It all began with floors. Or the lack thereof. For 12 years, we’d needed to install flooring in our entire house. When Cowboy was little, we’d ripped out much of the carpet, and I sponge painted the concrete in the kitchen, living room, hallways, and Cowboy’s room with non-toxic floor paint. It looked pretty good at first, but because I deluded myself into thinking I’d seal it later, it chipped after a few years. Not only did it look awful, painted concrete was especially hard to clean.
And so, because every square inch had to be sanded and leveled prior to installing tile, I packed up our belongings to be moved to storage or the garage, donated what we didn’t need, and threw away junk. During Moving Day: Part 1, Flash and our friend Tommy moved things into storage, for seven hours. Cowboy helped the guys and me as well, packing and lifting all day. With much of the furniture gone, we painted a couple of bedrooms, and slept on a mattress in the living room; it reminded me of the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when the four grandparents are in the bed in the middle of the house. Two weeks later, on Moving Day: Part 2, my enthusiasm weakened. We hired movers with super human strength to transport the most cumbersome items to storage. And we’d done everything possible to make their work go quickly, to save us money. They’d only have to move eight items that day; everything else was tucked away in the garage or storage. Except the End Table.
“What do you want to do about the End Table?” Flash asked, before the movers arrived.
He was referring to the beautiful, multicolored wood table that we’d bought from our friends Bugs and Thumper in the mid 90s. It was shaped like a “Z” with a large top surface. Perfect for plenty of magazines and guests’ drinks.
But it weighed 2,000 pounds. To ask the movers to take it to the truck and later unload it would add time. To lift it ourselves would cost us hernia operations. And some of the wood on the bottom had been damaged over the years, and there were a few scratched areas.
In the midst of hard labor, my mind defers to whatever is simpler. So, in my eternal wisdom, I replied, “Oh, let’s get rid of it. It’s so heavy. We’ll get something else.”
“Yeah,” Flash answered. “Sounds good.”
I never saw it after that. Flash and his trusty dolly managed to take it to the curb, and it disappeared from that curb in 13.5 minutes. Although we were sad to let it go, I was so relieved that the house would soon be empty, I didn’t give it another thought.
Until four weeks ago.
Staring at the empty spot between the couch and the loveseat, I googled for great bargains on end tables. When I didn’t find the price I wanted on the first site, I moved onto the next. And again, and again. For hours and days, I shopped on line. Still, there was nothing with a price I was willing to pay.
“Flash, people pay $250 or more for a table to put their drinks on.”
“You’re kidding,” he replied.
We’d had no idea of the cost of new or used end tables. And when I say end table, I mean a table with a large square surface that will fill that space between the couch and loveseat. Made of wood. Preferably multicolored wood. And in a unique shape. Like the one we’d had.
Weeks prior, when Flash posted our entertainment center in an on-line market, I panicked, “Flash, take that off the site. We can’t get rid of furniture until we find something else to replace it. When we find something else, we’ll sell the old stuff to pay for the new stuff.”
I’d broken my own rule. And gone against the advice of my wise interior designer friend, Pinky. “Now Kim, you don’t want to get rid of any furniture until after your floors are installed. It’s common for a piece you didn’t care for to look great with the new flooring.” I agreed. I’d shared that wisdom with Flash. And then, exhaustion smothered my brain cells.
Sticker shock is running rampant in my mind. I have no frame of reference for new furniture prices; in the last 24 years of marriage, Flash and I have bought four brand new pieces: a large oak roll top desk, a rolling office chair, and two bookcases. Most of our furniture was given to us or sold to us at rock bottom prices, saving us hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Everywhere I went – banks, funeral homes, churches – I saw end tables. When I asked the receptionist at my doctor’s office how much she’d charge me for the beautiful end table in the waiting room, she handed me the business card of a nearby psychologist. It was time to take drastic action; I had to put an end to my obsession. And so, this week, I set out on foot. Okay, well, I drove to the stores, but had to leave the comfort of my Amazon shopping seat to do so. Cowboy wanted to go with me.
“I’m just shopping for an end table, and a chest of drawers for Dad. Are you sure you want to go?” I asked.
He said yes, the poor thing.
When we drove up to what can only be described as Fred Sanford’s home (of Sanford and Son), I was determined. Tommy had referred me; his sense of creativity is unparalleled by most people I know. Even his ceiling is a work of art. As we entered the garage-type store, I gasped.
“Cowboy, this stuff is from the 60s and 70s, when I grew up. We’re going to find something here.” Indeed. I found many somethings. Most intriguing was the rectangular curvy end table. It was multileveled, and its legs were tapered, with brass on the bottom portions. I loved it. I knew I would’ve hated it in my 20s, but now I loved it. It wasn’t bulky; it was slim looking, and would create a more spacious look than a heavy table.
The store owner told me, “There are no prices on anything; just take pictures of what you’re interested in, and bring them back up here to me.” Red flags went off in my head at no prices being marked – code for “Your teeth will fall out when you hear how much this costs.”
Of course, I prayed it would be affordable; I’d asked God at the beginning of this expedition to help me find an end table for $50. My faith was strong. My will was determined.
But my illusion was shattered. As I showed her a photo of the end table, she said, “Oh, mid century modern. How strange. I just had someone else interested in that table today. It’s so funny how I’ll have two or more people interested in the same piece. That one just came in.”
I was holding my breath.
She continued, as she looked on line at her inventory prices. “That would be $600.”
Six hundred dollars. For a table to put drinks on. Or to display my Texas Monthly magazines. Geez. For $600, I’d need to start subscribing to Forbes, so my reading material would rate lying on that table.
“Oh wow. Six hundred dollars. There’s no way,” I replied.
“Well, why don’t you tell me your price range?”
Instead, I told her my Demise of the Perfect End Table story, hoping for sympathy.
“Oh, I wish you’d brought it to me,” she laughed. At my forlorn look, she added, “Sorry. Just kidding.”
“I’d be embarrassed to tell you my price range. We just had floors installed, and we have several things we need to finish up, so I can’t spend a lot. I’d love to find a table for maybe $75. But not $250. And I could never spend $600 on an end table. Even if I had millions, I don’t think I could do that for an end table.”
Although I talked of end tables as if they were insignificant afterthoughts, I was starting to see the great value in having one, even one with a few scratches, which weighed 2,000 pounds.
“Well, check back with me in a month. Maybe we can work something out.” In my head, I heard, Maybe I can take it down to $450 or $350 after it doesn’t sell. When I asked why she charged so much for her furniture, she explained that many designers from New York and beyond buy from her. Then she referred me to some thrift stores in town, explaining that many had mid century modern pieces for sale.
At our second store, when I showed the salesperson what I liked, I heard, “Mid century modern” again. I’d never heard that phrase until that day. I simply was drawn to the type of furniture that I grew up with. Which, of course, was purchased in the 50s. I was excited to have a name for what I liked. I didn’t want our entire house furnished with that style; I’m not going for a remake of the Brady Bunch house, although I did love it, and dreamed of living there. I wanted something to complement the old furniture I already own.
Everywhere we went, I found almost the right thing. But some woods were too dark, some were too golden. Some tables were too scratched, and some were too tall. Some were itty bitty, not even large enough to be called tables – more like three-legged, short stools. We found brand new solid wood tables at discount furniture stores, but nothing jumped out at me. Finally, I understood my mother’s shopping for eight months, traveling to 17 Houston area stores, to find the right lamp for her living room.
When I told one salesman about the $600 Jetsonian end table, a term I later learned while researching, he explained, “Mid century modern is very popular right now. That’s why it goes for so much.” Ahhh. Ignorantly in style – my place in this world, I thought. If I’d tried to be en vogue on purpose, it never would have worked.
Seven stores later, after saying, “Just one more store” three times, Cowboy was still a trooper. Our last stop was an antique store we’d visited two weeks prior, looking for a chest of drawers. I thought I’d give it one more shot for the end table search. We walked around, and saw nothing exciting. As we climbed to the top of the stairs, there it was. The Object of My Affection. Although it was gray, and I have no gray in my living room, I knew I’d find a way to make it work.
It was something out of the 50s. “Mid century modern,” the owner said, of course. It had three tiers to it, the bottom tier looking sort of like a shallow cradle. I loved it. And, proving that God cares about my furniture needs, it was $49, under my $50 request from the Almighty Personal Shopper. I sent a photo to Flash, and, surprisingly, he liked it. Clearly it was a sign to buy it.
We couldn’t get home fast enough; I’m sure Cowboy was thinking the same thing. Flash carried it in and put it between the couch and loveseat. My elated mood crashed and burned as soon as it hit the floor. Something was very wrong.
“Let’s turn it this way,” Flash suggested, as he made it sit diagonally in the space.
“No, I think it needs to be perpendicular to the couch,” I said, turning it. It looked a little better. “Maybe it will look great after we paint it white, to coordinate with the white baseboards and trim in here,” I added.
“Maybe it could go in the guest room,” Flash suggested.
“Flash, it’s an end table, not a nightstand,” I admonished.
Still unsure, I called Tommy to see if he thought a white end table would be okay, even though the other furniture in the room was stained wood. He said yes. Then, I sent a picture to him. He called back, so as to not break my heart via texting. “That table is too small for that space. You need a larger table, square or round,” he explained.
“Yeah, I thought you might say that. I wanted a big square table, like I used to have.”
“What you bought is more of a bedside table,” he added.
Well, dear reader, it was not displayed as a bedside table. There was no bed next to it. And nobody called it a bedside table. They should label these things to make it clear.
As soon as we moved it to the guest room, we knew we’d found its new home. Because I’m redecorating that room with a few retro pieces, it was perfect with my new pink princess style phone.
When we walked back into the living room, that 33-by-33-inch gaping hole stared at me, with a blank look. Exhausted from the search, there was only one thing left for me to do.
The next day, Flash indulged me by going into the attic and pulling out the Answer to All of My Problems. In that space between the couch and loveseat stands our Christmas tree - I’m going for a mid century festive design. Although problematic for holding drinks and magazines, our tree will be there until, if ever there comes a time, I find the end table of my dreams.