Planet of the japes

You want to buy new living-room furniture, but you just can't justify the expense. The old stuff's really not worn out yet. If only there were a way to accelerate the wear-and-tear, so you could bring yourself to get rid of the old furniture faster. . .

Here's the solution: Run right out and rent the videotape of "Planet of the Apes," the PG-13 version with all the scary soldier-apes leaping around like, well, like monkeys. Screen this video for your children. They will respond by becoming monkeys themselves, screeching and scratching themselves and, most importantly, bounding around on the furniture. In no time at all, the old stuff will be trashed and you'll be free to purchase stylish new furnishings for your home.

Kids are rough on furniture because they don't get the whole concept. They look at a sofa, for instance, and they don't see a place to sit and be comfortable and eat Fritos. They see a trampoline. Or a pirate ship. Or the battlements of a castle. It is their duty, as children, to jump on sofas and to fling themselves off the backs of armchairs and to stand on glass-topped coffee tables.

Exposing them to simian behavior only makes these tendencies worse. You wouldn't put a fine leather sofa in a gorilla cage, would you? Take a look at your children. Are they any different from apes? Do they treat the furniture any better than gorillas would? I didn't think so. Then you'd better not invest a lot of money in new furniture, not until the kids go off to college to destroy the furnishings in some dorm.

When I was a kid, my mother constantly exhorted my brother and me to sit properly on the furniture. We responded by doing backflips off the sofa and wrecking kitchen chairs while building "forts." When something inevitably broke, my poor mother would moan, "We can't have anything NICE."

Which, when you have children, is exactly right.

In those idyllic child-free days of our marriage, before my wife and I had two sons, we filled our house with antiques -- 100-year-old tables and carved-wood chairs and frilly sofas much too delicate for a big guy like me to actually sit on. Once the boys came along, that furniture bit the dust, item by item, as seats wore out and upholstery tore and arms broke (the furniture's, not the children's). All that beautiful furniture, which had endured generations of wear, couldn't survive our kids. We began calling our home The Place Antiques Go to Die.

Replacement furniture tends to be of the overstuffed, rugged variety. (You know you're a real parent when the best selling point for a new couch is that the upholstery "won't show dirt.")
A few antiques -- tables and cabinets that don't make good battleships -- still remain, mixed in with the padded, Scotch-Guarded stuff. The resulting style is what home magazines call "eclectic," which comes from the French for "mismatched."

Eventually, I suppose, we'll just get rid of the sofas and chairs altogether in favor of bookshelves and desks and rolling chairs. More and more at our house, room once given over to antiques and decorative items has become workspace. I've got a desk, my wife's got a desk, all God's children got desks.

In their bedrooms, both sons were using old folding tables for computer desks, so we got them new desks for Christmas. Very nice, heavy-duty stuff that came "ready-to-assemble" (ha!) and was guaranteed with full warranty for six years (haHA!). The desks have lots of shelves and pigeonholes to hold the boys' endless supply of "stuff." Their granddad cooperated by building them spacious new bookshelves for Christmas as well.

We got everything installed, computers reconnected, "stuff" stored. My wife and I, weary but happy, stood in the bedroom doorway, admiring our handiwork, which looked awfully well-organized if a little sterile.

A realization hit me and I turned to her and said, "We've built office cubicles for our sons."

She replied grimly, "They might as well get used to it."

This, as you might imagine, took the edge off our Christmas spirit. But it didn't bother the boys. They were too busy climbing on their new desks, scratching and hooting and turning backflips.

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