Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dads and Grads

It's been a couple of weeks now since I went to New England to attend EFU's commencement from a small liberal arts college in Vermont. How small is it? Well, during the two days I was there, I probably heard fifty times that EFU's graduating class of 85 was the biggest graduating class ever. This proud announcement was almost always coupled with a warning: the graduation ceremony would be commensurately long. Long graduation ceremonies, it appears, are taxing on the students, faculty, and staff; on proud parents, not so much.

The paradox of time dictates that it must be true (and so it is) that my own college graduation happened a lifetime ago but that the intervening years have passed in the blink of an eye, and it was not so hard to remember my own commencement, which I would gladly have slept through, but which I attended to please my own proud parents. (EFU, similarly, would just as soon have spent the morning sleeping, but the similarities end there: I took a leave of absence during college and so took six years to finish up, and I only managed a respectable GPA -- we had a different term for it, as we did for everything -- by pulling straight As on every course in the two semesters following my return; EFU graduated in three years, and with honors. My parents' pride was based largely in cluelessness.) As you might expect, all that nostalgia combined with all that pride made for something of an emotional weekend, and, indeed, even now I can write about it only with some difficulty.

YFU -- who preferred to wield her iPod in my car rather than face the uncertain musical choices of her mother and stepfather -- rode with me to and from Vermont. I had taken Friday off and had meant to pick her up right after school and head north, but I had slept late, possibly due to having stayed up later than absolutely necessary the night before, and then had woken to the realization that my lawn was not likely to cut itself, so I had gone to the Home Depot and purchased a lawn mower. I brought it home, assembled it, and proceeded to nearly destroy it before sorting things out, but then the afternoon was nearly gone, and I had still to pack, and, well, it is too late to make a long story short, but we left the house a little before 7, stopping at an entirely nondescript motel in an entirely nondescript town in Connecticut (which some people have uncharitably described as a nondescript state, but I reckon that any state that has ever been represented by Joe Lieberman has already suffered enough), sometime around 3 the next morning.

After breakfast, we continued northward, and shortly after noon, we met up with EFU, and, lo, there was much rejoicing. Well, I rejoiced: EFU, having worked like a fiend to finish her thesis before the submission deadline, was enjoying some well-deserved sluggishness. (Almost literally: I was tempted to poor salt on her.) She roused herself at the mention of lunch, however, so we ate at a local diner and then headed into Brattleboro.

Brattleboro is an exceptionally charming small town, especially the southern part, which houses several used book stores and a great number of small gift shops with prices that seem unburdened by such trifling considerations as supply and demand. It is really just the sort of place where one would expect New England liberal arts-type liberals to congregate. I wondered momentarily why it is that I don't spend more time in such places, but I decided not to think about it, as there were other things to do. I thought instead that the town's policy to put its parking citations in pink envelopes was charming but perhaps incongruous.

We walked around town for a while, and I allowed both YFU and EFU to make small purchases at one of the less overpriced gift shops before we went to one of the used book stores. I recalled briefly just how many hours I used to spend in used book stores when I lived in the Boston area, and when (of course) I was much younger, but that sort of reflection rarely leads to anything good, and there were, after all, other things to be done, so I allowed myself only fifteen minutes and one purchase.

We had still not checked into our accommodations for the weekend. I was not planning to spend any significant amount of time in my room, which, as it turned out, I would be sharing with YFU, so I had gone to one of the nearly innumerable Internet travel sites and found what seemed like a very good rate on a room at a chain motel. The travel site likely didn't know that the Ramada was also hosting the Vermont gun show this weekend. The situation gave me a bit of pause, especially since the gun showroom was located immediately adjacent to the bar, but I had already and non-refundably paid for the room and, again, was not expecting to spend much time there, so we checked into the room, which was clean and otherwise unremarkable. As we were walking down the hallway, past the gun show, EFU noted, "Northern Brattleboro is very different from Southern Brattleboro." Indeed.

We had to be at the college around 4 for a trustees' reception for graduating seniors and their families, so we set off in the car. The college itself is located in a neighboring town that is so small as to seem to not quite exist, the town hall and some signage notwithstanding. The drive there is very pretty, especially in mid-May, when there are lilacs everywhere. And the college itself is very pretty, though at the same time it bears rather a strong resemblance to a summer camp.

In general, I would have no interest in attending a trustees' reception, and certainly neither EFU nor YFU would want to do so when they could be sleeping or reading (respectively), but in this particular case one of (and the youngest, apparently by a significant margin) the college's trustees turned out to be an online acquaintance whom I have known without ever having met for nearly ten years, off and on, so I had someone to talk to. I was loath to monopolize his time, but he apparently felt under no obligation to mingle, and I had no interest in making small talk with people who were virtual as well as actual strangers, so I spent a very pleasant hour chatting with him. Not surprisingly, he has a great deal of affection for the college, though he thought that it could use some cosmetic work. I told him that I found it entirely charming, though large parts of it could certainly pass for the sort of place where J.D. Salinger might hide from society. He told me that it doubles as a music camp during the summer.

EFU did not want to attend the community dinner that followed the reception (Because she's graduating in three years, most of her friends are juniors, and she doesn't feel that much of a kinship with her classmates. She told me that, not having wanted to make small talk, she arrived late to the senior dinner and had had to take the only seat remaining, next to the president of the college.), and my trustee friend told me that we would not be missing anything by skipping it. My ex-wife and her husband arrived right at the end of the reception and wanted to take EFU to meet her advisor. EFU didn't think her advisor would be in his office and wanted to go back to her cabin and then to dinner, so I said that I would meet her at the car in fifteen minutes. I took the opportunity to spend some time with the lilacs, of which I am inordinately fond, though much more so when they are on the tree than in any other context.

Fifteen minutes stretched to an hour, and I struggled a bit to maintain good humor, as I suspected that the delay was largely due to something my ex-wife wanted to do. It later turned out that the group had made its way to the library where my ex-wife had taken the opportunity to use the college's computers to spend nearly an hour reading her sister's website. This struck me as unnecessary. Fortunately, I still had the lilacs to look at. I also spent a significant amount of time listening to and watching some very colorful birds who refused to be photographed.

When the girls finally showed up, with apologies, we all returned to EFU's cabin. It was something of a mess, even though EFU had already spent a considerable amount of time packing. It seemed that the other four or five residents had not been similarly industrious. We headed back towards Brattleboro, to a restaurant of EFU's choosing. It was a sort of pan-Asian establishment that served a large number of highly sweetened and dangerously alcoholic beverages in pleasantly kitschy ceramic vessels. The food was very good, though. The decor relied heavily on pandas, provoking a discussion as to whether the panda is, indeed, a bear. My ex-wife was sure that it wasn't, but I was able to pull out my iPhone and consult the Internet, which had the twin benefits of making YFU complain about my iPhone boasting and proving my ex-wife incorrect on a matter of zoology.

I very much wanted to avoid being late to the ceremony the next day, as we had been warned that seating would be available on a first-come-first-served basis, so YFU and I turned in early. We got up on time the next morning and had a large and pleasant breakfast at another diner-type establishment near the motel, and then we set off for the college. I may have overestimated the amount of time we would need to get dressed and eat.

Fortunately, YFU had brought a GameBoy, and I had had the foresight, at breakfast, to download a game to my iPhone, cell phone service being spotty at best out in the wilds (EFU had spent much of the past several weeks having her sleep interrupted by a black bear who was showing an unhealthy level of interest in her cabin's trash) of Vermont. I spent the next forty-five minutes launching Angry Birds as the hall filled up.

Once the ceremony started, of course, I couldn't play any more games, so I had a lot of time to think. This was not so much true in the beginning, when there were a number of very good speeches, but the reason I had been repeatedly warned about the length of the ceremony is that when each student receives his or her neatly printed and enfoldered explanation as to why the diplomas are not yet ready, the president or the dean reads not only his or her name, but also a considerable amount of additional information about his or her field of study and thesis/project. It takes about thirty to forty-five seconds per graduate. The ways in which EFU and I are alike begin with our last names; unsurprisingly, the class was graduated alphabetically, which meant that EFU was the penultimate recipient of a bachelor's degree.

It is always a dangerous situation when I have a lot of time to think, and the danger is particularly compounded when so much nostalgia is wafting about. And things were only made worse by the excellent speeches. I could not help remembering my own graduation, or at least bits of it. From the whole day, I remember three bits distinctly: during the procession, my much-loved boss was standing next to the sidewalk watching us go by and gave me a flower; our graduation speaker was Lee Iacocca, whose commencement address was a sort of paean to protectionism; and when it was my turn to get my diploma (which, let's give MIT efficiency some credit, was my actual diploma), President Paul Gray had trouble picking mine out of the pile, and when I pointed to my name and said, "That's me," he had some trouble grasping the concept, and I very nearly had to fight for it before he realized it was indeed mine. That was the only conversation I ever had with him, by the way.

That is really not a lot to remember from a day that's meant to be momentous, and as I was sitting in the audience at EFU's graduation, listening to the senior class speaker, I couldn't help thinking that none of his classmates would forget who had spoken or what (generally) he had said. It was a very thoughtful speech with one paragraph that went just far enough astray to give my daughter and her friends something to joke about and remember, probably at least until their fiftieth reunion.

I experienced something very like longing during the main commencement address. The speaker was a local poet. She is, apparently, quite successful as a poet, though neither I nor my trustee friend had ever heard of her (but then, I could probably not name a single living poet: oh, the shame), and she spoke with great intensity and speed. Her speech included an exegesis of a well-known Frost poem ("After Apple Picking") and ended with a new, as yet unpublished, poem of her own, and it was so good and so moving that when it -- and her speech -- was over, I stood to applaud. (Days later, when I was home, I downloaded the recording of the ceremony and played the reading of that poem over and over so that I could transcribe it and have it, though I should certainly buy the book when it comes out.)

During the nearly endless reading of names and information that followed, I thought about the notion of private failure, which is a notion that I likely cadged from a years-ago short story in the New Yorker. It's the idea that successful, or even relatively successful, people reserve a measure of regret for the less remunerative road not taken1. It was hard not to compare the profundity and presence of this poet, whose name I do not recall, with the inanity of Mr. Iacocca. Lee Iacocca was, when I graduated, a big deal, and I'm sure that most of the graduating class, and nearly all of their parents, were impressed to have him as a commencement speaker. But he had surely given the same address, with minor modifications, numerous other times, and he just as surely had not written it himself.

I couldn't help wondering, briefly, what would have happened if I had known about and considered a liberal arts education when I was in high school. I lived in a mostly upper middle class neighborhood, but my own family was solidly blue collar, and I had no guidance about applying to college. I ended up at MIT through a series of accidents, followed by a hard sell from the admissions office, and I certainly don't regret having gone there, but I couldn't help wondering whether, if I'd spent four years in the woods reading poetry, I mightn't have been among the bored faculty, wearing a set of robes instead of a jacket.

The question, of course, is always: at what cost? It's intellectually dishonest to pick and choose aspects of your life and think how they might be different if you'd done something differently twenty-five years ago. I can't posit the existence of a more engaging career without recognizing that the increased self-awareness that would have come with that option would likely have precluded having a family. Isn't there a line from Sundays in the Park with George about how the only things that have lasting value are children and art? I'm no artist.

It is possible to consider having made different choices and still having had a family, but every child is unique, and a product of a unique combination of sperm, egg, time, place, and history, and it is really no less unthinkable to me to consider having different children than it is to consider having none at all.

But all of that is the intellectual response to the intellectual longing for a life I never knew and would not choose in place of the one I have. There was no emotional longing for anything other than what is already mine, and the primary emotions of the day were joy, and pride. At least for me: I think EFU was mostly just feeling relief. I beamed as she nearly ran across the stage, as if she wanted to be sure that she got her tassel shifted before someone changed his or her mind.

EFU is always impatient to be moving on, so after we made a brief appearance at the reception, where her thesis advisor and one of her other examiners told me that EFU had truly earned her honors, we went back to her cabin and filled up my car, which EFU had instructed me to have as empty as possible. I had complied with her wishes, as I do whenever and insofar as possible, and soon the car was loaded down, leaving only room for YFU and I in the front seat. We left the college early in the afternoon and were safely restored to home and our quotidian existences before bedtime.

1I have little patience for people who take Mr. Frost's poem in vain, and the next time anyone is tempted to set himself up as some sort of paragon of nonconformity by saying that he took the less traveled path, I hope that he will go and actually read the text of the poem. All it is really saying is that choosing between two nearly identical options will have profound and unforeseeable consequences. It's basically a poetic realization of chaos theory and the scientific notion of sensitivity to initial conditions.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lost in Translation

I spent much of this past weekend visiting a friend who owns a place in Rehoboth. He was there with his partner, who was recovering from shoulder surgery, and another friend of his whom I once found impossibly cute, but who now is merely possibly cute and so serves as a reminder that time and tide wait for no man.

I did not actually see any tide while I was there, the Delaware beaches not being among my favorite things. Also not among my favorite things are crowds, traffic, or shopping, so I typically only visit this friend, whom I have known for a good many years, only once during the summer and perhaps two or three times in the off season.

In any case, the weekend was mostly unremarkable. I got in very late Friday night because b&c and I had tickets to see American Buffalo at Studio Theatre. I didn't end up leaving Bethesda until nearly eleven, and then I stopped three times, mostly for caffeine, but also for gas and to put some air in one tire. I am a big fan of making the drive to Rehoboth very late at night, so long as I don't actually fall asleep at the wheel. There is a grittiness to the wee-hours combination of caffeine and fatigue that I find compelling, and the long empty roads through flat fields reminds me of trips to the Norfolk area to visit my grandparents when I was a small child and the Interstate highway system wasn't what it is today.

The last thing I did with my friends was to go to breakfast on Sunday morning, at Crystal Restaurant, an eating establishment that specializes in breakfast and lunch and is very popular with an orientationally diverse clientele. I was on my third cup of coffee and had just started into my blueberry pancakes, when my friend John picked up one of the lucite advertising stands sitting on the table and said, "Look at this! They're going to start serving dinner." There followed a discussion of the likelihood of Crystal being a good dinner place (it had, apparently, not done so well in the past), but I was intrigued by the advertisement itself:

I picked it up, stared for a moment, and then said, "Oh, look. Kristallnacht. There's a good idea." Two of my three breakfast companions didn't know what Kristallnacht was, and the third just shrugged. I was tempted to launch into a those-who-do-not-learn-the-lessons-of-history-are-doomed-to-repeat-them rant, but I didn't because a) I don't really believe that saying, except perhaps as it's applied to history classes, and b) I didn't want my pancakes to get cold.

We were done with breakfast before eleven, and I had packed my car before we had set out, so that when we got back to the house, I had only to say my goodbyes and head off. Under usual circumstances, I would have been home well before 2pm, but as it happens, I had -- just before leaving the office Friday night for dinner and the play with b&c -- downloaded my first iPhone app, a social networking application designed specifically for gay men, and whose name is derived from a word that is used as, among many other things, a New England regional term for a submarine sandwich. I have in the past pooh-poohed this app -- not least because it's misspelled, but also because I didn't have an iPhone -- as a non-productive time sink, but while marveling at its very existence and widespread use did eat up a not inconsiderable amount of time (and battery life!) over the weekend, it did not turn out to be entirely non-productive: several different gentlemen contacted me over the weekend, when I was not really in a position to make or receive social visits, so upon saying goodbye to my friends, I did pay a call on one of them and was thus delayed by about two hours.

When I finally got home (having had to stop and pick up YFU and some groceries) I noticed that another tree was in full bloom.

It's very pretty, and it has a pleasant, though not especially pronounced, scent.

Later in the evening, I had an opportunity to ponder the nature of online social networking when I turned on the same application and noticed that (unlike in Rehoboth where the expense tends to encourage a more mature and moneyed crowd, almost all the men who showed up on my iPhone as being within 1.5 miles of me were a) extremely attractive, and b) roughly half my age. Often less than half my age. Alas.

Well, it was fun while it lasted, and, especially given the relatively small amount of time I put into it, it was a lot more effective, and a lot less annoying, than Facebook, which I have -- beginning some time ago -- abandoned until such point as I can figure out a compelling reason to keep up with people who didn't especially like me in high school. Currently, I approve all friend requests but don't otherwise visit my page. Which may or may not be reflective of how I behaved in high school. My memories are a bit fuzzy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Es Ist ein Ros Entsprungen

I was reminded, yet again, of just how differentially aware I am of my surroundings a few days ago when, shortly after finishing a blog entry that mentioned how the roses would likely be coming soon, I walked outside and saw that my tall rose bush had two fully open, even slightly past their prime, blossoms on it. This is me, or one aspect of me, in a nutshell: I will spend minutes examining a single maple seed without taking note of the tree whence it fell. My memory works in a similar way: vast tracts of the past have been deemed unworthy of storage; irrelevant details remain. If I were able to go through my memory like a desk drawer, or a hard drive, I'd have said, "No, thank you, I don't really need that memory, I'd rather be able to remember more about EFU's third birthday, if it's all the same to you." I'm not uncomfortable with the notion of limited storage space (or limited attention), but I'm not so thrilled with the notion that what gets kept or thrown away is so arbitrary. It's like walking into the kitchen and finding that all of your knives have been discarded and you've been left with bags and bags of twist-ties.

Anyway, when I got over the shock of the rose, it was obvious that it needed some attention. Look:

Now imagine me standing there in front of it singing, "Lo, how a rose ere pruning" because that actually happened. Sadly, I couldn't think of any clever way to continue the song, so I stopped there, though the melody remained trapped in my head for a while. I'm revisiting it now, though with the German lyrics. Trust me: there are things you could have stuck in your head that are much worse. For example:
Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes
Each one she passes goes aah!

Deal with that one for a while! I have the impregnable armor of a 15th C. German song to protect me from the poisonously dulcet tones of Astrud Gilberto, but I suspect that you may not be so strong.

Anyway, I don't know from pruning roses, so I consulted my online knowledge base, which informed me that a) I was a little late in the year for pruning, b) I should go for it anyway, and c) I should prune the everloving hell out of my rose bush. The advice was to cut away anything that was smaller than a pencil. Also to get a good pair of gloves. Also that if I overpruned (unlikely, I was told), it would all grow back as long as the roots were healthy.

So last night, I stopped in at the local Home Depot, where I am a regular -- and not just because it's the best source of eye candy within two miles of my house -- and bought some pruning shears. I may or may not have made additional purchases: it is difficult to go into HD and not realize that there are things that you didn't know that you needed until that very moment but that at that very moment you understand you just can't live without. And then I came home, put on some gloves, took the safety off the shears and set to. Behold:

I left the two branches with blossoms, as well as one other that seemed especially promising, but otherwise, nothing on that bush is thinner than a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil. I also discovered that cotton gloves really are insufficient protection. I'm glad that bush is right outside my living/dining room window. I like to leave it open at night to cool the house down, and no burglar is going to get past those thorns.

I am given to understand that I should also deadhead the rosebush after the blossoms have passed their peak. I reckon that means I should find a) a forty-five minute version of "Uncle John's Band" and b) some weed, but as I have neither, I guess I'll just cut them off in a few days.


In other news, my cell phone was so clearly upon death's door a couple of weeks ago that I went out and bought an iPhone. I am now super cool; also, it is 2007.

I like the iPhone a lot, but I have to admit that the second best* thing about owning it is that it has made YFU insanely jealous. (EFU has not expressed jealousy, though when I responded to one of her emails from my iPhone, she called me back immediately to say, "You have an iPhone?" the implication, I believe, being that I am too old and/or unhip to own such a piece of equipment. Youth.) I may or may not have played to this jealousy. There are some rumors, which I can neither confirm nor deny, that I might have, on eight or fifteen occasions, been sitting with YFU in the car at a stop light and said, "Gee, it seems warm. I wonder how warm it is. Hey, I can find out with my iPhone!"

The goal for this week is to see how many times I can work, "You know, I bet there's an app for that" into the conversation. Ah, the joys of parenting and technology.

*The best thing being the ability to check all of my email accounts at once. The limit of ten accounts is unfortunate, but I'm making do.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


This past Saturday was b&c's birthday, so I took him out for dinner and a movie. Dinner was at Mandalay, a Burmese restaurant and one of our favorites, and the movie was 8 1/2, part of the Fellini retrospective currently showing at the AFI Silver, probably the best place to see movies in the Washington metro area, though the popcorn is usually not what it should be.

I had not seen 8 1/2 before, and b&c had not seen it since the 1960s, and it's a little on the long side, and my experience with Fellini has been decidedly mixed (the AFI is also showing Satyricon, but I've seen it before, and even I'm not dumb enough to make that mistake twice), so I was a bit nervous, but it turns out that in addition to being visually stunning (such beautiful women so lovingly photographed, and what would I not give to have Marcello Mastroiani's hair?), 8 1/2 is pretty much nonstop fun from start to finish.

Near the end, there's a scene where Guido has decided to abandon his film and is riding in a car with a film critic who is congratulating him on having made this decision, and the film critic says that it should be the practice of each of us to educate ourselves to silence: the less said the better, always. The scene is ironic, of course: this particular film critic never shuts up. Still, the statement has merit, even if the critic didn't.

"Silence" usually doesn't mean the absence of sound so much as it means the absence of speech, and I've had plenty not to talk about lately. The notion of owning a home is very unfamiliar to me, even though it's considered the essence of Americanness, and even though I've owned one before, though not by myself. It's a good sort of unfamiliarity, and there's something very stabilizing about it, even though the situation and the home itself are entirely new to me. I am unused to coming home to an empty place, and especially to an empty place that still needs so much work done to make it what I want it to be, but the simple fact that it's mine means a lot more than I'd expected it to.

What's perhaps even more unfamiliar than having a home of my own is having a yard of my own. And the yard is something that seems to engender even greater quantities of both happiness and shutting up than the house does.

I live on rather a busy street, so even in the back yard, there's never true silence, but at the same time there is. What I hear in the back yard is mostly the sussuration of semi-distant traffic, a noise not entirely unlike wind. It's almost as if the yard is whispering to itself.

And it's a lovely yard. In the very back, there are tall maples over ivy, with a large azalea thrown in. There are, in fact, azaleas all over the place, azaleas being a default landscaping plant in this area. You can get a good idea of their ages from their sizes, and I suspect that the neighbors azaleas (which inspire all manner of rhodo-envy) were planted in the fifties, at about the same time the house was built.

At this time of year, it's usual, whenever there's any breeze, to see maple seeds helicoptering their way down to the ground, like some sort of giant benign occupation. They are everywhere, and -- like so much of what comes from or into the back yard -- beautiful.

Spring is a time of rapid change, of course. The azaleas that were so beautiful a week ago are pretty much gone now, though the ones that get little or no sunlight during the day started blooming later and are still gorgeous. Similarly, the lilac bush, which I was so pleased to see, is no longer recognizably lilac, the flowers and scent having nearly entirely gone away for another year. It is good to have such constant reminders of the turning wheel: the forsythia came and went, then the azaleas and dogwood and lilacs, soon the roses, soon the autumn leaves, soon the snow again.

There have been birds, too: robins, and even cardinals.

I have been making some inroads on home improvement. For the most part, tax season left me with an intense desire to do nothing at all for a while, but I did manage to add some kitchen over-sink storage in the form of a hanging rack made from an Ikea curtain rod, and a drying rack made from a ClosetMaid shelf. (A miter box, a length of molding, some finish nails, and a hacksaw were also involved.) They keep the stove and countertops from being impossibly crowded. Also, having clean, drying/dry dishes hanging around not put away is very in keeping with my aesthetic. Or would be, if I had an aesthetic.

My other major HGTV project was to make two sets of identical curtains. And OMG y'all, nobody who actually owns a sewing machine (And, really, how did I come to own this sewing machine? It's not like I know what to do with it.) should be allowed to watch Project Runway: it leads to delusions of competence, and from there, to tears. It was one thing when I bought a few remnants of fabric, tore them (I never buy anything that can't be torn along a straight line) into lengths, and clipped them to the curtain rings. But this time, I decided I wanted color blocks, so I bought multiple fabrics, measured them, tore them into lengths, stitched them together, hemmed them, and clipped them to the curtain rings.

I really like the way they look, but sewing straight lines on a sewing machine is just way to complicated for me. I prefer my complications to be culinary, thank you very much, so I guess I'll just stick to making my own puff pastry and leave the sewing to Bravo or Lifetime or whoever it is. Lifetime, I reckon: Bravo is all Real Housewives these days, and you know those women have their curtains custom made, and, should they ever lose a button, they hand it off to a servant, who gives it to another servant, who repairs it before sending it back up the chain of command so that the so-called real housewife can have her picture taken while donating it to charity.

You can also see my new couch in that picture. It's red in a room of blue, and I like it a lot, too. I bought it from Overstock, and I had a bit of trepidation about that since they've been very good on everything else, but furniture? It arrived one day when EFU was home on spring break, and I arranged for her to be at the house. The UPS person helped her bring the boxes in, and she opened them and assembled the sofa all by herself! So I was expecting to come home from a long day at the office and assemble a sofa, but instead I came home and found her sitting on it. Impressive, but she's like that.