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NUTS & BOLTS PATRICK MOTT : Lounger Rates No. 1 on Hit List of Women

Depending on how slothful you are, the Barcalounger is either the most stupendous engineering achievement of modern man--the perfect marriage of form and function--or it is an insidious, evil device that surely will turn America into a nation of grunting, monosyllabic, self-indulgent cream puffs.

I have a certain bias because I am very slothful indeed. I own a Barcalounger. A really big, soft one. I sit in it daily and tell the world to kiss off. It has that effect. I love it.

People walk into my living room and head for the Barcalounger as if drawn by an irresistible force. They sit in it and sigh. They rock back into full reclining position and sigh some more. Their faces glow with beatific smiles.

Then they suddenly realize that they’re having too much fun and they leap out of it, blurting something Puritanical like, “Oh, that’s way too comfortable. If I don’t get up now, I’ll stay there forever.

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Hence the argument. “Barcalounger” has become a kind of synonym for either the best place on earth to watch “Cheers” or the last, and eternal, refuge of the incurably indolent. It is either the way God intended man to watch TV, or it is where confirmed couch potatoes go for a rest after they’ve worked up a sweat sacking out on the sofa.

There are lots of brands of recliner chairs on the market, but for some reason the Barcalounger has emerged in the same league with Band-Aid and Xerox: it has become generic, the word people use when they mean recliner. And, as such, it gets its share of roses and darts.

The raspberries, if my small and unscientific sampling can be trusted, come from women who believe that men forget about them entirely once they park their tail in a Barcalounger. Not only that; they believe that once men are thus ensconced they forget about everything , save for the nearest remote control flipper and cold beer.

Women also believe that once men are in the chair’s clutches they will stay there forever, luxuriating shamelessly like a hog in a wallow, figuring that it’ll be easier to let that grease fire in the kitchen burn itself out than to reach for the baking soda, happily proving, hour after hour, that when it came to the subject of inertia, Newton was right.

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It is a case, women believe, of an irresistible force creating an immovable object.

Finally, my survey indicates that women believe that Barcaloungers will turn their men into Wallace Beery. They will become rumpled, slovenly, doughy, thick-headed layabouts and their drive to claw their way to success and riches will seep away. They will put that cure for cancer on hold and become expert at “Gilligan’s Island” trivia.

Philip Cooper has heard all that, but he doesn’t agree with it, a position you might expect from the merchandise manager for the Barcalounger Co. of Rocky Mount, N.C. Actually, he says, most of his company’s recliners are bought by women “for the man or for the home in general.” In Southern California in particular, he continues, the smaller chairs in the Barcalounger line, some of them designed specifically to appeal to women, have become popular because of the space restrictions in smaller apartments and condominiums.

Over the years, he says, the company has tried to streamline its chairs, making them look less like rubber life rafts and more like conventional easy chairs.

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“When you think of a man’s Barcalounger,” he says, “it used to be the clunker of the living room. Now it’s a more sophisticated style and it’s showing up all over the house.”

Today, says Cooper, you can buy one that is casual and contemporary and looks like a recliner, or you can have one that is “a high-leg Chippendale or a ball-and-claw 18th-Century that looks just like a stationary chair.”

Also, you needn’t settle for some nightmarish yellow plaid or genuine glorious Naugahyde. According to Cooper, Barcaloungers can be upholstered with 500 cloth and 50 leather coverings.

All this emphasis on styling probably makes women feel a bit better about having a Barcalounger in the house, but did you catch that reference to chairs that are designed specifically with women in mind a few sentences ago? You have to have the pioneering heart of Indiana Jones to come up with an idea like that.

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Think, now. When was the last time you heard a woman trail off into an ecstatic reverie talking about a recliner chair? When was the last time you saw a woman sagging deeply into one, arms splayed out over the armrests in a posture of total immobile bliss?

I don’t believe women and Barcaloungers are incompatible--God knows that after a long day of doing battle with modern life, women deserve a good flop in one just as much as men do--but the picture of a woman in a Barcalounger at the end of a rough day seems slightly incongruous, like a picture of a man in a bubble bath.

Perhaps there is something in the female psyche that abhors the thought of doing absolutely nothing. A hot bath is as close as they seem to get, and in a bath you are still accomplishing something: you are getting clean. The ratio of male to female couch potatoes is, I believe, very high.

Cooper has heard the couch potato jokes. And he admits that once you’re well and truly in the chair it’s tough to get out of it. But he maintains the chair performs a public service.

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“It’s not just for the couch potato,” he says. “It helps to keep the family unit at home and entertained in the home.”

He does acknowledge, however, that family members, regardless of age, tend to fight over who gets to sit in the chair.

This makes me feel better, because I’ve been thinking that my natural affinity for my Barcalounger has something to do with the onset of middle age. After all, the first three days I had it, I fell asleep in it.

Now, however, I have several fine excuses that I use when guests see the chair and accuse me of slipping languidly and uncaringly into the realm of the video inert. It is a wonderful way, I tell them, to check your resting heart rate. It is excellent for elevating your legs to the proper position for recovery after you’ve returned from a brisk 50-mile bike ride. It puts the body in optimum sympathetic position for watching Space Shuttle launches. And, combined with a bit of cognac and a good cigar, it aids in the production of gentle wit and penetrating philosophical revelations.

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It’s also the best place I know of to watch old horror movies and pig out on Doritos and conk out during Letterman. But that doesn’t mean the chair has caused me to forget about women. No. They can come and sit in my Barcalounger any time--if they bring the beer.


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