Thursday, April 29, 2010

Crime of the Century (A Tale of One Nutty Chair Divison)

PROCTOR, Minn. - One day about a year and a half ago, a man named Dennis LeRoy Anderson, of Proctor, demonstrated that he is wildly creative, exceptionally mechanically gifted, and possessed of a perhaps overenthusiastic and potentially detrimental passion for beer. 
  Mr. Anderson, who runs a professional auto shop at his home, designed and outfitted a recliner - the type of comfy chair you see in front of televisions in better homes and trailers - with a converted lawnmower motor, headlights, a steering wheel, a stereo, cup holders and a National Hot Road Association sticker on its headrest. The chair could travel as fast as twenty miles per hour. 
  That accounts for Mr. Anderson's creative and mechanical gifts. His love of beer manifested, or perhaps over-manifested, on the day and evening of August. 31, 2008. 
  After enjoying a number of beers at home - the exact tally is left unstated in an October 30, 2009 Minneapolis Star-Tribune report - Mr. Anderson drove his chair to a bar called the Keyboard Lounge, located at 224 North 3rd Avenue, in Proctor. (View the bar's exterior here.)  
  There he consumed more beer. His total, he later told police, was "eight or nine" that day. His blood alcohol content, police would learn, after administering a field sobriety test, was .29. That's more than three times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota. 
  Mr. Anderson was blissfully unaware of this fact - or, evidently, of any others - when, presently, he left the Keyboard Lounge and settled into his motorized chair. Presumably, the goal of puttering home somewhere floated in his be-fogged noggin. 
  Alas, things don't always turn out as we might hope. Mr. Anderson promptly crashed the chair into a Dodge Intrepid parked nearby. 
   When police arrived, Mr. Anderson was treated for minor injuries and given the sobriety test, during which, Deputy Police Chief Troy Foucault told the Star-Trib, he "failed everything." To add insult to intoxication, it turned out that Mr. Anderson's driver's license had already been revoked for a prior drunk-driving conviction. 
  Police took Mr. Anderson, who is sixty-one, to the station and threw him in the pokey. At trial he was sentenced to one hundred and eighty days in jail and fined $2,000. The jail time and half the fine were stayed contingent on his serving a two-year probation with various conditions.
  Here now we leave the tale of Mr. Anderson in order to follow the captivatingly byzantine one of the chair. Proctor police impounded it when they arrested Mr. Anderson. It was then to be sold at a police auction, the proceeds from which would benefit the department.
  Foucault, the deputy police chief, characterized the chair to the Star-Tribune as being "quite decked out," and said "quite a few people" had called about it. He joked that he even might bid on it, except for the fact that "I have kids who would take it out and drive it on the street." 
  This seems just the kind of things kids should be encouraged to do, providing that the cups in the chair's holders contain, say, Coca-Cola or, at the extreme, Red Bull rather than beer, because beer can so fully harsh a magic mushroom high. 
  It is not tangential to point out that, in its lede, the Star-Trib called the chair a La-Z-Boy. This is important because, as the paper reported in a November 3, 2009 followup, a five-day eBay auction, undertaken by the Proctor police force, pushed the asking price of the chair, listed as a La-Z-Boy, to roughly $40,000, and drew national media attention.
  A mere eleven hours before the auction's deadline, the La-Z-Boy company faxed a complaint to the Proctor police chief, a man charmingly named Walter Wobig. The company, citing copyright concerns, protested the use of the its name in the eBay listing, inasmuch as the chair that Mr. Anderson had modified was not, in fact, a La-Z-Boy recliner. 
  Chief Wobig is to be forgiven for having listed the motorized chair as a La-Z-Boy. The brand is so well known that it has come to stand for all recliners, much as "Xerox" has for copiers and "Kleenex" for tissues. 
  In addition, the chief had been unduly influenced by the incorrect use of that brand name in the rash of media reports on the auction. This shows that the only people less adept at fact checking than police chiefs are reporters, an observation that does nothing to inspire a great deal of confidence in the condition of the ailing Fourth Estate. 
  In time, Chief Wobig had a cordial telephone conversation with a La-Z-Boy representative. That person asked the chief to ensure that the eventual buyer refrain from referring to the chair as a La-Z-Boy, and then wished him luck with the sale. 
  By that time, however, the listing had mysteriously disappeared from eBay. Did La-Z-Boy contact the online auction house and threaten it with legal action, such as, for example, sentencing eBay CEO John Donahoe to a forty-day La-Z-Boy recliner confinement and a force-feeding on Pabst Blue Ribbon, Cheetos and "Dog the Bounty Hunter?" Alas, we shall never know.
  Chief Wobig, unsuccessful in contacting eBay about the missing listing, re-listed the chair, once again setting the low bid at $500. The second auction also fell through. (Press reports are sketchy as to why.)
  All of which brings us to this month. An April 21 Associated Press story reported that a Duluth, Minn. resident - one of fifteen people competing for the chair in a auction ending April 18 - placed a winning bid of $3,700, an amount markedly lower than the $40,000 being batted about during the first eBay sale. 
  It is conceivable that the price suffered such a monumental drop because the chair is not a La-Z-Boy. It is more likely, however, that the feverish national attention of a year or so ago had so almost wholly waned that no one wanted to buy the goddamned thing. The public is a fickle mistress.
  There are lessons to be learned from this twisted tale, and they are as follows: 
  1. Corporations are psychotically protective of their brands, and woe betide he or she who uses one without permission. 
  2. Kids would not even entertain the idea of driving motorized chairs on the streets if there were a video game - one they could play in the comfort of their rumpus room - that featured such a chair, a totally awesome idea that First of All is, right this minute, in the process of copyrighting.
  3. If you are going get trashed and crash a motorized recliner, at least consider shaving so that you look nice in your mug shot. 

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