Armless Chair

October 10th, 2007  |  Published in etc

I have one of these mesh Aeron knockoffs or something very like it. For the past few months it has only had one arm — the left one. Today I took off the left arm, too.

Every now and then, when I forget to mind how I sit, I pick up the habit of leaning on one of the arms, or letting an elbow rest on one of them. Eventually I start getting a mild pain and feeling of stiffness in my arm, somewhere between the elbow and tricep. Within a day, it’s joined by a much more profound pain just under the trapezius of whatever side I’ve been leaning on. Then I can’t move my neck more than a few degrees in either direction. If I pack my elbow with ice and heat the back muscles, I can get back to normal in a day or two, especially if I abandon the desktop machine in favor of using the laptop out on the living room futon.

I’ve been through this cycle a few times every year since I started working at home, and it has always been on my right side. I guess that’s the way I lean when I have two arms to choose from. So just before we moved I had a pretty bad spell of this after not having been bothered by it for a while and I ended up removing the right arm.

Why didn’t I take off the left one, too? I don’t know. The chair certainly looked goofy, and if I’d done enough science to figure out leaning was causing my problem I should have reasoned that my left side would eventually get me, too.

But I didn’t, and without even realizing it my leaning shifted over to the remaining arm on the left. And the back thing happened again late last week, only on the left side for the first time ever. So now that arm’s gone, too.

I think “manager’s chairs” fetch a premium over “task chairs” because of the arms. I’ve been paying the arm tax for seven years now, through three office chairs. Sometimes it’s nice to have arms, I guess, and a chair with arms looks more like something a primitive part of my brain identifies with “serious.” When I bought my first “manager’s chair,” I was graduating from a folding metal chair perched in front of a dormitory desk we bought for $20, so I think I was signifying a certain status change to an audience composed of me.

But when I stop to think about it, the physical activity of a dude who works on the Internet looks about like the physical activity of secretaries for as long as there have been typewriters. Next time I’ll just go for the task chair. Arms, I think, are for people who can walk away from their keyboard for more than five or ten minutes at a time and still get work done. Or maybe I’m the only person for whom arms are a deadly trap.

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