- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

WACO, Texas (AP) - Consider the plight of the American couch. The hardest-working furniture in the house, it spends its life coddling the rumps of humans who will one day kick it to the curb, soiled by spilled drinks, Doritos crumbs and dog hair.

But it’s this ignoble afterlife that interests Thad Hairston.

The Waco Tribune-Herald (https://bit.ly/2hM3HpP ) reports Hairston is the man behind the Instagram series “The Waco Couch,” which has won a cult following of hundreds since he started it in May.

The photo series shows abandoned couches - but never human beings - in their natural habitat of curbsides and alleys, with captions imagining their dramas.

“Couple just can’t shake the feeling that something’s missing since Jr. left for college,” runs the caption beneath an abandoned white sectional with the middle section gone.

For a curbside couch with a soiled mattress propped against it: “Always nice to see a very pretty lady, a little passed her prime, who may have peaked in high school, still getting hit on by mattresses at the club!”

And to a sofa face-down on the ground: “Waco Police report that excessive speed and alcohol likely caused this rollover on Hillcrest Dr. sometime late Friday night.”

Given the squalid subject, you might think Hairston is some kind of crusader against blight. Not so, he said.

“It’s absolutely no kind of protest, no kind of message like ‘Clean up Waco,’ ” said Hairston, a business owner who lives near Cameron Park. “I just saw them and thought, ‘What if they were thinking something?’ Like if it was an abandoned dog.”

Hairston, who grew up in Arlington and has lived around the country, said he noticed the abundance of couches in Waco when he moved here nearly 16 years ago.

“It’s the only place in my life that’s like that,” he said.

He took his first photo while cycling along J.J. Flewellen Drive, capturing a sofa, a chair and a dead calf together.

One of his early photos on the account was of a charity drop-off box in a parking lot, with a sign saying “Clothes and shoes only.” Around it were all manner of couches, toilets and furniture.

“Couches, toilets, and rugs come out in record number to fight ‘clothes and shoes only’ discrimination. Fight the power!” he posted.

Hairston’s thewacocouch account on Instagram has encouraged other users to submit photos and captions.

One fan of the series, Baylor University composer-in-residence Carlos Colon, was even inspired to start taking his own couch photos for Facebook, in a series called “Couches of Waco.”

“It was a spoof on ‘Humans of New York,’ ” Colon said, referring to the popular photo collection.

Like Hairston, he sees the dramas of human life in their discarded furnishings.

“I grew up in a little village in El Salvador, so I’m used to seeing people in the streets,” he said. “Here you don’t see people hanging out in the street. So I think the fascination is that my mind puts people on those couches. What if people were on the street getting to know each other? The fascination is couches without people.”

And like Hairston, Colon said he’s out for laughs, not protest or condescension.

“I don’t get uptight about it,” he said. “I’m kind of messy, so it would be hypocritical for me to complain.”

But city officials say the proliferation of couches and similar discarded items is no joke.

Waco Public Works Director Chuck Dowdell said he’s been seeing an uptick in abandoned furniture, especially that which is illegally dumped in alleys and vacant lots.

“It’s definitely not entertaining,” Dowdell said. “They’re a vector attractant, they’re unsightly, and they cause people to become overly concerned and upset. If you’re looking at Waco as a city of growth, those kinds of things are not a scenic attraction.”

City solid waste services will pick up sofas and other bulky waste at curbside for no additional charge, but customers must call in ahead of time so the city can send out a truck with a grappling hook.

Hairston said his series points to a grubbier side of Waco than promoters of Magnolia Market and downtown portray, but it’s all in good fun.

“I poke a little fun at ‘Waco is a wonderland’ and ‘Worst house in the best neighborhood,’ ” he said, referring to the HGTV “Fixer Upper” show. “But it’s not to gig Waco. I certainly love it here. We have a lot of momentum going.”

Hairston was standing in front of an empty rent house near 16th Street and Alexander Avenue, photographing a woebegone futon and couch duo in front of a chain-link fence. He mused about what the caption would be.

“Something about being locked out,” he said. “Abandoned furniture longing to be returned home.”

He was interrupted by a call on his cellphone.

“It’s my wife,” he said a minute later. “There’s a perfect couch at 15th and Herring.”

___

Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, https://www.wacotrib.com


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