Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Day at IKEA -- Based on the Impossible True Story

Three weeks ago, Dez made me promise her that we would go to IKEA together this past Saturday. If you don't know what IKEA is, I am truly sorry that your TV has been broken for the last ten years and you've been dropped from the mailman's route. Essentially, IKEA is a gigantic, gazillion square foot store full of products to fill Swedish 270 square foot apartments.

I do so love irony.

Those Swedes are clever clever people (is it appropriate to judge an entire country by the one thing I can identify as originating within their borders?). They have designed a store where everyone is funneled from the front door to an escalator that whisks customers directly to the second floor, lest they be tempted to skip the second floor altogether and wander aimlessly around the first floor and perhaps end up at the registers with (gasp) nothing.

(I told Mace that those buggies were made for tiny Swedish children who eat healthy fish diets and not for big American children who only eat mac n' cheese, but he insisted on squeezing himself in there anyway, "I swedish! I fit!")

Now those clever Swedes actually put a childcare center on the first floor, right by the escalator at the front door, so you can just drop off the younger ones to play for 45 minutes or so. When I dropped Mace off there, the non-Swedish girl at the counter asked me to go ahead and fill out the paperwork but that I would probably have to wait a few minutes to get Mace in because they were full -- they were expecting a parent, now five minutes late, back to pick up a child. The non-Swedish girl did not seem troubled or upset by the fact that the parent was late and I realized after I saw the second floor, why the childcare center workers weren't too concerned about the parent being late.

The poor parent was probably lost.

The store is designed like a maze so that customers are basically herded all the way through the store -- if you deviate from the path, you will find yourself at a dead-end, surrounded by duvet covers and shiny purple curtains. It's kind of like venturing off the traditional church path and finding yourself at a church-in-the-box -- it's very shiny and it seems comfortable, but none of the doors lead you to next place, only backwards. But I digress . . . into some sort of strange spiritual reflection no one wants to hear . . .

Anyway . . . finding a bathroom for your seven year old, who suddenly hears nature calling him very loudly, can be an enormous problem in IKEA. When Casey decided he had to "go" we were somewhere in the northeast quadrant of the media/storage section and needed to get to the bathroom by the cafeteria. To get there, we would have had to go through lighting, linens, kids, kitchen stuff, and a bunch of bunkbeds, if I hadn't spotted a "shortcut" door hidden between media and kids. So I used a map (Casey had picked it up -- he loves maps), plotted a course for the potty and we made it there in about four minutes, which was, as it turns out, about all the time we had, if you know what I mean.

Not only is it easy to lose track of where you are in IKEA, it's also easy to lose track of all of the people you came with. In my case, I lost Flamingo Joe at the door. He went to find a Diet Coke (even though he insists he's sworn off them -- I think the habit of using the excuse of finding a Diet Coke to avoid walking around a huge store for hours is just too ingrained in his system and he reverted to the familiar "out" as soon as he saw the sheer magnitude that is IKEA; he panicked, strangled out "I'm going to find a Diet Coke" and sort of staggered away in the direction of the downstairs snack bar) and we didn't see him again until lunch. I lost Dez and Grandma at the top of the escalator when I made the extremely naive mistake of saying, "Casey and I are going to find the kid stuff . . . we'll meet you back over this way in a little while." The naive parts of that statement are: "back over this way" and "in a little while."

Before Casey and I walked away, I did see a semi-panicked look in Dez' eyes, which I attributed to her constant fear that we (the Flamingo family) are going to forget she's with us, no matter where we are (the beach, someone's birthday party, a restaurant, church, Georgia . . . ), and then leave her. She might would acknowledge she has abandonment issues, but I don't think we've ever actually left her anywhere. It's possible that we did and she's just too nice to tell us that we left her while she was in the bathroom at a restaurant in Dunedin and she had to hitch it home, but I personally don't recall that ever happening.

In hindsight, I realized that Dez was the only one of us who'd been in this IKEA before, so when I separated from the group so soon after Joe had abandoned us, she knew it would be over an hour before we saw each other again, simply because once you get separated in IKEA, you need a pack of sled dogs to drag you all around the store to find your party.

And a compass.

Were it not for text messaging, poor Dez would probably still be waiting for us in the "sample" 270 square foot home tucked away by the bathroom department.

At lunchtime, with the assistance of our cell phones, we all managed to find the cafeteria and ate together. I had picked up Mace and we were one big happy IKEA shopping group again. After lunch, which did include (for at least one of our party) swedish meatballs, we all set off together vowing never to be separated again. Or at least Dez and I were vowing that. As soon as we were clear of the cafeteria and down on the first floor, however, Grandma said, "I'm going to go look at the rugs" and off she went. But the rugs were within caterwauling distance and I had attached a location device (Casey -- he can't stand to be separated from me for more than four and a half minutes) to her, so that was okay, and she came back pretty quickly. We all meandered around the kitchen area together for awhile and picked up miscellanous things here and there -- when Dez told me three weeks ago to reserve last Saturday for the IKEA adventure, she specifically told me to make an IKEA envelope so that I would have some money to spend at IKEA. She clearly does not understand how the envelope system works. Apparently she thinks that if there is an envelope, money magically appears in it. Not true. But I did take $6 from my Toiletries/Cosmetics envelope and bought shampoo and conditioner.

At one point, Grandma picked up a box of small wine glasses (which were roundly ridiculed by both Flamingo Joe and Dez as being "not worth the trouble" of putting wine in). But I was very supportive of the purchase (I cannot help it that Joe and Dez are too uncouth to just get up and get a refill, for the love . . . ) and we placed them on the bottom of the cart that Joe was pushing around. Our other cart had a few things for Dez, a few things for Grandma, my shampoo and conditioner, and one toy each for the boys (purchased from their Family Trivia winnings and Dave Ramsey "commissions" -- but that's another blog post altogether).

An hour or two after lunch, we managed to make it all the way around the first floor to the registers, where we saw the first non-cafeteria employees that we had seen all day. That's not completely true -- I did see an employee on the second floor at one point trying to help someone find their loved one they'd lost in the self-assembly basket area several hours before. Regardless, there were practically no employees in IKEA and no one seemed to miss them -- I didn't hear one person ask, "Well let's ask a salesperson." I think it's because you're just too stupefied to ask anything once you're inside and therefore they don't need salespeople (and I would note for the record, that NONE of the employees was tall or blonde, much to Flamingo Joe's disappointment). I'm betting the county commission or the city council, or whichever governmental entity it was that started drooling when IKEA begain inquiring about putting a store here, is really disappointed that IKEA only brought, like, 40 jobs to the area and not 400 (or, if you count like Obama, 400,000).

Where was I? Oh yes, wandering toward the checkout, where, as Flamingo Joe immediately pointed out, every single thing we had put in our carts (except for the small wine glasses)while slowly winding our way through the store, was conveniently displayed for sale in vast quantities within 20 feet of the cash registers. It's the journey, Sweetie, it's the journey.

So we got in line at checkout and Dez, Grandma, and I had to split up lines because I was paying in cash (yes, out of an envelope) and they were paying with debit cards. When we split up and tried to divvy up our stuff out of the basket, we realized that Joe, who was not in line with us and who we could not see anywhere, still had the cart with the little wine glasses. We had left him with the boys at the wicker furniture right behind the checkout lines, but now he (and the boys) were gone. So while we were standing in our separate lines, Dez was trying to call him and I was scanning the packed checkout area to see if I could spot him. Finally, after Dez checked out and Grandma was in the process of checking out, I saw him buying ice cream for the boys at the snack bar near the door.

Trust me when I tell you that I should have known.

I was still in line, so I alerted Dez to his whereabouts and she headed over to get the wine glasses from him so I could pay for them. Apparently, while hanging out with the boys on the wicker furniture, he saw the snack bar and remembered from his visit there four hours prior that they served ice cream. So he immediately left the cart where it was and took the boys over to the snack bar.

Dez went to find the abandoned cart.

We haven't seen her since.

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