Walking from the bus stop to my office this morning, I was surprised and disappointed to see that Masin’s Fine Furnishings is closing. I have never bought furniture at Masin’s. I’ve never even been inside, because the price tags I can see from the window tell me that I couldn’t afford a Christmas tree ornament in that store. But I have walked past its Pioneer Square location for as long as I’ve lived in Seattle, and Masin’s did give me one of my favorite moments in literature.
How did a furniture store become permanently associated with books in my mind? Well, Matt Ruff did it. I’ve been a fan of Matt Ruff since I read Fool on a Hill as a freshman in college. It was one of those books that you read at exactly the right moment in your life so that it stays with you forever. I still try to live my life as if it is a story that I’m writing. I’ve reread the book since, and to my older mind it reads a lot like a college creative writing assignment (which I’m told was its actual origin) but I still love its self-conscious quirkiness, its dark knight, its Disney princess and its Tolkien references. I almost named my daughter Zephyr, and to this day, twenty years later, blue lights creep me out.
Through a quirk of fate, I later made friends with someone who knew Matt Ruff at college in Ithaca, New York. They were acquaintances during the time when Ruff was writing Fool on the Hill. My friend has a favorite Matt Ruff story, about the time they were sitting in a bar (or maybe it was a café) very like the one in the book, when Ruff abruptly stood up from his writing and ran out the door. He returned some time later, sweaty and out of breath, and returned to his writing. When questioned, he explained that he needed to know how long it took to run to Carl Sagan’s house, a fact that comes up in the book.
I believe this story because like my friend, Matt Ruff eventually moved to the Seattle area, where he set the novel Set This House in Order. Darker and more sophisticated than Fool on a Hill, Set This House in Order maintains the eccentric characters and “that couldn’t happen” quirkiness of events in a hyper-real landscape. So, as I read the final chapters of the book, the protagonist’s world crumbled in a scene of such high drama that I couldn’t stop reading even as my bus reached my stop. I stepped out onto the corner, waiting for the light to change, but looking at my book – I would cross with the crowd and needn’t pay attention to the light. Even as I ignored my surroundings, I recognized them in the pages of the book. Ruff’s characters were clearly a block from my office.
Suddenly, running across the street without looking, a character is hit by a bus (it could have been my bus!) and thrown through a plate glass window, landing dead on a couch on display in an unnamed furniture store. I stopped dead on the sidewalk and looked up from my book. I was standing in front of the plate glass window of Masin’s Furniture Store. There was a $5,000 couch on display, and for the briefest moment, as life and literature collided, I wondered how they had cleaned the couch so well.
It has been many years since then. I’ve had several other jobs, and Ruff has written other books. A year ago, I found myself working in the same office again, and once again, my bus drops me off near Masin’s. Others get off at my stop and walk past the same displays, and if they notice them at all, they probably have an impression of wealth and status, or just nice furniture. But I get a tiny little thrill each morning, a shot of the macabre with my coffee as I walk past the window where once I read that I saw a corpse.
I will miss that furniture store.