Into the Beast

I finally made the trip to IKEA.

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Yep, after years of wanting to go, I finally did it, and I’m still trying to process what I saw.  You could say that this was like Dante’s Inferno, in the sense that what should have been a simple trip turned into something more complex and life-altering.  But now that I think on it, a more apt image for an IKEA visit would be Apocalypse Now:

IKEA.  Shit.  I’m still only in IKEA . . .

It makes sense if you’ve seen the movie, trust me.

The entire trek was to be a surprise for the Little Woman.  We’d talked about visiting a local IKEA, but we didn’t have the time.  More to the point, I didn’t have the motivation necessary for such a trip.  Now that the term is over and the summer break has arrived, my travel itinerary tends to be rather small – a few stores that I visit regularly, and that’s about it.  I drive so little, in fact, that I could probably stretch a full tank of gas out for three weeks to a month – a far cry from the normal six days that I get during the academic term.  I just wasn’t up for a drive of any length, but this was a situation where the value of the surprise outweighed all other considerations (she didn’t even know until we’d reached the parking lot), so off we went.

While I’m sure that most people reading this have been to an IKEA at least once in their lives, I’ll approach this Homeric tale from the position that you haven’t:  In short, the place is huge.  I mean, mind-boggling gigantic.  I’m talking about a place that’s almost mythic in size.  The largest single structure I’d been to before this point was the Grand Avenue Mall in Gurnee, Illinois, when it opened many moons ago, and while the IKEA we visited wasn’t as long as that building, it was certainly wider – and larger than any other commercial outlet that I’ve ever visited.

How did we handle the experience?  In a nutshell . . . 

When we walked in (after having secured a primo parking space near the entrance), the Little Woman and I were greeted by an IKEA employee who offered us a yellow carrying bag.  This struck me as odd, as I knew that IKEA is known for it’s larger items – why not a cart?  Well, that question was answered quickly once we made it through the store’s foyer.  We were thrust into a showroom that featured a succession of mock living spaces designed to show off as many IKEA products being used (everyday style) as possible.  Work rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens – all were meticulous slices of Swedish life – and each fake setting looked infinitely better than the real-world setting I’ve been living in for the last two decades.

It was like an episode of Wallander, minus the angst and snow – stylish, yet apprehensive, I kept thinking that I was going to come across a body at some point.

Spoiler: He’s in the cabinet under the sink, killed with a sleek, post-modern butter knife.

If there was a problem with this fantasy world, it was in the fact that it went on for what felt like forever.  How many children’s bunk beds could I stomach?  How many cute mock bathrooms were left to see?  After a while, I just wanted to throw my hands up and yell, “I get it!”  There were two things that caught our eyes – a small dining room table, which we desperately need, and a storage cart.  Of the two, the table was a “must-have” item; the storage cart would be nice, but there’d be the issue of actually storing it.  And since room is a luxury we don’t have right now (summer cleaning is a-coming), the cart is something that’ll have to wait.  The table had a code number, which I jotted down; I wanted to think on whether I should get it.

As we moved deeper into the store (and further up the Nung River – another Apocalypse Now reference), we finally reached the middle, and there we found the famous IKEA kitchen.  We had eaten before reaching the store; our dinner had been pretty hefty.  As a result, we could only look inside.  I was interested in sampling the legendary Swedish meatballs, but alas, there was no room in my belly for such frivolities.  We did the next best thing – taking in the smells and looking awkwardly at people who were trying to eat – after a few minutes of this fun, we opted to continue on our journey.

One thing stands out – just outside the kitchen, there was a shelf with bathrobes and slippers.  Apparently, there was a need for warm, white robes, as only a few – in small, no less – remained.  Worse, anyone with a shoe size larger than a man’s 7 would be hard pressed to find a pair of slippers.  I’m not a slipper kind of guy, but at two bucks, I can be easily persuaded.  But my dreams of warm feet were dashed – curse you, greedy big-footed people!

From this point onward, the store reminded me of a Marshall’s outlet store that I’d visited years ago – long before there was a Little Woman – when my companion was Crazy Psycho Woman, who threw a fit over a glass dinner bowl (a long story).  Yes, I really need to let that go, I know, but walking through the second part of IKEA was literally like walking out of a time machine and back into a very bad time in my life.  It was weird, but at least the products were interesting.  Throw pillows, toilet bowl cleaners, and storage crates – who knew?  I didn’t.

Does this store ever end?  How much further?

We ended up in the warehouse area – the last before the check out.  If you’ve seen Apocalypse Now, then the warehouse area is the Kurtz of IKEA.  Big, confusing, and yet intimidating all at once – the whole journey led to this one moment.  I was immediately reminded of the line in the film when, after much warning, Kurtz finally appears and asks, “What did you expect?”

At this point, I decided to get the table, and with the numbers I had, we were able to locate the boxed version rather quickly.  What we lacked was a cart, however, and not wanting to race around to find one, I opted to simply carry the thing to the cashier.  Not one of my smarter moves, but I did it.  Our mistake was that we reached the checkout lanes thirty minutes before closing, so we didn’t have just other customers; we had closing customers – meaning that the lines were three or four times longer than they’d otherwise be.

And this is where things took a turn for the surreal.

The Little Woman and I ended up separated – me in one lane, while she was in another.  I didn’t worry about this; which ever one of us finished first would simply wait by the exit for the other – we do this all of the time.  But my lane moved, and hers didn’t – and the Little Woman is not known for patience – so after about eight minutes or so with virtually no movement, she put her yellow carry bag on a shelf and walked away.  I caught this, sent her a fast text, and convinced her to give me her meager items to ring out with my own.  Disaster averted.

In front of me were two women, and it was clear that one was the mother and the other, her daughter.  Mom was probably in her mid-50s; I’d be surprised if she was much older.  Daughter was early-to-mid-20s.  Each had a cart, but Mom’s was filled with knick-knacks, and Daughter’s was filled with both knacks and larger ticket items.  We were mid-line, meaning that there were probably five other customers with carts ahead of us.  I wanted that table, so I was prepared to wait.

At some point, Daughter turned to Mom and complained that she’d forgotten something that she wanted to get; she’d get it now, but she didn’t know how much time they had before they were up.  Mom told her to go get it, but to be quick.  I, meanwhile, am rolling my eyes – nothing good is going to come of this.  Daughter disappeared, and almost as if by magic, the minute she took off, the line started to move.

I hate it when I’m that right.

Anyway, customer after customer is checked out – the line is getting shorter, and Daughter is nowhere to be – wait, is that her up front ordering a hot dog?  At the concession stand on the other side of the register?  The concession stand that she’ll have to pass in order to leave the building?  This is what she had to run off for??

Internally, I’m about to lose it, but I’m trying to be cool.  Now, Mom is up to cash out.  She’s placing her things on the conveyor belt, but also frantically looking around to see if Daughter is returning.  Meanwhile, Daughter is up front, slurping on an iced drink and waiting for her food.  It comes up; when Mom is getting her change from the cashier, Daughter returns with boxes of food.  If this had been done in a film, no one would have believed it – timed perfectly.  Daughter pays for her stuff, then seems perturbed that she didn’t get the discount she expected.  Some discussion follows, and apparently Daughter realizes that she doesn’t know how to count.  Disaster averted.

My turn.  Cashier scans me through rather quickly; I pay and we’re ready to go.  The Little Woman is collecting our things (including a bag of frozen Swedish meatballs), asks me if I’d purchased a bag to carry our goods home.  I did – it was right . . .

Hold up.  Did Daughter steal my bag?  My $3 bag?  The one I had to buy?

There are moments in life where you demonstrate that you’re the better person and you let insults roll off of your back like water on the feathers of a goose.  Then there are other times when you have to ask yourself, “What would Samuel L. Jackson do in this situation?”

Daughter is standing there filling up a bag – my bag – with her stuff, when the cashier informed her that she didn’t buy a bag, so she doesn’t have one.  Daughter looked at the Little Woman with an air of embarrassed befuddlement.  Then she turned to her mother and asked if she’d bought a bag.  No, says Mom.  That bag’s not ours.

Daughter quickly apologizes and empties the bag.  But what got me was that she tossed it to the Little Woman in such a dismissive manner:  “This isn’t worth my time, so here, Peasant!”  My inner Samuel L. Jackson is screaming, “Hold the f*** up,” and I’m thinking about reaching around the cashier to give this woman some “wall to wall counseling.”

The Little Woman takes the bag, fills it with our stuff, and funnels me towards the exit.

She tried to take the meatballs, too,” she whispered when we were too far away for me to backhand that woman into next month.  Goodness knows that I wanted to do it, too.  How can you forget that you didn’t put something into your cart?  This woman never even looked at the freezer filled with meatballs, yet she thought some magical elf left a bag on the conveyor for her enjoyment?  My first visit to IKEA was close to ending in tears and handcuffs – and I’m sure that’s not what Sweden had intended.

In the end, we survived.  We are IKEA veterans now, and our view of the world will probably never be the same.  It took me an hour to assemble my table, and I like it.  It’s still in its natural state, so I might stain it – or at least apply some shellac.  Regardless, it was a decent trek, but I’m going to have to plan any future trip better.



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