Bob Lefsetz has done it again, dug up an old album for me—just for me, you see—and today it’s Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live.” I’ve written about Bob’s newsletter before and how he always seems to know what I want to hear right this moment.

Here’s Bob’s take on the album:

But the masterpiece is the title track, “Secret World.” It’s longer than the original studio take, it’s not a dirge, but a pied piper MARATHON! You can’t help but march along. And when the track explodes close to its nine minute finish, you experience something akin to aural orgasm. This is why you went to the show. For these moments. When you threw your arms into the air, pointed your head to the sky and SANG ALONG! These moments are religion. Far deeper in meaning than any I’ve ever experienced in a traditional house of worship. I’ll take the Staples Center over the synagogue ANY DAY!

So, here I am deep into “Don’t Give Up” and having a flashback to college in the last years of the 80s. How things have changed from cassette tapes. I read a music blog, buy the album (yes, I’m one of those old-fashioned types who pays for music), and start listening to it in less than 60 seconds. Technology allows the old(ish) to become new again. Music made live, in another time and place, can touch me deeply now, here in Japan, just at the moment I most need it.

You see, last night we had a little episode, nothing tragic, just a little sad. We had been eating nabe and drinking a sake I had bought last week while on John Gauntner’s sake course. It was a matured Sōkū Junmai with hints of chocolate in the nose and a lovely fat mouth feel. We were a little buzzed and waiting for Carlos’s birthday present to be delivered. He didn’t know what it was, but I had been teasing him all week after I bought it.

I had bought him an armchair. Finally. Years ago when we lived in Naples, Italy, we had ordered an armchair. It was a huge overstuffed leather thing, the kind with brass tacks and voluptuous curvy arms that embraced you as you read. It belonged in a cigar-smoke-filled lounge in a British men’s club on St. James Square. In the showroom, we rejected the standard reddish-brown glossy leather for a slightly distressed baseball glove brown. That chair was a big purchase for us. We had been married for only 6 years, and we weighed our decision as if it were the last chair we would ever buy.

The chair was supposed to be delivered right before our (government funded) move back to the States. But two months later there was a strike somewhere in Città Sedia Cuoio and the salesman called us to say our chair would be late. We had to pack out, we couldn’t wait for the chair, and we couldn’t afford to have it sent to San Diego on our own dime. Sadly, we had to let it go. I always wonder what happened to the chair. Had it been completed, but unable to get to us in time, languished alone and rejected in the factory? Or did they sell it to a good family?

Carlos lacked a reading armchair. We looked at armchairs from time to time in the places we lived after Naples: San Diego, Montgomery, AL, London, and most recently, here in Yokosuka. Nothing was ever quite right, or our then current rental unit couldn’t hold a big armchair. When we arrived in Japan, we toyed with buying a chair, but we found our taste had changed. We had moved away from big overstuffed chairs to trimmer, modern styles. Carlos showed me some new Italian chairs at a showroom, so sleek and tidy. We liked the styles, but didn’t want to buy a newly manufactured chair. We let the matter drop.

Last Monday, I was up in Tokyo seeing Howard, my Australian hairdresser. After my haircut, I saw an antique furniture store and went in just to see what they had. Almost immediately I recognized it: the perfect armchair. It was a Danish chair from 1960, with a sturdy rosewood frame and softly curved arms showing the lovely wood grain. The back was a wooden frame with a funky wire and metal inset. The cushions were original, a slightly worn gray leather. The salesman invited me to sit in it; it was wonderful, elegant, and generous. I felt a little sick at the price, but I knew this was the chair that Carlos would want and I would buy it for him for his birthday.

The salesman and I exchanged smiles as we examined the entire chair, carefully checking the frame and the new cloth supports in the seat (“Only this was replaced in the chair. All the rest is original.”). His face showed frank astonishment when I said, “I’ll take it. How much for shipping to Yokosuka?” I suppose I don’t look like someone who whips out her credit card on a whim. They brought me coffee; I filled out some forms, and I left, happy, knowing I had found it, the perfect chair.

There we were at home last night, waiting for the chair, although Carlos had no idea what the present was, just that a delivery was coming. The truck arrived, the men put the chair on the ground and unwrapped it. And something was moving unnaturally, like a tooth knocked loose in a fall. They pulled the cushions off and tested the the back. It jiggled. Their hunched and tense body language told me everything. Nevertheless, as I walked down the front steps towards the chair, my mind was coming up with all kinds of excuses—perhaps they had had to loosen something for shipping, everything was fine. Everything must be fine.

But no. Somewhere along the line, whether at the store as they packed it, or in the delivery truck, someone had leaned hard on the back and pushed it forward. The glue and dowels holding the back in place at the bottom had popped. This seemed repairable, but then one of the men shone his flashlight on the back support that crosses behind the arms of the chair. The wood had split, a horrible gash that flexed open each time one pushed on the back. The chair was killed.

They immediately called the store rep, who said they would take the chair back and see what could be done. I should call the next day to find out what they thought. But I knew what that split wood meant: goodbye chair. I called to Carlos to come outside to see the chair. The four of us—Carlos, I, and the two silent delivery men—stood looking at it. It looked alone and vulnerable sitting there on brown paper and bubble wrap in the middle of the street. Then Carlos realized that he was saying farewell to his birthday present. He groaned, “Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s perfect.”

They took it away and we went back inside the house. Last night in bed I stared at the ceiling thinking about the chair. After it had been made in Denmark, where had it been all these years? How did it get to Japan? How had it survived all those years only to be bitterly cracked in some Japanese truck?

We took a moment to mourn the chair. We thought about how we would have enjoyed it, and how it would have looked in our future home. Perhaps we seem ridiculous, but the chair was something beautiful that had transcended time to come to us, to please us. We regret that something old and unique has been carelessly broken.

We have bad luck with armchairs.

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