A problem presented itself late last week, after nearly two weeks of imprisonment in my Manhattan bed-closet: I had nowhere to put my clothes. This emergency was dire enough to take precedence over the lack of workspace, air circulation or light. Movement had become limited after half a month of suitcase-rooting, and my room looked like Pompeii after an eruption of children's-sized t-shirts and cheesy boxer shorts. I relayed my dilemma to the folks. They suggested that I check for a set of drawers in Ikea, which is like saying "check in Texas." But I did check, and found a dresser. I just couldn't find the exit. Until yesterday. Ikeas are big.
So big, in fact, that it's hard to describe the magnitude of an Ikea to someone who has never seen one. My local store has its own exit off of the highway. The showroom is an overwhelming square mile of furniture that is cheap, trendy and for sale. The cash registers and staff are even available, if you're able to find a UPC code. Were Ikea to sell cars, we'd all have 47 stylish automobiles in an equally well-appointed garage. Actually, they probably do sell cars; I just never found that wing.
Locating anything in the consumer continent is a daunting task, so you'll want to seek out an employee for assistance. Ikea has a contract to only carry brand names that are spelled entirely with consonants, which makes asking for help sound like you're hacking up a piano. In response, the employee will likely give you a Kleenex and an Ikea "'wish list,' which is a 1000-page ledger in which you can write down things you like. Then they'll point you down "'the path," on which you will wander until you find either the furniture you want or die of dehydration.
Much like the interior of a casino, the route through Ikea was designed to leave you so thoroughly distracted and entertained that you don't notice how much money you spend. To this effect, the path meanders through every demo-room in the store, each of which is filled with furniture that is much, much cooler than yours. My apartment doesn't have a children's bedroom or, for that matter, children but this fact was promptly ignored when I passed through the "kids room" demo and fell irreversibly in love with the bunk bed therein. Blame it on my college-induced penchant for lofted twin beds. Credit it to the amazing design, color and price. Call me juvenile. All would be true. But unfortunately the bunk bed, like anything larger than a toothpick, wouldn't fit in my apartment bedroom. I grumbled and noted it on my wish list. Then I shook off hand cramps.
Temptation aside, following the path around Ikea is very discomforting. Every room is radically different than the preceding one. If you try to double-back, you'll find that the room you just left has already changed into another mega-trendy arrangement. Still, thanks to wild Swedish cartography and a keen sense of Feng Shui, the layout somehow manages to keep you heading in the right direction, eventually dumping you and your spiral-bound, multi-volume wish list at the self-service and checkout area. Upon reaching this point I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at my list. It was 4,700 entries long. Then I looked in my wallet. And cried. (That's obviously an exaggeration. I have no money, so an empty wallet is guaranteed and certainly wouldn't cause tears. Only my bank statement does that.)
It's pretty apparent that Ikea and I have conflicting definitions of "self-service." When I hear that phrase, I tend to think of buffet food and gas pumps and other products that I can actually lift. I don't think of "'anvils on a tall shelf.' Presumably in a cost-cutting measure, "Malm" manufactures their dressers out of wood-textured cement. At the expense of only three lumbar vertebrae and my dignity, I managed to drag the dresser onto the only cart in Ikea with pentagonal wheels. While I may have been able to navigate my be-dressered juggernaut without incident on, say, a drag strip, it was much more difficult within a densely packed store. Luckily, I found that if I walked at a 30-degree angle to the ground and drove my shoulder into the handle, I could get the cart to move in the direction I wanted. I just couldn't get babes.
After a series of wide, labored turns I arrived at the cashier, and the rest of the trip went without event. I stopped only for an unbeatable $1 cinnamon bun and to read the "Hej Da" ("good-bye" in Swedish, Outkast in German) that is vinyled across the exit. As I drove home, I thought about how nice it was that they posted that large, foreign send-off. Then I thought about the greatness of my purchase; how nice it would be to finally see all three feet of my floor (if it were a tile floor, the singular name would be literal) and to have my shirts and boxers put away (ignoring the fact that I could've fit all of my "athletically tight" t-shirts in a shoe (pill) box). Yes, when I went to bed that night, I would sleep easier knowing that I had a dresser resting beneath me.
And a children's bunk bed in the kitchen.