Monday, March 9, 2009

Fighting the Furniture War

This column originially appeared in the Sun Chronicle on March 7, 2009.

The war in Iraq seems to be going better lately, the war in Afghanistan worse. But the biggest shift has been in the Furniture War being waged in my humble household.

One of the most basic rules of engagement is never become involved in a war you cannot win. Despite this valuable advice, men continue to marry women at a dizzying clip. Over time, the losses begin to pile up.

The Furniture War started when the first Caveman dragged home the first comfortable rock chair, and the first Cavewoman made him put it out of sight in the basement. Nowhere are the differences between men and women, or husbands and wives, more clearly displayed than in their furniture preferences.

That is not to say I am completely without victories in the furniture arena. We have a large-screen TV in our family room that if my wife had her way would not be there. Our previous living room furniture was bought over her objection when I got a deal from a friend in the business, and used my then-young children as pawns to gain my evil way.

But my wise and patient wife is in this for the long run. After nearly 32 years of marriage she has clearly developed the upper hand with regard to furniture (and most everything else). Currently she is in the midst of an aggressive offensive, clearly establishing her control of the Gouveia furniture empire.

It started a few years ago when it became time to replace our sectional sofa. We discussed what we wanted, but I had an ultimate goal. I was willing to sacrifice color, style, perhaps even comfort on the sofa purchase. But I was fixated on and prepared to hold out for what I considered one critical yet practical necessity.

I wanted cup-holders. You know, places to put my drink while watching TV. I was willing to compromise and accept cup-holders hidden in the foldable arms, but I really considered cup-holders to be a vital and necessary piece of a functional sofa.

My wife reacted as if I had suggested selling advertising on the couch cushions. She told me cup-holders were for a frat house, not her house. I thought I could wear her down. I brought my youngest son with me during shopping to help plead my case. But in the end, it was simply a hill my forces were unable to secure. Today my beverages sit alone on the coffee table, hopelessly and helplessly out of my easy reach.

So I changed my strategy. I began to work on the coffee table itself. I saw these tables that rise and move towards you, then lower back to their original position. I considered this to be a wonderful compromise. I sent a peace emissary to my wife, and we began negotiations towards a non-violent settlement.

She showed some signs of weakness here. She actually went with me to the store, and eventually agreed to allow me to purchase a table she could “live with if I have to”. But she raised some valid points about the integrity of the table’s construction, and her attitude sent the message that a victory here would most likely cost me dearly in another yet-to-be-determined arena. I meekly surrendered my position, living to fight another day.

But she recently pulled off a major coup in the war. On our way back from the Cape one day, she slyly suggested we stop at a furniture store having a huge sale. It was not for us, she insisted, but rather to look for something her sister was seeking for our nephew. I fell for it.

Half an hour later we left the store – with a new kitchen set. I had not been aware we needed one. It consists of high wooden chairs that narrowly fit my ever-widening rear end. I am a beaten man.

I have informed my wife that should I spill a beverage on her carpet or couch, it is not my fault – I have no cup-holder. She merely shakes her head, and goes back to plotting her next move.

War is Hell. Now where did I put that drink?

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a thirsty veteran of the Marriage Wars. He can be reached at

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sign of the Times

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on February 28th, 2009

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
- Five Man Electrical Band

Is it a sign of the times, a sign of trouble, or a sign of things to come? That remains to be seen, but the attitude of Norton officials towards some local businesses is a bad sign in general.

The Norton Planning Board is currently considering a ban on certain types of illuminated signs in town. You’ve all seen the signs – the ones that look like small television sets displaying not only words but actual animation.

The concern of Norton planners (and I use the word “planners” loosely) is twofold. First and foremost, they are concerned about safety. Some believe the signs are too distracting for motorists, particularly at night, and could cause accidents and injuries.

Secondly, the signs offend the delicate sensibilities of some officials and residents. Selectman Bob Kimball summed that attitude up saying “It kind of takes away from the small-town look of things. It kind of gives it a Vegas look.”

Yeah, just the other day a motorist on Route 123 in Norton stopped to ask me how to get to Caesar’s Palace. The signs along the roadway had obviously convinced him he was on the downtown Vegas strip. You know how we locals are easily confused.

It is not my goal here to make light of safety concerns or the wishes of many to live in idyllic rural bliss. But in a town with a record and reputation of being as anti-business as Norton, it would seem officials would have a lot more important things to do than cracking down on good taxpayers who are just trying to survive and make a living.

Norton did not have zoning until 1974. It does not have a clearly defined “downtown”. It is a large town area-wise, consisting of almost 30 square miles. It contains one supermarket, five donut shops, four banks, five schools, two car washes, a small industrial park, a PGA golf course, and a whole bunch of small businesses trying to stay afloat in these oppressive economic times.

Some of these businesses have embraced technology and utilized eye-catching signs. The signs are helping their businesses. The signs are conspicuous (which is what signs are supposed to be) and draw attention.

But are we to believe in this day of cell phones, CD players, GPS devices and car speakers the size of Rhode Island that an illuminated sign on the roadside is a threat to the public? Drivers are capable of safely looking at a GPS screen in their car, but an outside sign advertising a car wash might force them off the road?

Norton has never been a business-friendly community. There was a McDonald’s in Moscow before there was one in Norton. A pizza delivery company was not allowed to locate in the Roche Brothers plaza because of traffic concerns. A Dunkin Donuts near the alleged center of town has been denied a drive-thru by the Planning Board, but homeowners living on tiny residential lots in a Water Protection District have been granted permission to raise chickens on the premises.

Our federal government recently passed an $800 billion economic stimulus package to revive our failing economy. Yet Norton continues to make things as difficult as possible for those small businesses that make up the backbone of our economic system.

I’ve lived in Norton virtually my entire life. I’ve watched it grow from 6000 residents in 1965 to close to 20,000 today. I loved the town I grew up in during the 60’s, and I love the town now.

But I’m able to recognize those are two different towns. The rural Norton of my youth has gone the way of my late grandparents’ Norton farm. It’s still there – it just doesn’t look the same anymore.

To those who are offended by the illuminated signs, I ask – would you be happier with normal signs proclaiming “Out of Business”? Would those signs make your town better and safer? Reasonable regulations on illuminated signs are fine, but don’t ban them.

Norton has many problems requiring prompt action. Illuminated signs are not one of them.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime Norton resident. He can be reached at