There's a sofa in the middle of the freeway. It has blue upholstery that looks like it has been worked over by cats. You could seat three people comfortably on the sofa. Four would be too many, unless the fourth were a small child. Somebody used to watch TV from this sofa, you realize as you approach it at 80 miles an hour. They used to flip channels with a bag of Funyons between their legs, laughing at Sha-Na-Na reruns. It's not too fancy of a sofa, but it looks like it did the job. There's probably change down under the cushions, snack food particulate, clumps of hair. If it's possible for an inanimate object to exude an emotion, like poets would lead us to believe, this piece of furniture looks to be in the grips of absolute terror as Sport Utility Vehicles and semis pass it, their drivers incredulous.
How did it get here? Apparently it fell off the back of a truck, landing on its four feet, set up as though it were in a living room, but it is not in a living room. It is on a five-lane interstate freeway. Someone could be sitting on it, watching a TV propped up on the guard rail. Or a teenage couple could be entwined upon it, removing each other's textiles and virginity. But no one is sitting in it now, it is empty but for a cigar butt that some guy flicked out his window, which is now smoldering on the middle cushion, an acrid tendril of cat hair smoke rising from its surface.
It's almost comical how cars are swerving to miss the sofa, like one of those TV shows where they set up a hidden camera and do things to make people feel uncomfortable. There goes a Volvo packed with kids in lacrosse uniforms, pointing, exclaiming. An elderly man scowls in his Chevrolet, looking entirely put out by this imposition of living room furniture on the roadway. Then there are people honking, honking at the sofa as though the sofa can hear them and do something about its inappropriate placement, like excuse itself and hustle over to the median.
What can a sofa that is sitting in the middle of a freeway do but wait for someone to rescue it? And how will this rescue take place? One cop with his flashing lights can't be expected to stop traffic and move the sofa by himself. Maybe two cops could, if they were buff guys unafraid of getting hit by a car. But then the question is, do you stop all five lanes as you escort the sofa to the side of the freeway, or do you just wait for a gap in traffic and try to move sofa as fast as you can? There must be a procedure for this kind of thing. A large object that has fallen from a truck onto the freeway can't be an unprecedented occurrence. Someone in an office with a cork board, staple remover, computer and file cabinet must have, years ago, sat down to draft regulations on what to do when something bulky needs to be moved from the freeway in high-speed traffic. What would qualify this individual to write these regulations? Perhaps they worked for the Highway Department and had special training in traffic management. Can one get a degree in something like that? The degree would probably be called something like Masters in Transportation Administration.
A burning sofa, in the middle of the freeway. It could be a college prank, that's a possibility, especially since this section of the freeway is so close to a college. Perhaps a house of undergrads that was disolving for summer break, having found no way to get rid of this thrift store sofa, decided to haul it out to the freeway. Sure, the stunt endangered lives, but think about how distant a concept mortality was when you were in college. Remember all those stupid risks you took, yes you, presently busy rewinding your Yes/Boston mix tape? In fact perhaps the students who placed the sofa on the freeway are in the parking lot at the mall with a video camera right now, laughing as they watch cars madly change lanes to avoid a collision with the furniture.
But the explanation that the sofa fell off the back of a truck seems more plausible to you, it falls more within the parameters of recognizable phenomena. The question then is, do the people who were driving the truck know it fell off? They certainly don't appear to have pulled off to the side of the freeway. Do you think that the event of the sofa falling off their truck so unnerved them that they could think of no other response than to just keep on driving? As the sofa got smaller in their rear view mirror did their own culpability in it being jettisoned from their vehicle likewise shrink? Screw it, I didn't want that sofa anyway, they might have thought, adding, Someone will take care of it, the cops or the highway department or something. And then maybe a great burden was lifted, the responsibility of lugging this bulky piece of furniture up three flights of stairs to a new apartment suddenly alleviated. And maybe at the other end, the driver's partner said, I thought you were going to bring the sofa, to which the driver responded, Oh, that thing? I left it at Value Village. It stank and the fold-out part was broken.
Yes, because this is sofa with a fold-out bed, meaning that beneath the cushions is a steel skeleton of rods and springs that makes this more of a traffic hazard than previously imagined. If it were just cushions on a fiberboard frame, that would be one thing. But this is a sofa whose innards could potentially stab through the grille of a car. This is the smoldering, pissed off sofa of your fate, waiting on the freeway to collect its victims. It no longer appears terrified, but malicious, a terrorist from some gutted living room unleashed on the interstate highway system. Once, it lived in a show room in the company of many more of its kind. Then it was taken home to a house where it was decorated with pillows and afghans, then unceremoniously dumped a decade later under the stark fluorescents and rockabilly muzak of a used merchandise retailer. So no doubt it is ticked, poetically speaking, with a cigar butt melting a crater in its foam stuffing as cars honk at it and passengers either laugh at it or decry its out-of-placeness. How like a Rorschach this sofa is, the lumpy boundaries of its is-ness begging for interpretation from an observer. Sure it has seen better days, years spent in air conditioned rooms with seasons' worth of Barney Miller and The Cosby Show to watch, a beloved resting place for the expanding butts of a family. It has provided a noble function, but now, somehow, improbably, obscenely, it is a hazard, a blight on these few square feet of civilly engineered pavement, something to be removed, dismantled, disposed of. All it can do now is hope for a speedy end, a quick trip to the landfill, a merciful dismantling, as your Pontiac Grand Le Mans hits it dead on going 80 miles an hour.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/boudinot.html]
Please realize that Mr. Boudinot has a story in a book called The
Best American Non-Required Reading and once wrote a wildly out-of-control
"tag-team" story with the Eyeshot Editor called One
of Countless Purgatories (check out the
archive of other such stories, edited by the superhumane Dave
Daley for the Westchester Journal News) .
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