The Ikea Paradox
By Rob Rosen
"What?" I screamed back from the kitchen.
"Come quick!" he screamed, even louder.
In a panic, I rushed through our apartment, down the hall, and towards our bedroom. My husband is sadly accident-prone. Visions of severed fingers ran through my head as I raced towards him.
"What's wrong?" I shouted, nearly out of breath, as I sped into the room.
"Look!" he shouted.
I scanned the carpet for bits of his fingers. I looked at my husband for signs of bloody gashes. I screamed at him, "What? What?"
"There! Look!" He was pointing madly at the TV.
"The TV? What's wrong with the TV? Did you lose the remote again?" Besides being accident-prone, my husband has a propensity for losing things as well: car keys, his wallet, his wedding ring, and, frequently, the remote control.
"It's on the fucking bed." I said, angry with him for needlessly worrying me.
"No, not that. There!" He sounded desperate, so I looked at the TV again.
"What? It's a commercial. What am I looking for?"
"It's IKEA. They're opening up a store in Emeryville," he explained, beaming up at me.
"IKEA? That's why my heart is racing? What's the big deal?"
"So you said. And?"
He looked up at me with a bewildered look on his face. Like I was supposed to know what the hell he was so excited about. My husband and I often have differing opinions on what constitutes exciting, but this one was way beyond my comprehensive abilities. He had never shown a predilection for IKEA or Emeryville before. I stood there clueless as he sat there grinning at me.
"Okay, I give. Please tell me why we're so happy all of a sudden?"
"What's wrong with this apartment? He countered my question with his own.
"You want a list?" I stood there, arms akimbo, and glowered at him.
The apartment was always a sore spot with us. San Francisco apartments are notoriously small. My husband's apartment was just barely big enough for one person. When we met, and I moved in, we agreed that it would be a temporary thing, our living there together. But finding a vacant apartment in the city was about as easy as finding a needle in a field of hay. Especially an affordable one. So, five years later, there we were: happily cramped and resigned to the fact that we weren't moving anytime soon.
"Okay," he said, still smiling, "but what's the one biggest complaint."
That was easy. "No closet space." Which was true. We had one small closet; and it wasn't even a walk-in. Basically, we crammed all our belongings into whatever furniture each of us brought with us to the relationship. Nothing I owned was crease free. Finding specific clothes I wanted to wear was a huge headache. And we never, ever bought anything new. There simply wasn't room for it.
"Voila," he said, pointing again to the TV.
"What? Alpo? We're getting a dog?" The commercial had changed; my husband's demeanor had not.
"No, two armoires." He practically beamed.
"From IKEA?" Now I was getting it.
"From IKEA," he concurred, glad that I wad finally with the program.
"And where do we put two new armoires?" I asked, even more nervous now than when I was imagining rushing my husband to the hospital, his pinky nicely chilling in a bag of ice.
"Easy. We get rid of that small thing, that small thing, and that small thing," he said, pointing out our old furniture, which was clearly brimming with our clothes and assorted accessories.
I stood there for a minute before speaking. It did make sense, what he was telling me. It would be wonderful to be able to hang my clothes up and actually be able to find them again. Still, a chilling sense of foreboding hung in the air.
"Well?" he asked.
"Weeeeell.okay. Sounds like a great idea." I like to see my man happy. That definitely did the trick. He jumped up and hugged me and planted a big wet one on my lips. Who knew Scandinavian furniture could have such an extraordinary effect?
IKEA was much bigger than I expected. Almost a small city unto itself. I never needed a map to maneuver my way through Macy's before. What if we followed the wrong overhead arrow? Would we end up in Stockholm? I was nervous, but still excited, nonetheless. I was getting some much-needed, new furniture, right? Visions of neatly folded t-shirts popped in my head. And my husband was clearly beside himself. So I pushed my worries to the back of my addled brain, and I happily smiled as my husband gleefully pointed to the home furnishings section that lay sprawling before us.
Okay. I hate to admit it, but IKEA really does sell some beautiful furniture. And it was all so large and practical. I would love to have had any of their reasonably priced furniture in our too small apartment.
"Which one do you want?" asked my husband.
Crap, this was going to be hard. I wasn't expecting so many viable options.
"That one!" I pointed, truly thrilled for the first time. It was an enormous armoire, made from beautiful, cherry wood. The doors were a translucent white material, framed in silver. And the inside had a long bar to hang a fair share of our shirts on. Centered below this, there were three deep drawers that would surely hold all of our underwear, and then some. On either side of this were three sets of shelves on the left side and three sets of shelves on the right side. And this was all in one armoire. I gladly imagined what we could store in two of these things. I was beginning to see why my husband was so excited about IKEA.
"How do we get these into out apartment?" I asked, my good senses finally returning to me.
"That's the beauty of it, hon. They sell it so cheap because we build it ourselves."
"We who?" I asked. "The last time you tried to hang a nail into the wall, you put a three inch hole into it."
"That's different. This stuff's made for your average person to be able to put together," he assured me.
I wasn't so sure, but it was awfully beautiful and easily large enough to hold practically all our stuff, so, "Okay. Why not? But let's get just one for now and see how it goes. We'll come back for its twin if it's as easy as you say. Deal?"
"Deal, sweetie. And don't worry. This'll be a snap."
That hole in our wall was still there, but I smiled at my husband as he signed for our new armoire, anyway.
That's where the snap stopped.
We were given our receipt and told where to go pick up our furniture. Seeing this wisely hidden area of IKEA was my first clue that all would not be "snappy". There were endless rows of stacks upon stacks of incredibly long boxes. I gulped when I looked down at our receipt and saw that we'd have to find six of these boxes to fit on our huge, flat, rolling dolly. And I thought Costco was a pain in the ass. That was nothing compared to this. My husband and I painfully strained our aging muscles loading these monstrosities. I remembered that the Swedes were descended from the Vikings. That made sense. Who else could have lifted this shit?
I kept reminding myself how little we paid for it, as we wheeled our belongings up to our noticeably small car. That was the only thing keeping me smiling.
"Um, how do we get all this in the car?" I asked. Yes, we could have had it delivered, but that cost extra. Wasn't the whole point of this to save money? I was beginning to wonder.
"We open the windows and have everything slightly hang out," my husband answered, still oblivious to the consequences of going cheap.
Okay, that could work. And forty minutes later, after countless shifting and reshifting, we actually made all six boxes fit; though it hung out of the windows way more than I would consider "slightly". I prayed that our fellow freeway drivers would see us coming and clear out of our way. We drove extra slow, just in case, and made it home in one piece - us and the armoire.
Now all we had to do was get it all out of the car, into the house, and built. Suddenly, my husband realized what we were in for. Our smiles were rapidly leaving our faces.
"New furniture!" My husband squeezed out one last ounce of jocularity.
"New furniture." I mimicked, less than enthused. I hoped our marriage was strong enough endure it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I never realized how small our apartment really was until we tried to fit those six big boxes in it. Even with our old furniture gone, we had to put a few boxes in the bedroom and a few in the living room. How we were going to get all of it together and in one room was beyond me. I just had to have faith in my husband. I remembered what the minister had said: for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Too bad he never mentioned IKEA. I might have had second thoughts.
We stood there in our bedroom looking at each other, once the boxes were in place.
"Now what?" I asked. I could tell he had no clue. "The biggest boxes must be the outer frame. How about we open them first?"
"Yes," he said. "Of course."
I didn't think he was too happy with my suggestion. This was his baby, and I knew it.
"You know," I suggested, "there really isn't enough room in here for both of us and all of this. Why don't I let this be your little project?"
The smile returned. I gratefully let him be. If too many chefs spoil the stew, too many inept carpenters surely spoil the armoire. Besides, I was glad for the peace and quiet of my still uncluttered kitchen.
Twenty minutes later, I heard, "Fuck!"
"What's wrong?" I asked, after running through the house to check on him.
"Look at this," he said, handing me the papers from within one of the boxes.
There were no words, just diagrams. I supposed IKEA was now all over the world and this was an easy way for them to standardize the process. I could tell immediately why my husband was so upset. The instructions were pages long and incredibly difficult to figure out. This was going to be a major undertaking. Fuck indeed.
"Want some help?" I offered.
Dejectedly he said, "No. I can do this."
Thirty minutes later: "Honey, come here."
Nervously, I walked to our bedroom.
"Wow. The case is done," I said, as he stood there grinning. But then I noticed something. "Honey, what are those holes in the front?"
He looked down and I could see the creases in his brow start to form. He had the base on backwards.
"Fucking Swedes. I hate them. I hate their meatballs. I hate.I hate.ABBA. I hate.them." I guess he couldn't think of too many Swedish things to hate. I didn't want to rub salt in the wound and remind him about the Volvo parked in our driveway. I quietly left the room. I don't think he noticed. Poor man.
I started to make dinner to try and keep my mind off the turmoil that was surely ensuing in the other room. If patience was a virtue, my husband would not be considered a virtuous man. I'm sure the armoire was testing his limits. I was happy, another thirty minutes later, when I heard a gleeful, "Honey!"
"Nice," I commented, upon entering and seeing the case done, correctly this time. "What's wrong with your hand?" His hand was wrapped in paper towels.
"It's nothing. Minor accident. Okay, back to the kitchen now." I was being dismissed.
"Okay, sweetie, call me if you need anything." Like a tourniquet or an ambulance or anything.
Ten minutes later: "Honey, where's the power drill?" Uh-oh. I was afraid of that one.
"I thought all you'd need is a hammer and a screwdriver. Isn't a power drill a bit.um.extreme?"
"You have to drill holes in the doors to install the door pull things."
"Oh. At the store they looked like they were already part of the door," I said, and regretted it immediately.
I could see he was counting to ten before he responded. "Please, just tell me where the power drill is." I did and rushed back to the kitchen. I prayed our nice, hardwood floors would somehow miss being marred by that power drill. Better yet, my husband's hand.
An hour later: "Honey!"
"Wow, the doors look great. It's almost done, huh?" I smiled appreciatively at my husband. In truth, the door pulls were just slightly uneven, but there was no way I was going to make mention of it. Besides, the floors and his hands were still in tact, so I was counting my blessings.
"Almost, just the inside stuff needs to be put together. I'd say.another half hour."
"Would you like dinner first? It's almost done."
"No, this shouldn't take long and I'd like to get it done."
"Okay, sweetie. I'll keep it warm for you. Great job, by the way." He smiled, but went right back to his work.
An hour and a half later: "Honey!"
Thank God. I was starving by that point. But then.
"Oh, not done yet?" I asked, timidly.
"Close. Those bastards had three sets of screws that all looked about the same on the diagrams, but weren't as interchangeable as I thought they'd be. Had to start over again midway through. Fuckers. Anyway, fifteen more minutes, tops, okay?"
"Sure sweetie, no problem. Take your time." Poor thing.
Thirty minutes later: "Honey!"
"It's beautiful!" I beamed. He beamed back at me. I didn't mention the mysterious extra parts that were lying on the floor, or the several bandages wrapped around both this hands. And it really was beautiful. I couldn't wait to put our clothes in it and be done with this whole thing.
Then I remembered: "What about the other one?"
My husband paused before answering. I held my breath.
"JC Penny's. We're only buying American from now on. Fucking Swedes. Now, what's for dinner? I'm starved."
"Hamburgers and fries, honey."
Can't get any more American than that.
Rob Rosen lives, loves, and works in San Francisco. His first novel, "Sparkle", was published in 2001 to critical acclaim. His short stories have appeared on the literary sites: SoMa Literary Review, Unlikely Stories, Hairy Musings, Strange Minds, Ten Thousand Monkeys, Thunder Sandwich, Willow Lake Press, Muse Apprentice Guild (M.A.G.), StickYourNeckOut, and in the coming months at Open Wide Magazine. Feel free to visit him at his website www.therobrosen.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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