Buy Photo

Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

Last week, my wife told me I had bad posture.

"You're handsome and fit," she said. "Then I see you sitting at the table. It's not pretty."

Pretty is my word. Pretty is the word I use to pretty up something that is not pretty, as well as to mask the air of disgust, like faint exhaust, that accompanied her statement.

"Sloppy" may have been her word along with the phrase "and you're a grown man."

This is to say I have not availed myself of the opportunities I've had to make sloppy less sloppy.

No longer could I blame my posture on being young. This was intransigence. Worse than that, insouciance.

Dinner encourages insouciance (some may be wondering whether they should look up that word -- I did and plan to get some mileage out of the effort). I am less likely to slump at breakfast or lunch, but come dinner, I'm almost horizontal. Without gravity, the food doesn't go down, it moves sideways.

"I look at you sitting with your feet up on a chair after you've finished your plate," Sue said. "I assumed it was because your back was hurting."

Isn't that kind of you? You think I'm hurt, not slovenly.

Maybe, but the back reference also could be a backhanded way of saying, "The only way anybody could look that sloppy is if they had had a 'backumdectomy' and I know you didn't have one of those."

Our handsome wooden dining chairs don't help. I don't care if they have cane bottoms; cane is another word for hard and hard is another word for "This chair is hard to sit on."

If chairs look good, they are probably uncomfortable. Who doesn't enjoy looking at an elegant chair with its crisp right angles?

Fine. Look at it all you want. Just don't plan on sitting on it for more than 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, I start looking for a chair that is not as aesthetically pleasing, a chair like the brindle brown recliner with the fat arms.

The only way to improve a dining room chair is to line it with a Therm-a-Rest and then tilt the chair back far enough where you snap off the back legs.

The chairs are one problem and food is another. Once I have food in my stomach, I get sleepy. I want to lie on my divan, not only because it's more forgiving, but picture a python digesting a rabbit. The snake is all laid out. That rabbit doesn't have to navigate a series of right angles. It's an assembly line from Point A to Point B.

Sometimes when I write and I am trying to be disciplined, I'll sit up straight. It reminds me that I'm doing a job and this is how people sit when they are doing a job.

Then, I think, who am I kidding? No one believes I'm working. I lost the high ground 30 years ago.

Sitting up straight is not natural. Slumping is. Sitting up straight is punishment. It's showboating.

"I didn't want you to get upset about this," she said. "That's why I haven't mentioned it before."

I'm not upset. Do I look upset? Have I raised my voice and taken you to task for not having mentioned it 40 years ago when I could have adjusted my posture and made it less repugnant to you?

Wednesday we went to the Mark to celebrate a friend's birthday. Wednesday was warm and we sat on the patio to take advantage of whatever breeze might roll through, which wasn't much.

The chairs were the typical right-angled, be-a-grownup sort so I tried my best. An hour later, all I could think about was my recliner. Home we went and there I sprawled, relaxed posterior and all.