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NUTS AND BOLTS / PATRICK MOTT

Loafers Get Into Swing of Summer With Hammock

June 05, 1993|PATRICK MOTT

It's an odd rule in the musical world that the titles of jazz pieces are usually enigmatic. There are rarely sudden epiphanies in the audience after a playing of, say, "Shiny Stockings": "Of course! 'Shiny Stockings!' Well, what else could it possibly be called!"

The exception that proves the rule, however, is a particularly frantic and impossible-to-play chart called "Standing Up In a Hammock." I don't recall who wrote it, but you just knew, after hearing the first eight bars, that the guy had actually tried it a time or two.

It's blasphemies like that that give hammocks a bad name. Sure, they're perfect foils for cartoon animators (Elmer Fudd has been getting snared in them for decades), but they're also the world's greatest excuse for alfresco loafing. Sink into a hammock (horizontally) and life is suddenly one big snore. It enfolds you, rocks you into a veritable prison of indolence. It's nothing more than a primitive Barcalounger.

Which makes it an absolute summertime necessity for the truly slothful, or for anyone who would rather sleep in the back yard than mow it. But today, a hammock is not just a net strung between a couple of trees.

Modern hammocks have not exactly gone high-tech (some things you simply can't improve with microchips), but buyers are now actually faced with a variety of choices--more than they might think.

George McHarris, the owner of the Village Patio Shop in Orange, knows his hammocks, but still prefers the most traditional of the bunch, the cotton rope hammock. Folded in half and hung on a hook for storage, it takes up remarkably little space, and it weighs about as much as a coil of cotton rope and a pair of sticks, which is precisely what it is.

The bed of the hammock is a crosshatching of rope that is spread apart at each end by wooden sticks (called spreaders) to form an expanse wide enough for one or two people. The supporting ropes converge at a metal ring, which is in turn attached to a short chain and bolt assembly, which allows the hammock to be attached to trees, posts, buildings or either end of a prefabricated metal or wood frame.

This sort of supporting arrangement is called a "two-point" hammock, said McHarris, and tends to be the most forgiving to get in and out of, as well as to lie on comfortably. They sag nicely to support one or two loafing bodies. Three-point hammocks (which have two anchors at the head and one at the foot) and four-point hammocks (which have two anchors on each end) tend to be less stable and comfortable, McHarris said.

Natural materials are best, he said, and that means cotton. Any synthetic fabric or cording tends to break down more quickly after exposure to sun and moisture.

Lacking accommodating trees, many customers buy prefabricated stands to support their hammocks, McHarris said. Metal stands run roughly from $90 to $140, depending on size. There are also metal brackets (priced around $80) available to support a wood frame. Manufacturer Hatteras Hammocks offers a prefabricated "Roman Arc" wood frame for around $800, McHarris said.

There are even hammocks designed specifically for indoor use, said Bill Frisch, the owner of Swings 'N' Hammocks, a shop in Torrance. These are usually small, made of cloth or closely woven cotton, anchored to facing walls "and don't normally have wood spreaders like the outdoor hammocks," Frisch said. "People all around the world use them for sleeping. It's like you're in a cocoon. You can roll around and not worry about falling out."

Hammock care is fairly simple. It's no sin to leave it out all summer, said Frisch, but when it's taken down for the winter it should be stored in a cool, dry place away from chemicals, oil, mice, squirrels, insects or pets, or any other thing that could damage the cording. If it needs washing, mild soap and water in the bathtub should do it, but it must be dried completely before being stored.

If you're lucky enough to be able to hang your hammock from a pair of trees, the distance between the hanging points should be about one foot longer than the stretched length of a rope hammock from one metal ring to the other. The tree hooks should be mounted about 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet from the ground.

Getting in and out, Frisch said, usually is no problem. Sitting down and backing in, derriere first, is a good method, he said. And after a while, it should become as natural as, well, sleeping.

Just don't stand up, especially while listening to jazz. You might be able to get away with "Shiny Stockings," but "Salt Peanuts" would be sure death. And if you happen to be Elmer Fudd, don't even think about it.

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