There's a coat tree in my office, a chipped and dinged affair of brown aluminum rods and bent metal strips. It was here when I moved in. At first it stood between the bookshelf and the filing cabinet, precisely the right spot for me to stop and remove my coat, hat, bag and whatever else needed removing that day. After a while, though, the coat tree's position began to irritate me. One leg stuck out into traffic, and it was impossible to swing a chair around to facilitate curious and collaborative co-workers without either moving the tree or lifting the chair over the desk. Eventually I pushed it to the other side of my office, where it now stands between my extra chair and a drafting table.
It seems faintly embarrassed to be there. It's also angled in a way that I'd never noticed before, so now it leans a few degrees toward the wall, its metal branches visible above my monitor. I never hang my coat on it now, and when I do it feels like a charitable act. After all, I have to step out of my way to get to it, negotiate a stubborn chair and enter the negative zone of the room, the corner that dwells in the blind spot that exists in every room.
The blind spot is most notable in living rooms, and it's usually occupied by a little end table with a couple of books and some bric-a-brac or an African-inspired sculpture on it. It's the part of the room that escapes recollection when you try to picture it, a corner of inexplicable darkness and otherness protruding into the cozy space that you've unconsciously and mistakenly believed to be yours. I imagine that the negative zone is the overlap between the bright, clean room you know and an unseen but intuited room that you cannot enter.
The upshot is that I can't hang up my outerwear without contending with the unheimlich, and most days that's more than I can handle. Who wants null space and angst-filled geometries before you've even had your first coffee of the day? I just throw my coat on the filing cabinet now. Which looks pretty lousy.
But the truth is that coat trees are a natural fit for the negative zone in a room. It has a form inherited by nature (trees, duh), but with none of the cozy associations of other tree-inspired objects. The umbrella reminds you of shelter, of running from a storm and finding relief beneath the branches of a tree, of that transition from being victimized by the elements to being a witness to them, fascinated and superior. By contrast, the coat tree is weird. A coat hanging from a branch is redolent of abandonment and violation, an image uncomfortably reminiscent of an impaled corpse, a flayed skin or a victim of a hanging. Let's face it, everyone, coat trees partake of evil. They belong in the corner.