Saturday, July 23, 2016

The World is Round?

"Arggg," was all I could say.

It was 11 at night and I was building directors chairs, those foldable wooden and canvas constructions that take their name from the perch used by movie bosses on the set. Comfortable, easily transported and relatively inexpensive, they come in a multitude of heights and colors. For this particular project, the client had requested them as seating for a panel discussion, and so we pulled a bunch from the shop and threw them on the truck.

When we set them up that afternoon, all liked the look. Up to a point, that is. While the backs and seats were black, the frames were natural, a lacquered pine tone. Not unattractive, but not what the client was after. Any chance we had them in black? they asked. A call to the shop returned a negative response. But a quick check with a Pier One store not far away turned up half a dozen in the requested tone. I told the store to set them aside, and headed downtown to pick them up.

The helpful salesperson I had spoken to had them waiting for me when I got there. As we were walking to the register to settle up, she asked me if I needed the canvas backs and bottoms. No, I replied, I had them on the natural chairs I already had. My plan was to shift them over, and save a few bucks. I was good, I said. I flagged a cab, tossed the frames in the boot, and returned back uptown.  

When I got there a hotel bellman met me and asked where I wanted them taken. I considered bringing them up to our staging room and trying them out, but decided there was no point. Directors chairs are directors chairs, whatever the color. I would swap the backs and bottoms when we finally got around to setting up. I gave the guy a tip, asked him to stash them in the package room, and deliver them to the ballroom with all our other stuff later that night. Off I went, complimenting myself on my quick problem solving.

That is, until the bewitching hour. As the lighting guys worked on lights and the sound guys on sound, I worked on the chairs. I broke out the new ones and slid the canvas off the old ones. And that's when I made the discovery. Every directors chair I had ever encountered to that point had canvas seats that ended in a round dowel. You simply slid the rod into the round slot on the chairs to attach it. But these new black frames had no such round slot. Rather, it was a flat channel, half an inch across and a quarter inch deep. Same idea, but a completely different shape. They say you can't put a square peg into a round hole. From my experience that night, I can attest that you can do the opposite. But it won't stay put.

The round dowels fit in the available channel, but popped out immediately when the chair was tightened. No amount of finagling made them safe to sit in. I tried shimming it, jamming it, even nailing it. Nada. There was no system I could come up with didn't find me gently lowering myself into the seat, only to have the chair collapse around me. Arggg indeed.

Why, oh why, did someone change a perfectly good system to another one? It's not like it was an improvement, or there was a deficiency in the old approach. It was just a different. It’s like Apple and its legendary reinventive touches, seemingly done just for the sake of change. In fact, word is that the new iPhone 7 due out this fall will eliminate the standard round headphone jack in favor of a flat Lightning connector. That's right: if you're an Apple devotee, your favorite earbuds will be obsolete come September.  

You can argue all the reasons that a flat connector makes technical sense, from thinner phones to tighter connections to better sound. But the bottom line is Apple is being different because they like to be. Then again, maybe the chairs were the early harbinger of a trend. Maybe history needs to be rewritten. Maybe Columbus was wrong after all. And maybe, just maybe, the world really should be flat.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has a directors chair in his office. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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