Sunday, August 12, 2012

Some oak and some pine and a couple of Norsemen...

Years ago, your Uncle Peter and I had a radio show on our college radio station. "Jesus on the Radio" was named after a beloved Guster song, and we loved telling people (on the air and off) that our show had nothing to do with Jesus. The general theme of the show, it was basically Peter and me rambling about interesting things we had found online, weird cultural facts, and music that happened to catch our attention at that moment. We had more or less free license to play any music we damn pleased, since the radio station really only broadcast a few dozen yards from the station and no one off campus ever listened to the online stream, but Peter became entrenched in the culture of "podsafe" music: that which could be played for free by any podcaster or amateur broadcaster without creating any copyright conflict. One of those songs is the Ikea song; you should ask him to play it for you some time.

That song was playing in my head pretty much the whole morning when we were down in Boston last week. Your Dad took you to your clinic appointment (everything looked awesome, by the way, and your docs continue to be amazed at how well you are doing) and I scooted through the city to head to Ikea. Despite hanging around below the 15th percentile for weight for a while, you've jumped up to the 50th kind of suddenly, and were about to outgrow the co-sleeper - not that you slept in it all that much anyhow - so we decided to give in and get you a crib. Everything at Babies 'R Us is terrifyingly huge and terrifyingly expensive, and nothing else we could buy locally was going to fit anywhere in our apartment, but Ikea...of course, Ikea has a crib that converts to a toddler bed just the right height to scoot up against our bed. Sending me in to Ikea was not unlike sending a hungry puppy into a doggie biscuit convention, but I was not my own undoing this time.

Still...oh, Ikea. I was haranguing your Dad all last week the same way kids must nearly drive their parents up the walls before they go to Disney. Ikea has this weirdly magical power over me, and while I'm sure a lot of that can be owed to scarily good merchandising, I feel like it's more. Oh, Ikea. Never have modular cabinets, suspiciously low bedframes, superfluous art that sometimes feels like it belongs in a classy dentist's office, and $.99 ferns been so sexy. I couldn't shut up about the friggin' Swedish meatballs, so much so that I actually bought a frozen bag of them, a packet of gravy seasoning, and a jar of lingonberry jam so that your Dad could experience the wonder of the Ikea cafeteria lunch. Oh, Ikea. I spent a few days scouring the Ikea website to be sure I had picked out exactly what we wanted and needed before I got into the store, knowing all too well that I was screwed the minute I walked in there if I didn't have a solid battle plan. Lesser shoppers than me have fallen prey to Ikea's seductive, oh so sensible, eerily low-priced goodies. Oh, Ikea...

Getting out of Boston was a cakewalk. Seriously! In a city organized around cow paths, it's suspicious how easily I kept my orientation. A half hour down the highway, I bumbled around off a weirdly rural-looking exit...then around a corner...behind some trees...and looming like an aircraft carrier behind a Home Depot was the leviathan blue warehouse of wonder known as Ikea. I parked, scrambled to organize the car to accommodate what I prayed would be a reasonably sized box, and walked inside.

Ikeas are all organized more or less the same, and the entrance is extremely clever. Some friendly person welcomes you at the base of an escalator, hands you a giant yellow bag (you would have gotten lost in this thing), and you have no choice but to be carried up into a deliberately curated maze from which there is no escape. You can't go around anything and you can't really skip seeing any section; you have to just go through it. All of it. Perfectly composed displays of elegant, fun, utilitarian, and sometimes even traditionally apportioned rooms edge brightly-lit, friendly showrooms scattered with complementary accessories and accent pieces. Play spaces for kids, relaxing corners for adults, and informational booths for the industrious are placed strategically throughout so that you are never just are more or less invited to pull up a $49.99 chair, snuggle up in a $24.99 duvet cover (with $15.99 duvet!), and just stay there. Forever.

Clearly, I have a problem with cleverly marketed home goods. That problem is that I tend to want to buy them exactly the way merchandisers want me to, so having my short, specific list of items to purchase was a very smart defense mechanism. I still managed to grab a few extra things not on the list, but I kept that number small and their prices cheap. Quicker than I had even hoped, I was through the display area, past the "Marketplace" (a polite name for what I call "Room after room of incredibly cheap stuff to decorate around your cheap furniture, none of which you actually need but most of which you kind of, sort of want enough to stop and look at it until it somehow ends up in your giant yellow bag oh god what have I done,") and into the warehouse-style, no frills "Self-Service Furniture" room, which is exactly what it sounds like. You go to an aisle, find the box for the thing you saw all prettily assembled upstairs in the showroom, and pray that it will fit into your car.

I found your crib, and given the dimensions of the assembled piece, I was fairly terrified at the size of the box. It was over six feet long, and probably weighed around sixty pounds, but I managed to get one off the shelf...and then a hysterically screaming old woman started running down the aisle at me. She was yelling "Give me my box! Give me my box!" and when she got to me, she started beating her hands on the front of my box (not her box: this is key), leaving me trapped behind it with no clue what to do. If I let go of the crib, I was likely to crush all eighty pounds of this tiny, frail, furious woman, but I couldn't very well pick it up and just walk away. Thankfully, some people (presumably her daughter or son and her or his spouse) found her pretty quickly, assured her that they had her box, and ushered her away without so much as making eye contact with me. I decided to write that off as either really crappy performance art or some flummoxed children not knowing how to apologize for their sick parent. I headed for the registers.

Word to the wise: always check out who you are in line with. That isn't to say you need to introduce yourself to everyone you stand in line next to (though some people do try), but you definitely need to assess your options carefully when you pick a register. I thought I was in the clear when I got behind a young couple with a few carts full of identical boxes, and didn't bat an eye when three college-aged girls pushing around an apartment's worth of furniture stepped up behind me. Within about five minutes, the couple in front of me was screaming for a manager, then screaming at a manager, and the poor cashier was flipping idly through a stack of printed out coupons that the couple seemed to have brought in. (Fun fact: Ikea doesn't make or accept coupons.) The cashier turned off the light for her register, and rolling my eyes, I turned around to ask the college girls if they could back out so I could move to another aisle. (Another fun fact: Ikea's check-out aisles are exactly wide enough for one cart to get through at a time.) That was when I realized that the three girls behind me did not speak a lick of English.

I stood there between an increasingly furious couple and three obliviously giggling girls for thirty-five minutes: thirty five minutes that I will never get back. Eventually, they stopped texting, tittering, and ignoring their surroundings and the girls wandered off to another line. I did the same, grumbling all the way because all the lines had grown dramatically longer (because everyone else realized that ours wasn't moving, unlike some people). Checking out was mostly uneventful, and I made my way downstairs to the parking garage, carefully balancing the massive crib box and praying no one tried to move past me too quickly. I will summarize the last bizarre series of events as a bulleted list, mostly because it amuses me but also because it would take way too long to describe in proper detail.

  1. I move my car to the loading area.
  2. Using every ounce of "girl power" in my reserves, I wrangle the crib into the car. Miraculously, the back hatch closes AND I can still shift gears without bonking my elbow, however I set myself up for a guaranteed concussion in the event of a side collision.
  3. I notice a dude about your Dad's age standing in the parking space next to me. He informs me that his mother is getting the car, and glances tragically at the massive pile of boxes he needs to load.
  4. His mother arrives, and goes on a holy rampage because she can't find anyone to help them load the car.
  5. Her rampage continues, and escalates, to a point where she is storming around the loading area accosting total strangers and essentially demanding they produce an Ikea employee to help her.
  6. I offer her thoroughly apologetic son my help, and we covertly begin loading boxes while his mother is out of sight. He cautions me that his mother would not appreciate "a stranger" helping when she expects store employees to, so we only load while she is out of sight.
  7. Eventually, the diminishing pile of boxes apparently raises her suspicions, so she rudely barks "what are YOU still doing here?" and I flee.
  8. In my rear-view mirror, I see her run out behind my car and shake her fist at me. Seriously. She shook her fist at me. 
Then I wound my way back into Boston (like a rock star, incidentally), collected you and your Dad, and we were on our way. The crib was super easy to put together, and it's wonderfully smaller and simpler than pretty much every other crib I've seen, but it does still give you more personally allocated bed space than either your Dad or I have with our full sized bed. Yes, I made it out of Ikea in one piece, and yes, it was absolutely worth it, but good lord...what is wrong with people? Hudson, your crib is probably something you will hardly remember or care about, but you should know that its acquisition was one of the hairiest, weirdest shopping experiences of my life. 

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