COLUMBIA — For years, in the front row of Ragtag Cinemacafé’s screening room, one shabby orange couch has sucked in spilled popcorn, loose change and unsuspecting fannies like a behemoth vacuum cleaner. It slumps in the middle, where the tweedish cushions have long since lost their comfortable fluff, and when you sit there, gravity seems to tug just a little harder at your backside. The couch, both feared and loved, has a reputation reminiscent of a campy horror movie slogan: You can sit down, but you can’t stand up.
By now, you’ve probably heard that the Ragtag is moving from its original abode at 23 N. Tenth St. to an expanded home at 10 Hitt St., and by late this week, they’ll be settled in. But Sarah Bantz, who’s in charge of the Ragtag’s big move, said you definitely won’t see old orange at their new hub.
“It’s the most uncomfortable seat in there, for sure,” said Bantz.
Early on Valentine’s Day evening, just a few days before the old Ragtag closed for good, a small cluster of Columbia Media Resource Alliance members, a group supporting local film and video makers, met for one last time in the old building. The gathering was business as usual, but Carla Wennermark stopped to reflect on the old couch — and to root through its cushions.
“I have a favorite seat in the Ragtag,” Wennermark said, “and it is not the orange couch.”
She continued. “Has anybody ever searched that couch for change? ... Oh, look at all this money!”
A quick lifting of cushions yielded a few coins, but Wennermark took the next step. Boldly digging into the sides, she turned up a modest collection of goodies: $1.10 in coins, a stale stick of gum, a candy wrapper and a modest meal’s worth of ancient popcorn.
“That’s not as much as you’d think,” she concluded before heading to the bathroom to wash her hands. “I think somebody’s been at it before us.”
It’s not unlikely. The couch has been at the theater for a few years, though just how the tangerine-tinted backside buster survived so long is something of a mystery.
“I think it’s kind of like we’re doing this huge cleaning and getting rid of stuff anyway, so let’s just ride it out,” said Ragtag projectionist Jon Westhoff. “We’re just riding it out, literally and figuratively.”
University auctions, rummage sales, estate sales and donations are among the Ragtag’s sources for its signature seating. Westhoff said the Ragtag cycles out couches, getting rid of the old ones when they approach junk heap status, but for some reason, the orange couch has held on.
“The orange couch is the worst one here, by far and away,” Westhoff said. “We’ve even had some (couches) at this point that we’ve gotten rid of that are far more comfortable than that couch.”
Ragtag co-founder David Wilson said some of the seats from the old Ragtag will be moved to the new location to accommodate True/False Film Festival patrons. A capital campaign is under way to help raise money for more seating, among other things. But Wilson said he had no idea what fate holds in store for the infamous orange couch or its uncomfortable counterparts.
“I don’t know if they’ll be auctioned off or ceremonially burned,” Wilson said.
Wilson did say the couch will be making one more, possibly final, appearance before resting in peace.
“We have it in True/False storage right now, and it will make an appearance during the festival at the big tent at Stephens College,” Wilson said. “After that, it’s anyone’s guess.”
Westhoff said he thought the best course of action would be to get rid of the couch and couldn’t imagine anyone taking the lumpy, concave thing home.
“If someone wanted it,” he said, “they’d be a sick, sick human being, and they’d need professional help.”
UPDATE FROM READER NICHOLE ESMON:
Hey, that's my lumpy, concave couch!
I can tell you its history dating from about 1998. It was in the office of the newspaper I worked on in college in North Carolina. I haven't a clue were they got it — the '70s is my best guess. Anyway, the newspaper office was moving to a new building and getting new furniture about the time that my husband and I moved to Missouri. We had little furniture and little money, so we adopted the couch. The shredded corners are courtesy of our cats, JJ and Marsha.
When we had a little more money a few years later, we replaced the orange couch and donated to the Ragtag. That would've been around 2003, I think.
I'm sad that the orange couch isn't making the move. It was a good old couch. I think it deserves a Viking burial at sea.
To read more about her reaction, go to Nichole's blog.