Jun 3, 2021 • 13M

Very Specific Interviews: Jennifer Convertible's Body

Bennett Madison has feelings about his dead sofa

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Short interviews rather narrowly focused around one event or small idea.
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This transcript is good, it’s probably not 100 percent perfect, I don’t know, I didn’t read it 100 million times like I read the other stuf. I have very mixed feelings about using transcripts. If you’re able to listen, please do. This might be the last one lol.

Bennett Madison  My name is Bennett Madison. I live in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint. I've been in this apartment for almost 11 years now. And until just a few months ago, I was the owner of a Jennifer Convertible sofa. 

Sarah Miller  [singing in background 🎶Very Specific Interviews, very specific…🎶]  

Hi, I'm Sarah Miller, and this is Very Specific Interviews. Very Specific Interviews is a podcast where we talk to people about things that you wouldn't normally think would be big enough or eventful enough to merit a conversation. But these are exactly the types of things that I enjoy talking about in real life, so I felt like, why not monetize this? I can't think of a single reason. And here we are. Today we are talking to Bennett Madison about his Jennifer sofa. Notice I did not say convertible. This is an important point which will be discussed in more detail. [🎶 fade-out 🎶]

SM  Let's just get right into it here with the Jennifer Convertible. So we've been acquaintances for about 10 years, and I follow you in all the channels and you follow me. Thank you. And I saw a picture of your Jennifer Convertible on the street. I guess it must have been in Greenpoint. And it looked so forlorn, it seemed to speak of lost youth. It just seemed to say so many things to me so I wanted to talk to you about it. So tell me, do you remember getting it? You're like 40 years old? Thirty-nine? 

BM  I just turned 40. And although I had been the owner of the Jennifer convertible for 11 years, I did not purchase it. I moved into the apartment at which it was already living. But the story of how it made its way into this apartment in the first place is one that has been told to me many times. 

SM  Well, please tell me. 

BM  So basically, my husband John has been living in this apartment in Greenpoint since 2006, which is a very long time to be in a New York City apartment. And he moved in here right after grad school when he was very broke. His father died when he was in college and he was a struggling journalist. So he was living in this apartment with his cousin and they went a full year without a couch of any kind because they were too broke to buy one. And then in 2007, they bit the bullet and decided they needed something to sit on while they watched TV. So they went to a Jennifer Convertible store, they walked in and they asked, where are your cheapest couches at? And the lady pointed them to the cheap section and he says they bought this couch for two hundred fifty dollars. And that means that when I encountered this couch, they'd had it probably for about three years but she really seemed a lot older at the time. It was a very dog-eared and well-worn piece of furniture. 

SM  It's funny that you just gendered the couch. I mean, of course it is from Jennifer convertibles. But is there something else about your couch that made you think that it was that it was a woman? 

BM  I mean, no. I mean the couch did a lot of labor for us over the years, let’s put it that way. So you know, in my mind, she does have a sort of overworked, hausfrau quality. Her name is Jennifer, so how can you ignore that? 

SM   Also, I mean I think there's some sort of latent sexism in calling the couch a “she,” but I also think it's appropriate. And you're acknowledging the free labor done by women. Which, if the couch was two hundred fifty dollars, was a lot of free labor. 

BM  We would not be really much of anywhere today if it were not for our Jennifer Convertible couch, who, by the way, was not a convertible. 

SM  It's called Jennifer Convertibles, isn't it? 

BM  It was formerly called Jennifer Convertibles, it's now Jennifer Furniture because I guess they felt like convertible couches were too narrow a niche. But yeah, it was called Jennifer Convertibles for as long as I can remember. 

SM  But when John got it in 2006, weren't they still Jennifer Convertibles? 

BM  Yeah. 

SM  And so, how did this couch—let's use the proper pronouns—how did she manage to not be convertible? 

BM  You know, I don't really know, and also there's a good chance that somehow it was a pull-out couch, and we just never figured out how to make the bed appear. Our couch did not convert as far as we could ever figure out. 

SM  The idea that your couch actually could convert, but you guys just never did it, is really hilarious to me... 

BM  That we never found the right button? Yeah... I don't think that was the case, but there was a lot of mystery to this couch. So you really never know. 

SM  It sounds like this couch kind of has a personality in you guys’ life?  

BM  I think that the couch represents our… [thinking]… you know the first time I saw this apartment I thought the whole place was kind of a dump. It felt a little depressing and the couch especially. You know, it wasn't just the couch itself, it was also that...well, the living room here is basically just an extension of the bathroom. It was sort of—and still is—kind of a dank little cave with no windows. But then the couch sort of came to represent fortitude and coziness in the face of a certain kind of middle-class poverty. One of the first, I guess, “dates” we went on, we went to a bar and I was expecting him to buy me a drink and he was expecting me to buy him a drink, and neither of us could afford to buy even ourselves a drink, much less the other one. So we had to pool our money to buy one beer. And so the couch kind of started to represent our ability to be happy even though we were starving and desperate. Because it’s a very comfortable couch, it's right in front of the TV, which is important, and, you know, we had a nice time. 

SM  That is so sweet, honestly. I feel like when I say things like that to people, I sound sarcastic, but that actually is really, really sweet. Did you have any moments on that couch like that you remember as being elegant, where you're sitting with a glass of Pinot Noir or whatever? 

BM  No. There was never anything elegant that happened on the couch. I would say the closest it ever came was when we would have our Christmas party, we would clean up everything else really nicely and then sort of cover the couch with a blanket. But the blanket was also not very nice either, so it had a very kind of … you know like on ‘Roseanne’ they have that blanket on their couch? That was the type of blanket that we used to cover it. So it was still far fromelegant. 

I mean, the other thing that happened in the couch is that it had these incredibly deep crevices, which was always swallowing things. So, like, if you lost your phone down there, which happened all the time, or lost your keys down there, which happened all the time, or whatever, you would have to sort of get up on the couch and like, use your knees and your full body weight to press the cushions down as far as they would go and then put your whole arm into the crevices, like all the way up and sort of sweep back and forth to find whatever was missing. And a lot of times you would find not what you were looking for, but some other thing that you had been looking for for months to the point where I had bought this new iPad that immediately went missing. And it was like the most mysterious thing: I had just bought this iPad and I couldn't figure out where it had gone. And flash forward three years, and I was looking for my Apple TV remote, which, you know, those are really tiny and those get lost really easily, and it's horrible. I didn't find the Apple TV remote. But I didfind my iPad, which had been in a different crevice of the couch that I didn't know about the entire time! That's sort of what I mean when I say the couch had mysterious qualities also. And also why I say you never know if, secretly, there was a bed in there also. It seems plausible that we just never figured out where the spring mechanism was to unleash the bed. 

SM  What is the most disgusting thing that's ever happened on that couch? Like, what are the two most disgusting things? 

BM  I know the answer, but I don't know if I want to say. I mean, I definitely have shit on the couch. When that's the answer, it's hard not to say that, I mean, what else is there? I got a horrible stomach bug, right? And one aspect of it, which I pray nothing like this ever happens to you was, I shit in my sleep, you know, and I shit on the couch. I mean, it didn't really get on the couch very much, you know what I mean. But nevertheless, that's the most disgusting thing that happened on the couch. I don't think anyone ever puked on it. I think people probably puked from the couch, you know, like into a bucket while sitting on the couch. But the most disgusting thing is I shit on it. 

SM  [laughing] I guess we don't actually need to know the second most disgusting thing...If that’s the first most disgusting, we don't need to know the second one. 

So obviously I saw the couch on the sidewalk a couple months ago. What made you finally decide to get rid of it? 

BM  You know, we've slowly been engaging in some kind of homemaking project during covid, I would say, because we've been trapped in here together. And we've been meaning to get rid of it honestly for years. It's just that it’s so heavy. It seemed really we couldn't deal with, like, how to get it out of the apartment. 

SM  Did you and John carry the couch downstairs? Did you get help or was it just the two of you? 

BM  No, we didn't. We got a TaskRabbit to do it. And I was totally shocked. It took them probably two and a half minutes to get it down five flights of stairs and onto the street. I thought they weren't going to be able to do it, but they were basically gone before I could even pay them. 

SM  Did anybody come and get the couch finally from the sidewalk? 

BM  No. I mean, yeah... it's not there anymore. I think the city came and got it. We had to call the city and alert them that it's there. But they actually didn't come right away, and it got sad. It was rainy. We kept walking by the couch and just seeing it, like getting more and more waterlogged. It just felt really, you know, sad. And it felt like the couch was suffering. And we didn't like to see her robbed of her dignity in that way. I feel like it really did feel emblematic of a certain time in my life when, you know, I was falling in love. I was struggling to be a writer. And the couch, it felt like, and this apartment, protected us and took care of us during that time and helped us on our path. And you know, we haven't grown up enough to actually go out and get a real apartment. But it does feel like throwing the couch away is a sign of moving into a more grown up phase of life. Which is sad. 

SM  Thank you for coming, Bennett. And thank you for talking about your couch. That was Bennett Madison talking about his Jennifer—possibly convertible, we'll never know—sofa. Thanks for listening.