One nice piece


Alice apparently lives in an SRO.
Click to see Carroll’s text.

When you live in an SRO, a space so tiny that you practically have to step out into the hallway to change your mind, you learn a special way of viewing your home.

For example, you learn to view your neighborhood as merely an extension of your house, rather like a large yard. The nearest food store really is a store of food, your pantry.

You also learn to make little compromises, like learning to scoot into the shower just before the guy who likes a leisurely shave in the shower shows up, even if that is about ten minutes earlier than you would prefer.

And you learn that you can have whatever furniture you want in an SRO, so long as it fits and doesn’t require being bolted to the wall. One of my neighbors has a sofa bed. I don’t know how he and his friends wedged it in there, but they did. He has almost nothing else in his place but that treasured sofa bed.

Nice armchairBut I understand that. When you’re living small, it’s tempting to get a big statement piece. I knew a guy in college who managed to shoehorn a very nice upholstered armchair into his room. It wasn’t quite as nice as this one, but it looked that good to teenaged me. (No, no, we weren’t interested in each other, if you’re wondering if we both fit in that chair simultaneously.)

The SRO room I have comes with lamp, table, chair, some kind of thing with a drawer or drawers, and a new bed. You choose from what you want and whatever is available. I eagerly chose a four-foot desk, and I bought a cheap rolling office chair instead of the one provided. I told the building management not to bother getting me a bed, and I sleep happily on the floor next to the desk.

Computer cartI don’t use the desk, except for stacking boxes of chowder. When I am not at work, I spend most of my time lying on the floor at my computer, which is where I am now. This is not a good thing for my health, because it’s pretty close to bed rest. Just about anything would be more active than that.

So I thought about putting my desk back with the other furniture that new tenants choose from, and buying a stand-up desk. Stand-up desks are supposed to be healthy for you. You join the greats (as well as Donald Rumsfeld). Writes one fan:

Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson worked at stand-up desks. Donald Rumsfeld works at a stand-up desk and if my memory serves me correctly, Vladimir Nabakov (one of my favorite writers of the 20th Century) wrote his novels on index cards at a stand-up desk.

After all, Emiliano Zapata said, “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

It could be very affordable. And indubitably it would be healthier than lying on my belly.

But I could stretch beyond merely having a standing desk. I’m also tired of living with metal table legs and composite board. Indubitably I could make my place nicer, more civilized.

da Vinci stand up deskSo, what if… what if I got One Nice Piece? What if I got a piece of real wood furniture, the kind of furniture that you dust and polish, not the kind you wipe down? The kind of furniture that, when you are done cleaning with it, makes your place smell like lemon oil instead of Lysol wipes? The kind of furniture that feels like satin wood under your fingertips, instead of plastic laminate?

What if I got a nice wooden stand-up desk? Isn’t that handsome? Wouldn’t it feel good to use?

I could save up for it; hard work but what a wonderful place to exercise my intellect as well as my legs! (Okay, well, to write this blog.) It would change my place from a room to a home, and be good for me, too!

Alas, I don’t think I will use it. If I don’t sit at my desk now, I would have no motivation to actually stand up. It is all part of a fantasy of the lithe, active, stylish person that I am not.

And who am I kidding about dusting and polishing, when I can barely manage to scrub my sink now and then? A beautiful wooden finish will dull under the thick coat of the urban grit that coats my windowsills, which I  vacuum about twice a year.

And is it not pride that motivates me? Embarrassment at living in an SRO when people I went to school with have multiple houses (even though I daresay I have less debt)? Should I not feel instead the dignity of my way of life?

That wooden stand-up desk is a lovely piece, anyway, though. I refuse to condemn it as overly luxurious if it is a One Nice Piece.

If you are thinking of getting a stand up desk to get healthier, you should have one that honors your work, and honors the workers who made it so carefully. Your place doesn’t have to look like it came out of the Horchow Collection to have One Nice Piece to remind you that it is a home and not just a place to live.


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