Chris Zenowich and the Death Sofa

Friends help you move. In 1980, Laurie and I married and moved two households into one. All three households were on the second floor, which says a lot for those who chose to help. Chris Zenowich was one such worthy, a friend indeed. Because he was male and passably brawny, he was chosen to help move the sofa, Laurie’s sofa, a sofa-bed actually. The stairway at our new Wolcott Street apartment — rented from Walt Patulski, winner of the Lombardi Trophy at Notre Dame, #1 NFL draft pick, but I digress — the stairway was narrow and enclosed, with glass-paned doors at top and bottom. The sofa had to pass up the stairway and into the apartment.

Zeno, being a good person, accepted the position of bottom man, carrying the majority of the sofa’s weight once it was tipped. I can’t remember who was at the top, lifting from step to step. Maybe it was me. But I do remember the moment the sofa bed opened up. Tilted sideways, its springs suddenly came to life, like dogs hearing the cry of the musher. “Gravity calls us. We must open!”

And open they did, with a loud, creaking, spranging noise, accompanied by Zeno’s sudden cries at the bottom of the stairway. Words like “whoa,” and “oh, no!!” and “oh my God!” as the bed unfolded all by itself, opening up almost all the way, filling the narrow stairway and pinning Chris against the wall at the bottom. “Hey!” he cried, and “Jeez, wait!” The bed was ready for company, unquestioning about where we’d chosen to place it, not at all upset that no one could see the TV from this spot, or sit and converse with someone across the room. But Zeno was conversing, “I can’t move!” he conversed. “Do something!”

Now it seemed to me that my role was changing. No longer was I to pull the bed upstairs, lifting step by step. Now, my job was to close the bed and free Zeno, who was suggesting that this was just the ticket, a very good idea, a task that should zoom right to the top of my list, a new priority. “I’ll try to close it!” I shouted, and Zeno responded with something in the way of, “Yes!” He underscored that sooner would be better than later, that he was in an uncomfortable fix, and looked to me for fast relief.

Laurie said, “I never saw it do this before,” which was a great comfort to everyone — we were present at an inaugural event, making history, breaking new ground. And what special news this was to Chris himself, now horizontal, feet on the far wall, head and shoulders on the other, sliding down to the bottom step as the sofa shuddered and threatened to break loose, running over him like a locomotive.

“I’d better tie it shut,” I said and Chris seconded the notion with a screamed, “Yes!” Laurie produced a clothesline and we pushed and tugged and closed the steel jaws, lashing them shut, then pulled the tamed sofa back up towards the second floor while Chris gasped and said things like, “oh” and “oh my God” again, reappearing at the bottom of the stairs, still alive, pushing up with all he had left.

In the dining room, glistening like a bodybuilder, he said, “I’m never moving that again.” A year later, when we moved to Crawford Avenue, we tied the sofa up like a hostage, and warned everyone before they tilted it.

“They’re not kidding,” said Chris, from a safe distance.


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