys would be able to get a little oxygen, but he hadn't seen the fighters. They would have piled into us if we'd left the formation for a minute and there was an undercast with probably several squadrons of German fighters under it just waiting for some sucker to drop below it. All I could do was hold the ship in formation and sweat it out.
"The Jerry fighters made a pa.s.s at us and it was nice timing if they'd only known it. In the nose the navigator, Emery Horvath, did a good job with the nose guns, while Dewey Thompson up in the top turret sprayed them from there."
In the radio compartment the copilot and the bombardier had revived Will and Schrier with the emergency oxygen bottles they had brought back. King, the second to go out, was in the worst condition and he came around more slowly than the others. When Schrier saw King's hands, which were left bare when King took his gloves off to fix Schrier's mask, he opened his flying jacket and put King's hands under his armpits. Finally the others fixed King's mask and he started to revive. He had been out a long while though and he came back fighting. The men in the radio room had to call for more help when King, a big, strong Nebraska farmer, started lashing out with his hands and feet. Heathman and Greasamar alone couldn't hold King down as he thrashed around the radio room.
The top turret gunner, Dewey Thompson, answered the final SOS from the radio room. He hurried back through the bomb bay and helped hold the struggling King.
When Thompson opened the door to the radio room he saw King thrashing around, lashing out with his fists. When his great swollen white hands struck the floor of the ship or the sharp edge of some piece of radio equipment bits of frozen flesh would chip off like shavings gouged out of a hunk of ice. The battered hands didn't bleed. They were frozen through.
It was too late for them to think of gloves. No gloves would have fit those hands, swollen to more than twice their normal size. Finally King settled down, regaining full consciousness, and Green sat on the floor next to him and again put the horribly battered and frozen hands inside his bombardier's warm jacket.
King's hands didn't start to bleed until the Fort was within sight of England. Down below five thousand feet the blood started moving through his chilled veins and out into the frozen hands.
"I didn't see King's hands until we got down on the ground," Lauro said. "Frostbite was no word for what had happened to his hands. One of the flight surgeons looked at them and I looked at the doc and what he was thinking wasn't pretty. King had saved Schrier's life with those hands."
And that is about where the story of one crew's memory of their roughest trip ends. Bill Heathman, Nelson King, Murray Schrier and [image]Air Gunner, the first Rooney-Hutton collaboration the rest will yell again when they crack their shins and stub their toes, and they'll complain the next time there is no hot water or heat in the room at home. But that day they were greater men.
Forrest Vosler, too, was great one day.
Forrest was the radio operatorgunner on a Fortress called Jersey Bounce Junior. Jersey Bounce Junior. He was twenty-two years old. He was twenty-two years old.
It was a long daylight haul into Germany when the Air Force was beginning to step up its pounding of the n.a.z.is' aircraft production plants. Jersey Bounce Jersey Bounce was plugging along in formation when a double burst of flak smashed two engines and sent the Fort reeling from formation. It leveled off, but the Luftwaffe fighters had seen it and closed in for the inevitable kill. Somehow the gunners beat them off. Tracer poured from the waists and tail, the nose guns yammered steadily and from both turrets came an almost drumfire pounding. The radio gun was firing, too. was plugging along in formation when a double burst of flak smashed two engines and sent the Fort reeling from formation. It leveled off, but the Luftwaffe fighters had seen it and closed in for the inevitable kill. Somehow the gunners beat them off. Tracer poured from the waists and tail, the nose guns yammered steadily and from both turrets came an almost drumfire pounding. The radio gun was firing, too.
Finally, a 20-millimeter sh.e.l.l crippled the tail gun. From the radio hatch, a covering fire swept back past the fin and rudder and at length the fighters went away.
When the fighters had gone, the crew began to check up on each other. You all right? Roger. Waist? Roger. Radio? RADIO? Vosler, are you . . . One of you guys go up there from the waist and see if Vosler's all right.
Vosler wasn't all right. The first attack, the one that had knocked out the tail guns, had left him with half a dozen 20-millimeter splinters in his legs and thighs. The tail guns had gone out and he'd fired his gun despite the pain, and the fighters had pressed in once more. A 20- millimeter sh.e.l.l had burst next to the radio hatch and jagged hunks of steel ripped into his head and face. Where his eyes should be there was a great gash of red and dead white bits of flesh. The gunners tried to patch Vosler up, but they couldn't give him morphine because a man with a head wound suffers from morphine and may die. They were still trying to fix his wounds when the intercom clicked: "Pilot to crew. Gas getting low. We'll have to get rid of everything we can."
They threw out everything within reach, but the gas was running out and so was time. So Vosler sat down to his radio. He couldn't see it, but he knew where everything should be. His cold fingers told him what the others could see with their eyes-the radio had been smashed by cannon fire. Vosler was the kind of kid who a few minutes before had fought on with his single gun even after the cannon sh.e.l.l had hit him. Working now by touch alone, hearing the steady, even drip of blood that soaked through the bandages and fell on the folding counter of his radio desk, he fixed an emergency set. He switched on the power and told one of the others where to set the dials so they would be on the emergency channel.
The noise of the key as it called for help was louder than the drip of the blood on his extended arm.
When he had sent out an SOS, telling base they probably would have to crash land in the sea, he fainted. The others revived him, and he called base again. He fainted again. They revived him.
The gas was lower now in the tanks. Still too much weight. The crew searched the ship for more spare weight. They had cleaned her out before. In the radio room, unable to see, still feeling his radio and keeping base advised of what was happening, Vosler made a decision. He asked the other gunners to fix his 'chute and throw him out. That would be 175 pounds less. That might make the gas reach. He was pretty badly off, anyway. Would they? Please.
They said no.
The little lights on the instrument panel had been on a long time. No gas, they winked. No gas, no gas, no gas. Jersey Bounce Junior Jersey Bounce Junior settled to the Channel, mushed toward the wave tops as the last of the engine's power died away. They hit. The dinghies went out the hatches. Someone hoisted Vosler. Take care of Vosler, you guys. Right, got him. Take care. Take care. settled to the Channel, mushed toward the wave tops as the last of the engine's power died away. They hit. The dinghies went out the hatches. Someone hoisted Vosler. Take care of Vosler, you guys. Right, got him. Take care. Take care.
Out on the wing of the sinking plane, the tail gunner, who had been wounded, started to slip down into the sea. Vosler was nearest. He couldn't see, but he could hear the kid call for help, and finally his groping hand found the wounded man and held him for a long time until the rescue launch arrived and took them back to being warm and dry.
The doctors think that Forrest Vosler may be able to see enough but of one eye, the right eye, to distinguish the Congressional Medal of Honor they've recommended should be his for the day's work in Jersey Bounce. Jersey Bounce.
The gunners don't like to think about what goes on in d.i.c.k Blackburn's mind sometimes when he thinks about the targets that filled his ring sights the day of the Regensburg haul. Probably everything was all right. Probably . . .
It was on August 17, 1943, and the sun was hot and a big blob of flame up there with the formations of Fortresses heading for Regensburg and then on to Africa. In the tail of one B17 was Staff Sergeant Richard A. Blackburn, from Port Republic, Virginia.
There were fighters that day, more fighters than anyone in the Eighth Air Force ever had seen at one time. There were all kinds of fighters, though for the most part they weren't the cream of the Luftwaffe, by any means. They were fighters from the inner ring of defenses, second-line fighters and third-line fighters. Somewhere along the route, as the Forts droned deeper and deeper into the Reich, the district luftfuehrer must have got worried. He must have figured this was an all-out affair. So he called out everything that could fly. There were Junkers 87 Stukas up there, and big four-engined Focke-Wulf 200s and half a dozen kinds of medium bombers.
It was rough, because there were such a lot of them, and it was a long way through the lanes of fighters, but the Fortress gunners were having a field day. And d.i.c.k Blackburn was having his share of the fun. For a solid hour and a half d.i.c.k tracked German fighters with his guns, opened up with short bursts as they came in, shot at single-engined jobs and two-engined Ju 88s and four-engined bombers pressed into emergency service. He sat there and shot at them and the squint in his eyes grew tighter and tighter because always there was that bright sun to stare up into and worry if it held more fighters.
Blackburn's Fort got to Africa finally, and the crew had a h.e.l.l of a time bartering with the Arabs, whom they learned to call "Ay-rabs," and getting their tired plane ready for the trip back. But d.i.c.k Blackburn didn't have much of a time. He didn't say much, just spent most of the days they were there stretched out on his back in the shade of the B17's wing, closing his eyes against even the reflection of the hot African sun.
When the ship took off for England, Blackburn was back in his tail position same as ever, but still not saying much. He didn't have much work to do on the way to the target, an easy one, Bordeaux, and there wasn't any enemy plane in the sky for hours.
Finally Blackburn saw what he thought was a German fighter bearing in on them. He started to press his microphone switch and then he wasn't sure. It looked like one.
"Tail gunner to ball turret. Tail gunner to ball turret. Is that a Ju 88 coming in at five o'clock?"
"Are you kidding, Blackburn?"
"No. Is it? Is it?"
"Blackburn, that's another Fortress just a little out of formation."
When they were over the English Channel, and the danger was gone, Blackburn went up to the radio room. He picked up a package of K rations and the other gunners, who had come to the radio room too, saw him squinting at the large lettering on the package.
"Funny," Blackburn began slowly, "but I can't tell whether that's breakfast . . . dinner . . . supper . . . or- "For Christ's sake! My eyes!"
When they got back to base, the other gunners led Blackburn to the flight surgeon, who peered into the angry red eyeb.a.l.l.s that had searched for German fighters in the August 17 sun and sent Blackburn to bed. For a good many days the gunner couldn't even see the food they had to spoon into his mouth. After a while, though, the doctors looked at his eyes and said that if he was careful his eyes would be pretty good again, someday. He was through firing and sighting, though. They said that the long hours of staring up into the flaming sky, searching for German planes, had injured the delicate tissues of his eyeb.a.l.l.s, had injured the nerves. They said it had begun to happen while he was still peering and firing that day on the way to Africa. They said it had been a wonder he could see anything at all that day.
Blackburn agreed with them. It had been h.e.l.l, staring up into the sky, trying to catch those single-engined fighters, and the twin-engined ones, and the four-engined ones. The Germans had used an awful lot of four-engined planes that day, an awful lot. . . .
It's on those rainy nights, when conversation in the hut dies away and a gunner flops onto his sack, too weary to talk, too weary to write letters, and sinks into a sort of mental void, that the inevitable quality of his job comes home to him. It comes in phrases that roll on and on through his brain, and his face will be without expression as it happens to him, except maybe the lines at the corners of his eyes will begin to form and the hard part of the corners of his mouth will draw down a little tighter.
The gunners in a Liberator hut talked for a long time about d.i.c.k Castillo, and they waited a long time for word to come back through the International Red Cross. This man and that man in Castillo's crew was reported a prisoner. This man and that man . . .
d.i.c.k, who came from Springfield, Ohio, and was a staff sergeant, was tail gunner in the Liberator Rugged Buggy. Rugged Buggy. The other crews saw what happened to him, and told about it. The other crews saw what happened to him, and told about it.
Rugged Buggy was on her way in to a German target in the summer of 1943, before the Libs went down to Africa for the Ploesti oilfields mission, when flak smashed the number three engine. German fighters saw the feathered prop and came in, as they always do, firing as the Lib slipped from formation. Other crews could see was on her way in to a German target in the summer of 1943, before the Libs went down to Africa for the Ploesti oilfields mission, when flak smashed the number three engine. German fighters saw the feathered prop and came in, as they always do, firing as the Lib slipped from formation. Other crews could see Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy almost heave herself up as the pilot tried to nurse her back to the shelter of the other planes' guns, but little by little almost heave herself up as the pilot tried to nurse her back to the shelter of the other planes' guns, but little by little Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy dropped away. dropped away.
Two of the attacking pack of twenty Focke-Wulfs went down as the crippled plane's guns poured out thousands of rounds, but the other n.a.z.is pressed the attack. Cannon fire silenced the Lib's waist guns, and great rents and wounds began to show in her wings and tail and fuselage. Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy's defensive fire slowed. Finally, only d.i.c.k Castillo's tail guns were firing, traversing back and forth, framing one attacker just long enough to beat him off, then swinging to another quarter. The tail guns seemed almost to be shooting around corners, to be firing everywhere at once. Over their radio, the leader of the German fighter element ordered his pilots to spread out and smash this verdammte verdammte Yankee gunner. Yankee gunner.
That was the beginning of the end. While one trio of fighters attacked from dead astern, engaging Castillo's fire, the others cut in from the sides. Maybe they planned it the way it happened, maybe they didn't, but other crews in the formation of B24s up above saw enemy fire crisscross just forward of Castillo's tail position, saw the fabric tear loose in great sheets, saw the bare skeleton of Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy's vertebrae exposed.
The Lib slipped off on one wing, and still d.i.c.k Castillo was firing. Two enemy aircraft definitely were destroyed by the hosepipe of death that splurted from Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy's tail guns.
Another burst of cannon sh.e.l.ls ripped into the fuselage of the B24 as that second F-W went down, and the other crews, from their places higher in the sky, saw Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy's entire tail section, in which d.i.c.k Castillo still fought, break slowly away from the rest of the plane, pause a moment to tear loose the last shreds of well-molded aluminum bracing, and then flutter off by itself, twisting over and over as the forward part of the ship plummeted straight to earth.
Black dots and then white parachutes appeared in the wake of the falling forward section of the plane. From the slowly twisting tail section, where d.i.c.k Castillo fought, there came nothing except, just as it dropped into the undercast and was lost to the others' view, one last spurt of whitish tracer fire that arced up into the sky, and then there was no more.
It was always that last burst of fire that streaked across the minds of the Liberator gunners in their huts those dull evenings. Every now and then word came from the Red Cross that another of the Rugged Buggy Rugged Buggy crew had turned up as a prisoner of war in Germany. The gunners kept waiting for word from d.i.c.k Castillo. crew had turned up as a prisoner of war in Germany. The gunners kept waiting for word from d.i.c.k Castillo.
Combat is hard to catch in words. You say, maybe, twentymillimeter sh.e.l.ls smashed the turret, ripped through the fuselage. But no phrase will tell the empty five seconds in the guts of every man aboard as they waited and even felt to know whether that had been THE attack. Or you say, Fire began to glow within the engine nacelle and eat slowly back into the wing, and no words you own can measure the limitless courage it takes for men in that plane to watch flame consume the very thing that bears them aloft, yet struggle not just to live but to strike back.
You write down what they did and tell how things were. But that isn't all of combat. Combat is sh.e.l.ls and fire and no oxygen, and it is also, maybe mostly, what happens in an airman's guts and his mind. The splitsecond things you can tell. They happen and are dealt with by reflex, and there is no element of mind in them. But sometimes, after the splitsecond things have happened, there follow long minutes and hours that airmen call the time "the men get separated from the boys." Those are the minutes and hours of eternity in which fires smother under extinguisher foam or roar on to explode fuel tanks and bombs, in which shattered tail surfaces stick by shreds to get you home or flutter off and start the crazy, spinning plunge to earth. Such times are of the mind and the viscera, and speak an infinite horror; you can tell little of them.
Mr. Rooney Goes to Work.
[image]Early days in the CBS television studios After the Second World War, Andy Rooney returned to Albany, New York, to embark on a freelance writing career. In 1949, after finishing Conquerors' Peace Conquerors' Peace, a book on postwar Europe, Rooney joined CBS to write for the radio and TV personality Arthur G.o.dfrey on his shows Arthur G.o.dfrey's Talent Scouts Arthur G.o.dfrey's Talent Scouts and and Arthur G.o.dfrey Time Arthur G.o.dfrey Time. In 1956 he left Arthur G.o.dfrey, and by 1959, he had started to write for The Garry Moore Show The Garry Moore Show-a popular CBS comedy program. In 1962 Rooney began collaborating with CBS newsman Harry Reasoner to write and produce a series of popular hour-long specials narrated by Reasoner on everything from bridges and chairs to women and the English language. By the 1970s Rooney was writing and producing a series of trenchant primetime 60 Minutes 60 Minutes segments on war, New York City, Washington, dining, and working in America. In his signature forthright style, Rooney reported the pieces from the ground up, crisscrossing America to take its collective pulse, all the while opining, conjecturing, cracking wry jokes, and sharing his refreshingly honest wisdom. segments on war, New York City, Washington, dining, and working in America. In his signature forthright style, Rooney reported the pieces from the ground up, crisscrossing America to take its collective pulse, all the while opining, conjecturing, cracking wry jokes, and sharing his refreshingly honest wisdom.
T here is so much that is unpleasant and dull about living that we ought to take every opportunity presented to us to enjoy the enjoyable things of life. None of us can afford to become immune to the sensation of small pleasures or uninterested in small interests. A chair, for instance, can be a small and constant joy, and taking pleasure from one a sensation available to almost all of us all the time.
It is relatively easy to say who invented the light bulb but impossible to say who built the first chair. They took one out of King Tut's tomb when they opened it in 1922 and King Tut died fourteen hundred years before Christ was born and that certainly wasn't the first chair, either. So they've been around a long time. If there was a first man, he probably sat in the first chair.
Chairs have always been something more than a place for us to bend in the middle and put our posteriors on other legs in order to take the weight off our own. They have been a symbol of power and authority, probably because before the sixteenth century only the very rich owned owned real chairs. The others sat on the floor at their feet in most countries. real chairs. The others sat on the floor at their feet in most countries.
A throne is the ultimate place to sit down and there are still something like twenty-five countries in the world that have thrones, and leaders who actually sit on them.
The Peac.o.c.k Throne of Persia is one of the most elaborate, but I don't know what happened to that. It belonged to the King of Persia, but Persia is called Iran now and, of course, they don't have a king. The leaders they have now usually sit on the floor. I suppose this is their way of reacting against the idiocy of a throne but I hope they haven't discarded theirs. It was crusted with rubies and diamonds and was supposed to be worth $100 million twenty years ago. In today's market I should think it would bring $500 million, although I don't know who it would bring it from.
I've seen pictures of it but, personally, I wouldn't give them $ 50 million for it, and if the average American housewife got hold of it, she'd probably put a slipcover over it.
I didn't mean to get off on thrones but some kings and queens have more than one. Queen Elizabeth has one in every Commonwealth country, presumably in the event she wants to sit down if she visits one of them. She has five in London alone and several more at palaces around England. I'd hate to have to reglue a throne.
If the United States had a king, I suppose there'd be a throne in the White House. Too bad there isn't, in a way. It could be more of a tourist attraction than the Washington Monument.
Theoretically the royal chair is never sat in by anyone but a nation's ruler, but it's hard to believe that a few of the cleaning ladies and some of the kids around the castle don't test it out once in a while. I can imagine the guards in a state prison fooling around in the electric chair, too. "Hey, Joe. Look at me. Throw the switch!"
The closest thing we ever had to a throne was that big rocking chair John Kennedy intimidated people with. A visiting dignitary could be disarmed by its folksy charm and overwhelmed by its size and mobility.
There's nothing else like chairs that we have in such great numbers. We know how many cars there are in this country and how many television sets, but we don't have the vaguest idea how many chairs there are. I'll bet if everyone sat down in one, there'd still be fifty empty chairs left over for each one of us.
Over the past fifty years the most-used piece of furniture in the house has been the kitchen chair. Like anything that gains wide acceptance, it turns out to be useful for a lot of things it wasn't built to do. The kitchen chair is for sitting on, for throwing clothes over, for hanging jackets on, for putting a foot on when you're lacing a shoe and as an allpurpose stepladder for changing light bulbs or for getting down infrequently used dishes from high and remote parts of kitchen cabinets. It has usually been painted many times, hurriedly.
If the kitchen chair isn't the most sat on, the one the American working man comes home to every evening must be. (The American working woman doesn't have a chair of her own.) It's the one in which he slumps for endless hours watching football games on television. It's the one in which he is portrayed in cartoons about himself and it's usually the most comfortable chair in the house. It's a chair you sit in, not on.
It isn't so much that the American male takes this throne as his prerogative. It's that women don't usually like a chair that mushy. It's a comfortable chair, though, and for all its gross, overfed appearance, I'm not knocking it. It serves as a bed when it's too early to go to bed. It's a place where you can take a nap before turning in for a night's sleep.
In big cities you see a lot of overstuffed chairs being thrown away outside apartment houses. I always think of the old Eskimo women they put out on an ice floe to die.
The kitchen chair and the overstuffed living-room chair are the most most sat on, and there are always a few chairs in every home that no one ever sits on. Everyone in the household understands about it. There are no rules. It is just not a chair you sit on. It may be in the hall by the front door, used mostly for piling books on after school. Or it may be silk brocade with a gold fringe, in the back bedroom. It may be antique and uncomfortable or imperfectly glued together and therefore too fragile for the wear-and-tear that goes with being sat on regularly. sat on, and there are always a few chairs in every home that no one ever sits on. Everyone in the household understands about it. There are no rules. It is just not a chair you sit on. It may be in the hall by the front door, used mostly for piling books on after school. Or it may be silk brocade with a gold fringe, in the back bedroom. It may be antique and uncomfortable or imperfectly glued together and therefore too fragile for the wear-and-tear that goes with being sat on regularly.
Sometimes there is no reason that anyone can give why a chair isn't sat on. It's like the suit or dress in the closet that is perfectly good but never worn. The unsat-upon chair in a home really isn't much good for anything except handing down from one generation to the next.
In hotels they often put two chairs not to be sat in on either side of the mirror across from the elevator on every floor.
There aren't as many dining-room chairs as there used to be because there aren't as many dining rooms. Now people eat in the kitchen or they have picnics in front of the television set in the living room. It's too bad, because there's something civilized and charming about having a special place for eating. It's a disappearing luxury, though. These days everything in a house has to be multi-purpose, folding, retractable or convertible.
Dining-room chairs on thick rugs were always a problem. They made it difficult or impossible for a polite man to slide a chair under a woman. As soon as any of her weight fell on the chair, the legs sank into the pile and stopped sliding. If she was still eight inches from where she wanted to be, she had to put her hands under the seat and hump it toward the table while the man made some futile gestures toward helping from behind her. It took a lot of the grace out of the gesture.
The other trouble with a good set of dining-room chairs was that at Christmas or any other special occasion when you wanted them most, there weren't enough of them. This meant bringing a chair or two in from the kitchen or the living room and ruining the effect of a matched set.
If dining-room chairs are the most gracious, folding chairs are the least. I suppose someone will collect those basic folding, wood chairs they kept in church bas.e.m.e.nts and sell them as antiques someday soon, but they're ugly and uncomfortable. Maybe they were designed to keep people awake at town meetings.
The Morris chair was invented by an English poet named William Morris. He's better known for his chair than his poetry. A man takes immortality from anywhere he can get it, but it seems a sad fate for a poet to be remembered for a chair. I make furniture myself and I hate to think of any table I've made outlasting my writing, but I suppose it could happen.
Very few chairs survive the age in which they were designed. The Windsor chair is one of a handful of cla.s.sics that have. The Hitchc.o.c.k is another. If the time comes when we want to place a time capsule to show people on another planet in another eon what we sat on, we should put a Windsor chair in to represent us. You have to choose something better than average as typical.
The rocking chair probably comes closer than any other article of furniture to delineating past generations from present ones. People sat in them and contemplated their lives and the lives of people they could see pa.s.sing by from where they sat. People don't contemplate each other much from chairs anymore. When anyone pa.s.ses by now, he's in a car going too fast for anyone to identify him. No one is sitting on the front porch watching from a rocker anyway.
Rockers were good furniture. They were comfortable and gave the user an air of ease and contentment. They give the person sitting in one the impression he's getting somewhere without adding any of the headaches that come with progress.
From time to time furniture makers say there's a revived interest in rocking chairs, but I doubt this. For one thing, the front porch has probably been closed in to make the living room bigger and anyway people don't want anything as mobile or folksy as a rocker in a living room filled with electronic gear.
Comfort in a chair is often in direct ratio to the relationship between the height of the feet and the height of the head. People are always trying to get their feet up. Very likely there is an instinct for self-preservation here because the closer anyone's feet are to being on a level with the head, the less work the heart has to do to get the blood pumped around.
During the years between World War I and World War II, everyone's dream of a vacation was a boat trip somewhere on the Mauretania, Mauretania, the the Leviathan Leviathan or one of the or one of the Queens Queens to Europe. In their dreams, the man and the woman were stretched out in the bright sunshine on deck chairs in mid-Atlantic. Not many people go by boat anywhere anymore, though, and the deck or steamer chairs were redesigned and moved to the backyard. The wood in those deck chairs has been replaced by tubular aluminum and the canvas by plastic straps. They wouldn't have lasted five minutes on the deck of the to Europe. In their dreams, the man and the woman were stretched out in the bright sunshine on deck chairs in mid-Atlantic. Not many people go by boat anywhere anymore, though, and the deck or steamer chairs were redesigned and moved to the backyard. The wood in those deck chairs has been replaced by tubular aluminum and the canvas by plastic straps. They wouldn't have lasted five minutes on the deck of the Mauretania Mauretania in a stiff breeze. in a stiff breeze.
At some time in the last hundred years, we reached the point where more people were working sitting down than on their feet. This could be a milestone unturned by social historians. We have more and more white-collar people and executives sitting in chairs telling people what to do and fewer and fewer people on their feet actually doing anything.
The sitting executives found that they weren't satisfied not moving at all, so they invented a chair for executives that swivels, rolls forward, backward or sideways and tilts back when the executive, who used to have his feet on the ground, wants to lean back and put them on his mahogany desk.
In many offices the chairs provided for men and for women are symbols that irritate progressive women. The chairs often represent clear distinctions in the relative power of the s.e.xes there. The executive male has his bottom on a cushion, his elbows on armrests. At the desk outside his office, the secretary, invariably a woman, sits erect in a typing chair about as comfortable as an English saddle.
It's a strange thing and probably says a lot about our rush through life that the word "modern" has an old-fashioned connotation to it when you're talking about design. I think of Art Deco as modern. It must be because what we call "modern" is just a brand-new design about to become obsolete. Someone is always coming up with what is known as a modern chair. It looks old and silly in a few years but is still referred to as modern.
There are modern chairs that have not become obsolete because they're so good. Some of them are forty years old but they're still called modern. Charles Eames designed that plastic bucket seat on tubular legs that will not go out of style. Mies van der Rohe designed the Barcelona chair that you have in the outer lobby of your office if you're a rich company. That's going to last like the Windsor and the Boston rockers because it's comfortable and simply attractive.