A mere lawn chair should be required to bow down — or fold, at least — in front of the majesty of the couch that sits on a porch in the Oread neighborhood.
"It is a great couch," Monte Parrish says of the tattered — well, let's say multicolored — couch that has a place beneath the "Go Chiefs!" banner and next to the barbecue grill. "Look at it, it's enormous."
It does stretch out like a limousine, and while its creature comforts may not be limousine quality, I can attest that it is comfy — maybe even to the point of having gained a reputation.
"About once every other week, we find someone who has wandered down from one of the bars and fallen asleep on our couch," Parrish says."Usually frat guys who don't make it past dollar night."
If that sounds like a drawback to you, perhaps you are not sufficiently schooled in the topic of porch couch wisdom
"We meet new people that way," Travis Morris, a roommate of Parrish's, says with a laugh.
Well, most of the time they meet them, but not always.
"One of our other roommates came home recently and said there was a big homeless-looking guy on the couch," Parrish says. "He didn't wake him up."
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It is best to let some things lie. But city officials don't believe porch couches are one of them. City commissioners on Tuesday will consider an ordinance that will ban couches and all other types of upholstered furniture from porches, patios and decks. Lawn chairs and other types of outdoor furniture will continue to be legal.
Fire Chief Mark Bradford said the couches are a predictable and preventable problem, one that other college communities already have banned. Left outdoors, Bradford argues, their fire risk grows because there are no smoke detectors on porches, which means a couch can create a large fire before occupants of the home are ever aware of it.
A quick walk through the Oread neighborhood also revealed a pretty frequent fact: Ashtrays reside near many of the couches. Students told me modern apartment courtesy dictates that roommates go to the porch to smoke.
(Other items I find on my Oread tour: Stumps of firewood doubling as stools, a mattress in a yard, two Welch's fruit cocktail vending machines on a single porch, and a tantalizing amount of gold glitter in front of an Oread bar. It was fun to think about how that got there.)
Not everyone is convinced of the fire hazard, though. I mention the potential dangers to nearly everyone I speak to. I ask them to think what the reaction would be if a porch couch caused a fire that took an apartment dweller's life.
But, as I come to find out, porch couches aren't really built to carry such weighty thoughts.
"No," Morris says when asked about the legitimacy of officials' fire concerns. "They think they look crappy, and this is their excuse."
One more lesson in porch couch wisdom: Myself and nursing student Sarah Hicks are sitting on one of her two porch couches when she has a Yoda-like moment.
"Don't old people sit on couches inside?" she asks me, for some reason. "They probably would like to sit on a couch outside if they tried it. If an old person came on this porch, they probably would choose to sit on this couch instead of on one of those stools."
About that time, it is painfully pointed out that I chose to sit on the couch.
Plenty of other people in Hicks' neighborhood are choosing to do the same. On front porches in the 1000 block of Alabama Street, I counted six couches and one fake-leather office chair.
"They're comfortable," Hicks says of her couches, one of which has a nearly full bottle of Tiki torch oil sitting less than a foot away from it.
When I point to the bottle during our fire conversation, she notes that torches help keep mosquitos away, which theoretically could help stem the spread of malaria. Or something like that.
"See, we're being responsible in other ways," Hicks says with a laugh.
But mainly they are being friendly. In the rush to regulation, Hicks said, the city may be forgetting that fact. She bets that in her student-dominated neighborhood, more neighbors know each other than in the standard Lawrence neighborhood.
"People walk by and they want to hang out," she says. "I think it is inviting." Come by and set a spell—on the porch couch.
Oddly, this young generation is doing what their grandparents or great-parents generation once did but their parents no longer really do: Front porch living. You know, friendly waves, impromptu buffets on the porch railing, neighborhood bonding.
Maybe a few lawn chairs and a plastic umbrella or two will provide a smooth transition from couches. Or maybe, Hicks says, the city is about to make front porch living a little harder.
Harder? Well, it certainly won't be as cushy. Oh boy, that's not going to make the big guy on the couch happy.
— Each Sunday, Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.