The Never-Ending Chair Saga

I'm rather astonished to discover I've never mentioned the Chair Saga over the last couple of months, despite its nagging persistence in our lives.
Of course, it doesn't affect me directly, which may have something to do with the omission.
It is all about me, after all.


Anyway, the Chair first made its entrance into Giorgio and Marisa's previously tranquil home life sometime in June. The elderly couple who shares their landing had been having increasing difficulty climbing up and down the three flights of stairs to their apartment, and were desperately seeking a solution. The building is over 100 years old (but don't imagine anything charming and characteristic--just old), and thus doesn't lend itself easily to modern structural changes.
They first asked my in-laws (and the other building residents) whether they'd be willing to chip in on the cost of installing a building elevator. In addition to the millions of lire it would have cost to do that, there was also the question of where they would put it, since the stairwell is pretty narrow and winds around the perimeter of the building with only a couple of feet of free space in the middle.
In any case, without joint funding--which nobody was willing to provide--the elevator was a no-go. As the problem worsened, the couple even discussed moving, although they've lived there for something like 40 or 50 years.

Finally, they hit upon what seemed to be the ideal solution: the Chair.

The concept is pretty simple: a track is installed along the banister side of the staircase, which is really a low wall. A special chair is then mounted on the track, and an electronic system makes it run up and down the steps as desired. A kind of individual subway system.
It even had a nifty remote control, to call the chair up when needed, or send it back down to pick up someone else or park it.

It still cost a pretty penny, although far less than a full-fledged lift, and it seemed ideal for their needs. They called some specialized company located in Venice, and a couple of workmen came down to take measurements and discuss the layout of the system. The wide space to the right of the stairs as you enter, where people park their bicycles, would make a perfect spot to house the chair on its downstairs off-hours. My in-laws and this couple share the top inhabited floor; above them is another flight of steps leading to the attic storage rooms. Since there is obviously less traffic on these stairs, it was agreed to wind the track around so that the chair could be parked out of the way, off the landing.

Contracts were signed, money changed hands (the elderly couple themselves were obviously footing the entire bill), and the workmen returned in early July to install the Chair system.

That's when the problems began.


Where to begin? Well, first, the track sticks out much farther than expected from the wall, and is... less than aesthetically pleasing, shall we say. Even the support studs placed at regular intervals were installed at various heights, with the result being a bunch of unsightly black-painted metal bars sticking up along the banister, like an industrial cornfield.
The chair has a handy footrest that folds inward to save space; with the footrest retracted, there's about a foot remaining between the chair and the wall. Footrest out = no room.
Which, you might think, doesn't really matter much, because presumably the footrest is extended only when someone is sitting on the chair going up or down, in which case there is no room for anyone to use the staircase anyway. You just have to wait at the top or bottom for the ride to come to an end. And arm yourself with patience, since it takes about 5 minutes for the Chair to make its leisurely way up or down three flights of steps.

However, the installers "forgot" to add the extra section of track at the top, and so the rail ends abruptly on the stairs leading down from the top landing. The remote control works only randomly, so there is often no way to send the Chair back down on its own (and when it does work, the empty chair sounds like a jackhammer pounding away, echoing off the brick walls in a deafening ruckus). That does not make it convenient for anyone else, like my in-laws, to get in and out, especially if bearing things like grocery bags.
Not to mention that the Chair's owners decided that the footrest was also handy for holding heavy things that they planned to bring in later. Which is why I once found myself having to perform an odd upstairs leap one day, to get past the Chair with a watermelon sitting on the footrest.


Needless to say, this has been causing considerable discomfort for everyone in the building, but most of all for Giorgio & Marisa, who have to deal with the parking spot of the Chair. Everyone was willing to close an eye to a bit of inconvenience, to help this couple stay in their apartment, but this is getting to be a little too much. Especially with Marisa's 80-something-year-old uncle living with them for much of the week. He's extremely chipper, but not quite up to hopping over watermelons on the stairs.
My in-laws are at their wits' end.


The folks from Venice have been back 3 or 4 times now, to "fix" various things that were wrong with the Chair. The remote works a little more reliably, the steel cornstalks have been trimmed, and the jackhammer sound has been dampened somewhat. The neighbors are pretty good about sending the chair downstairs to "park", especially at night. It's still not the most elegant solution imaginable, but it had become fairly livable.

However, there's been a new development, that came to a head yesterday.

Apparently, the neighbors deliberately decided not to add the extra section on, to keep the costs down. When they realized that the Chair really was in the way, it occurred to them that perhaps there was a way to complete the system without adding to their costs.
They would just ask Giorgio and Marisa to pay for it, you see.

Their reasoning apparently went like this: the Chair being in the way was a problem for my in-laws, and no one else. In addition, Tino (Marisa's uncle) is in great shape now, but he may not be forever, and so if they might one day need to use the Chair, it was only right that they pay for at least the extra section.
Needless to say, Giorgio & Marisa were less than thrilled by this idea.

Upon hearing their rejection of his "great idea", Baraldi (the neighbor) went ballistic. He started screaming and shouting, and nearly came to blows with my father-in-law. He threatened to keep the chair parked in front of his apartment instead of sending it downstairs. My mother-in-law threatened to call the building inspectors, who would doubtless not approve of the tiny amount of space allowed for people on this staircase. He finally stormed out across the landing, slamming both doors in the process.

Marisa & Giorgio were dumbfounded. How could he expect them to pay for something they not only don't use, but is actually a hindrance?
You should understand that, for years, the two families have been very, well, neighborly to one another. G&M help the Baraldis carry up the groceries, Baraldi (before he fell ill) built a fair bit of the furniture in the in-laws' apartment. Marisa cleans the stairwell herself every week, because she knows they can't hack it. This is a very unpleasant development.


The Baraldi's son lives in the apartment below his parents', and when he heard about this episode he became very angry with Mom & Dad. He told Marisa that they've gone definitively crazy, and she should just ignore anything they say.

Ah, the joys of family life.