Saturday, June 7, 2014

In Search of the Perfect Lawn Chair

Summer’s almost here. It’s time to drag the patio furniture from the basement storage and tune up the barbecue grill. Or maybe your furniture is kept overhead in the garage and you’re a fan of cold salads. Either way, you’re probably thinking about replacing some of your seasonal seating.

Whether it’s in the front yard, on the back deck or in a sunny spot at the local shore, there’s a place in everyone’s summer life where they like to stretch out on a comfortable lawn chair. Notice that we call it a “lawn” chair even if it sits on a slate patio, a wooden pallet or a sandy beach. The more time you spend on it, the more you appreciate the importance of finding the perfect lawn chair.

When I was working full time, this wasn’t a major concern. I sat down so infrequently on weekends that an aluminum folding chair with missing webbing was just fine. Or one of those stackable plastic ones you find in the promotional aisle at the supermarket every Spring. Now that I’m retired and we’re ready to downsize, I expect to spend a lot of time relaxing outdoors. This realization sent me in search of the perfect lawn chair.

My first stop was one of those pseudo-hardware stores that load up on seasonal supplies, changing much of their stock four times a year. I tried out updated versions of my webbed aluminum beach chair. One model had straps so narrow that they cut into my ample fanny, leaving parts of me drooping through the gaps. Another one, with wider straps, had no give at all, which meant no air circulation. Not a good design for the hot sun.

I found one with webbing that seemed just right, so I sat down. Because I’m short (one half inch shorter than last year, according to my GP), my feet didn’t touch the ground unless I pointed my toes, giving me a cramp. A similarly-webbed option looked closer to the ground. When I tried it out, I discovered it was too close to Mother Earth. My knees accordioned under my chin and I had to tip the chair on its side to get out of it.

I headed to one of the larger home goods stores that have an entire section devoted to patio and garden needs. Not a single chair there had webbing or an aluminum frame. This boded well. Instead we had “genuine California redwood” and “environmentally-sensitive repurposed plastic.” Be still my heart.

I jumped right into phase two of my assessment process: adjusting the tilt. I picked a friendly looking chair and set it at a promising angle before I sat down. I was pleased to see that my feet reached the ground but my knees didn't hit my chin (or boobs). The angle I had chosen was fine if I planned to do some reading, but I needed to lean back more if I wanted to take a nap.

I moved the tilt lever (carefully, I thought) and instantly I was flat on my back with my shirtsleeve caught in the lever. I was virtually immobile. After about ten minutes, another shopper wandered by and rescued me. Being the adventurous type, I tried out several more loungers, with similar results. About an hour later (and after my fourth rescue), I decided to go back to the drawing board.

By drawing board, I mean my car, in which I drove to a specialty retailer that carries nothing but summer furniture. Here I discovered another criterion to narrow the choices in my search for the perfect lawn chair: price. My budget eliminated three-quarters of the stock displayed so invitingly throughout the store. At least I had an attentive employee to help untangle me if necessary.

Speaking of help, my salesperson asked an unexpected question: “Have you ever considered a hammock?” I resisted the urge to ask: “Have you considered having your head examined?” Instead I answered meekly: “My joints are creaky. I have zero core strength and even less balance. Do you have a hammock that addresses those issues?” It turns out he did not. But what he did have was the perfect lawn chair for me.

When I first sat down, I was practically standing up. I pushed a button and it gently set me at just the right level for my height. I pushed another button, and it tilted me back for a snooze. It came with a waterproof cover and a spare power pack. It even had (wait for it...) a special cup holder for my wine cooler!

It also came with a price tag that placed it well into that three-quarters of their stock above my budget. I bought it anyway. Let’s face it. The perfect lawn chair is priceless.

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