Container for Lard-Butt Zombies
Washington Post 6jun01
There's something about the plastic patio chair.
No, there's not.
And that's what it is about them.
Plastic chairs, plastic chairs.
Stacking plastic resin chairs. Four high, five high, 20 high.
Wipe 'em down, have a seat, stay awhile. Sit a spell on a petroleum planet.
Resistant to the jaws of over-bred Dobermans, contrary to all feng shui, airborne in tropical storms, swirling about in the Wal-Mart-flattening tornadoes of American notions of taste.
In March you unstack them and admire the filth that collected on them over the winter. You spray them with 409. There's now an antiseptic smell layered atop their blessed plasticity. They gleam again.
These are not the good chairs.
These are the chairs that will do.
CHAIRS TO IGNORE
Someday, when you spend more than $300 on patio furniture -- of wood or wrought iron, into which you've put considerable thought about cushion color and pattern -- you will know that you've left a certain part of your life behind, the plastic chair days, when it was still possible that you would meet new lifelong friends, instead of just shaking hands with people and making small talk.
The cheap chairs date back to when you were a nicer but possibly less refined person who didn't require RSVPs for your barbecue or brunch. People came over, and there were places to sit. A tiki torch seemed like the ultimate expression of your sense of summer exotica.
White or forest green.
Now in "cashmere granite," or "pewter blue."
Nobody's written a book about them. Target has not dolled them up with red- bull's-eye logos. The cable home-and-garden networks and Real Simple-type magazines have yet to sing their praises. ("Plastic Chairs: Too Simple?")
The $800 stacking chair, however, in magnesium, sci-fi-shaped -- now you're talking, talking like an idiot about the fashion of stackable chairs. (Last week's New York Times House & Home section is talking: "This Chair Hates Being Ignored," so it costs $800.)
But plastic chairs that cost $4.88 at Home Depot: They love being ignored.
Honey, the chairs are in the pool again.
Plastic chairs as menace: "Attention all residents," a photocopied notice in an Arlington, Virginia, apartment elevator admonishes. "Please remember during severe weather (thunderstorms, etc.) to bring all chairs inside off the balcony. Its hazard (sic) for people below to avoid."
TUPPERWARE FOR THE RUMP
The resin stacking chair is the Tupperware container of a lard-rumped universe, and like Tupperware, you can always use a little more of it.
The plastic chair fits almost anyone, but not everyone: "Not intended for use . . . by persons weighing more than 250 pounds," says the fine print on the sticker.
One factory that makes them reveals the 400-pound test weight that it drops into the chair to see if it cracks. The 400-pound weight also tilts the chair back to see how far you can go before it's Flip City.
Scooch over for some history. It's 1927 in France. Brothers Auguste and Jean-Francois Grosfillex open a factory in Arbent, north of Oyonnax, where they make wooden tool handles.
One has a son who inherits the company, hears what the gods of plastic are telling him in 1954, and the company focuses on plastic. Grosfillex manufactures what's believed to the world's first mass-market plastic chair in 1959.
But this is not the patio chair we are now sitting in.
The '59 Grosfillex chair is wondrously French, modern. Bright red plastic snapped onto a black metal frame, with quarter-size holes all over it.
By the 1970s, Grosfillex is selling in the United States -- soap dishes, toothbrush holders, and plastic furniture that snaps into metal frames.
By the 1980s, America has seen the coming and going of several pieces of the furniture of various futures: the aluminum folding chair with nylon weaving; the hard metal patio chairs of the '40s and '50s; teenagers sunning themselves in back yards on plastic and metal tri-folding chaise lounges; cheap deck chairs of all sorts.
Then came the plastic stacking chair.
Some say it was 1988, '89. Europeans had embraced plastic. Americans had no aversion to it. Someone put together a clean-lined chair.
The true ubiquity of the plastic chair emerges from the fact that no one takes credit for having made it, there is no patent on it (only patents on techniques of making it), and no one knows how many have been made, who sold them, or who likes them. They simply are.
SIXPACK OF MAKERS
There are around a half-dozen manufacturers of plastic patio chairs in the United States. Plastic chairs are so cheap to make that no one imports or exports them.
Grosfillex, one of the biggest producers of plastic chairs, has a factory in Robesonia, Pennsylvania, where they make plastic chairs 24 hours a day nine months a year.
To make a plastic chair, you need a press that is roughly the size of a freight locomotive.
A plastic chair begins with an exact combination of thousands of tiny pellets of an oil derivative, a blend of resin, mixed with pellets of anti- ultraviolet additives, color and anti-static magic.
A computer shoots pellets into the mold, where they are heated to a molten state. A huge screw presses the mold together and a chair is formed.
Water jets immediately start cooling it. A robot arm lifts the chair into a cooling sling. The whole process takes anywhere from 45 to 90 seconds.
Your hostess is snapping you out of your zombie sunshine distraction. For a moment, you'd gone someplace else, where plastic stacking patio chairs outnumber Americans. The chairs were crawling across the 'burbs like insects, but now you're back, making polite small talk, the gentle unpeeling of your thigh from uncelebrated resin.