By Paul McGuire 2008
Nicky needed a few things for the apartment after her roommate moved out to West Hollywood. That meant we had a trip scheduled to Ikea. I had never been to Ikea before. I have been to Sweden, but never to Ikea. How many people can say that? I reluctantly thumbed through Ikea catalogues and got tricked into putting together some of their frustrating products that friends and/or family have purchased, but I had never set foot into one of those mega-stores of Swedish disposable furniture.
You can't miss an Ikea store. You can't hide a massive blue warehouse, even in Burbank. We purposely went to Ikea on a Monday morning to avoid the crowds. I made sure that I was super baked for the visit. Places like Ikea scare me because they represent stability and commerce. I must be a closeted superfan of "Stuff White People Like" or perhaps I’m finally settling down after three long ears of being on the road.
The first twenty minutes inside Ikea were sort of neat. We wandered through fake living rooms. I kept imagining Swedish people in Sweden coming home from their Swedish jobs and sitting down on their Swedish couches and eating Swedish meals cooked in Swedish pans and served on Swedish plates. I knew a couple of Swedish people. One of my freelance clients was Swedish. I kept picturing random Swedes that I know sitting on Ikea furniture and playing online poker while Bjork played in the background. (Yes. I know... Bjork is Icelandic. Perhaps I should have said... while Abba played in the background?)
I carefully inspected all of the book cases. I desperately needed one back in NYC to house dozens and dozens boxes of books that I owned. I was curious about the books on the shelves and went in for a closer look. They were not fake. They were real books... and most of them were in Swedish.
I needed one thing and I picked it out right away. The rest of the time I was bored and couldn't wait to leave. The novelty of Ikea wore off after about twenty minutes. Just about the same time the weed wore off. Nicky had a ton of stuff to get and would slowly inspect every single section. I was restless and wandered into adjacent sections. After I checked those out, I'd head back and Nicky would still be lingering in a previous section. That process repeated itself for an hour. I wanted to die. I overheard another couple fighting.
"What's wrong? What's the problem?" the wife kept asking her husband.
That's such a stupid question. The dude pushed around a cart with bath mats and soup spoons. He was lost inside the Ikea maze of furniture with weird sounding names and products that will self-destruct by the end of the decade.
His wife disappeared into kitchenwares as he sulked in the aisle. The guy didn't have to say a word. I felt his pain. He wanted to get the hell out of there. He didn't need his wife nagging him about why he was contemplating suicide. Those knives in kitchenwares looked sharp.
"You've lost it. You'll never get out of this maze," I said.
At one point, while Nicky shopped for curtains, I grew so insanely bored that I tried out every single pillow in the pillow section. I bought one, only out of sheer guilt. I now have a Swedish pillow that I'll barely use since I rarely sleep. What kind of bullshit is that?
I took a wrong turn and got on the wrong path and my mind went to jelly. I succumbed to the subliminal and subtle messages that Ikea pumped over their sound system. I made an impulse purchase on something that I definitely didn't need.
Out of all the people who bought pillows on Monday at Ikea in every single one of their 300 blue mega-stores in 30 countries all over the planet, I'm the person who will be using a Swedish pillow the least. I'm so fuckin' weak that I'm disgusted at my patheticness.
I checked out some of the labels on various products. They specifically say something like "designed in Sweden" but the products were made in China, sold in the US, and had directions in Spanish. Globalization at its finest. That's Thomas Friedman's wet dream. You know two countries with an Ikea store have never invaded each other?
The torrents of helplessness subsided and we finally made it out of the store. My first visit to Ikea started out fun and quickly took a turn into the void. Ikea is a dark hole of consumerism and I ended up miserable, like I do on every other shopping trip. You couldn't make me live inside an Ikea for thirty days unless you paid me $1 million.
Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.