IKEA: The Norse God of Regret

A bit of musing on IKEA


I needed a dresser. Well, I suppose need isn’t the right word, but it is the universally agreed upon way to store one’s clothes and who am I to go against convention? Having just resettled in the Sacramento Valley I took a cursory glance at the internet to determine where one could easily acquire a piece of furniture that was functional, aesthetically pleasing, and within the general price range I wanted to pay. Dressers, as you may have guessed, vary wildly in price. They go from cheap pieces of shit all the way up to hand-crafted, rare wood, absurdly expensive pieces of shit. I wanted something that wouldn’t buckle under the sheer weight of my underwear, but also wasn’t made by a sacred village of furniture artisans only recently discovered in the Amazon rainforest. It took mere seconds online to come up with that singular word that I’m fairly sure is Swedish for Cluster Fuck: “IKEA”.

I’ve been in IKEA before, but not in years – and what’s more the last IKEA I was in was a Canadian IKEA – a people and culture world renowned for their courtesy and politeness, and even then I barely avoided a knife fight over the last collapsible laundry basket. IKEA in my mind is where your day goes to die. It’s the place where the hopes and dreams you woke with are slowly tortured out of you in a rainbow haze of inexpensive furniture and meatballs. I knew it was the best option. They’d have a dresser, sub two-hundred dollars, and I’m handy so I’m not afraid to assemble. It all made sense on paper, but even then I had reservations. I’d have a free couple of hours on Saturday morning and going to IKEA on a weekend is akin to being in Pamplona during the running of the bulls with a severe limp and a bad case of diarrhea: You might get trampled or shit yourself. Maybe both. What’s more is that in a total collapse of mental acuity I decided to bring my kids. Now I’d not only be defending my own psyche from the overwhelming desire to own a new rubber spatula – but also fending off the pitiful yammers of children who want their room to look like that room.

Before we left I cleared some room in the car, folding the seats down in my SUV knowing that as much as I loathed IKEA, she also sings a siren song calling in sailors to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Who knows what waits to seduce me with its low price and cheap craftsmanship within the confines of that building? Who knows how long I’ll be able to withstand the evolutionary bestowed upon cuteness of my daughter’s eyes that allow her to make me buy things for her and not kill her for meat. Finally, having satisfactorily rearranged my car to accommodate two children and a rash of bad decisions yet made, we set out on our journey.

The drive over wasn’t long enough. Maybe seven minutes. I live seven effing minutes from IKEA. This fact disturbs me greatly as it means I’m always seven minutes from emptying my bank account in an uncontrollable meatball binge. Seven minutes from rustic outdoor décor… from kitchy wall prints of Marilyn Monroe… seven minutes from more wicker baskets then any one single parent should own. What in the great wide blue fuck do people keep with wicker baskets?

Looking for a parking spot I see that there is an entire section near the front, for “families,” and I think to myself – “Oh Shit! That’s us!” I may have thought that out loud… which explains why my daughter from the back quickly shot back, “swear jar.” Dammit – this trip was already costing me money and I hadn’t even parked the car yet. I pulled into a spot and handed a dollar back, which she took with a smug, satisfied look.

My daughter is eight. I don’t worry much about her. She’s smart and feisty. I’m not scared about the possibility of her getting misplaced amidst the folds of IKEA. My son is five, and a bit scatterbrained. He has a tendency to examine something so thoroughly that he understands not only the assembly of a thing, but the philosophical drive that created it. He’s a thinker. If I’m not careful I could lose him as he’s trying to work out the nuances of Swedish philosophy as it relates to decorative shelving.

We enter and are immediately presented with the choice: Do we venture upstairs, where the store seduces you with its unique and well-designed room vignettes; or do we venture straight into the “marketplace” and start filling our cart with trinkets. I freeze, unsure of what to do. It’s my daughter who jumps on the escalator and makes the choice for us.

At the top we’re again offered a choice. To our left is the first section with a series of couches along a path neatly plotted on the floor; to our right is the cafeteria with the wafting smell of meatballs. The smell is so good that I think my stomach growled out its own “Oh shiiiiiit…” – I hand my daughter a dollar and say, “You guys want to get food first?” This was less of a question than a demand using my dad voice. My daughter, having known me for a while, says “Nope,” pockets the dollar, and heads down the path. My son, who likes her taste in toys more than mine, follows her.

It’s on. We weave through the living rooms. Then the kitchens. The Bathrooms. The bedrooms. The Kids rooms. It was an hour of…

“Oh, look at this end table!”

“Oh, look at this shoe rack!”

“See! This is the thing that will be perfect for that spot!”

“Oh shit! This is the thing I’ve been trying to find for a year” (hands over dollar).

“No, you can’t have bunk beds! You already have bunk beds!”

“I don’t know why that woman smells like that.”

We were hypnotized. The place had it. At some point we stopped walking the path and began dancing it. It was as IKEA had seduced us and we had ascended to Swedish heaven. We lay in beds. We sat in chairs. I went into an absurdly small water closet and sat on the toilet to see if this claustrophobic little bathroom was something that wouldn’t terrify the literal shit out of me. The people around us also danced – sometime in unison. How long had we been there? Days? Weeks? I expected the world outside to have fallen into a post-apocalyptic zombie uprising while we lucky few danced for eternity in the fluorescent joy. Odin never vanquished the Frost Giants, he just built them a damn IKEA.

The spell is broken when my son utters the magic rune that has gotten us out of plenty of bad situations before, “Daddy. I have to go potty.” The opium of cheap furniture seeps out of my pores and my parental lizard brain kicks in. I grab his hand and the look on his face tells me it’s go time. This is no time to walk. He is moments from unleashing his American manifest destiny on the floor of IKEA and creating an international incident. I see a sign, then another, and another – and in a flash my daughter and I are sitting on a lonely bench, in a lonely hall, listening to my son eek out a rather loud grumpy through the men’s room door. A woman on a rascal scooter rode into the family rest room just as my boy let out a rather descriptive “It’s really biiiiggggg.” I don’t encourage this type of behavior, but it’s rather difficult to discourage it. Fecal humor is funny at any age.

I take the fifteen minutes to collect my thoughts and reprioritize the rather long list of “must haves” I’ve come up with over the last hour. Shoe rack. Dresser. Miscellaneous. I can get out of here under $200. It’s possible. I hear the hand dryer going off in the bathroom and know we’re close getting back on the horse. My son emerges looking flustered and a tad like he just wrestled a bear. I’m determined to get out, so I grab their hands and guide them to the marketplace downstairs.

“Should we get a cart?” Damn my daughter and her reasonable thoughts! A cart? A CART? Do you know what will happen with a goddamn cart?

“Sure sweetheart,” I tell her and we’re off. My list is small but things are jumping out at me.

“Yes you can have a new bed spread. Pick one out.”

“Sure we can get that whisk.”

“Of course we can buy that wicker [expletive deleted] basket.”

The cart is full. We finally reach the end and get in line. I look over the bounty – which is a weird word considering I feel like I’ve just been hypnotized by the Norse God of Regret. The line is long – long enough that three more impulse items make it into the cart. We make it to check out and I’m actually starting to feel heart palpitations as she rings up item after item. How did I end up with this much crap?

The bill comes out to $458.73. I can actually hear my credit card scream as I run it through the point of sale machine.

Not long later the car is loaded and we’re eating at the International House of Pancakes. It seemed apropos considering the international adventure we just had.

In the end I got the dresser I wanted. Along with a bevy of other items – and I can still hear the call. She sings to me every time I see an empty space that could be filled with something. Every time I think to myself, “I need a…” then I stop. Take a deep breathe. Tell myself, “you don’t need any more of that shit,” and hand my daughter a dollar.

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