A while back, an IKEA store opened less than an hour from my home in Central Florida. The arrival of the store seemed a harbinger for great things to come. The dawn of the age of Swedish-made, do-it-yourself furniture was upon us, and I, for one, was excited. Since that day, I had dreamed of visiting this Mecca of organizational tools, but I had not had the opportunity. Until a few months ago...
One morning, quite unexpectedly, my mother announced a trip to IKEA and asked if I would like to join her on this sojourn. My friend Joe had a pretty nice IKEA couch, so my parents and I set out most optimistically, looking forward to the wonders promised by this new retail center.
Upon our arrival, however, I knew something was wrong. Any store that requires a map to navigate is questionable, but a store that only has one path you can follow and still provides the map, is downright suspicious. It's as if they're maliciously taunting you with your lack of options. They're saying, "Here is the way you will travel through our store." On the other hand, maybe they're trying to offer hope in the form of the map. If you can see where you are in the scheme of things, you know that it will end at some point. I don't know, but it worried me.
Now, I don't know about other IKEA stores, but the way this one is set up, you have to ride the escalator up to the second floor first, then you work your way through that floor, and then you come back down to the first floor and the check-out. There isn't even a way to get to the first floor merchandise from the store entrance without a copy of the Marauder's Map to show you the secret passageways.
With no other options before us, we ascended to the second floor and got our first look at the IKEA merchandise. To say I was overwhelmed would be like saying Hitler was kind of a jerk or Mount Everest is big. The thing about IKEA is that everything is for sale. Everything. The whole second floor is set up as a series of model rooms: bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, offices. And every part of every room is purchasable. Not only the furniture and the lamps but the stuff in the drawers and on the shelves. And the drawers and the shelves.
But you don't just grab stuff and carry it with you. Each item is marked with a tag that identifies the item by number and, for some reason, a Swedish proper name, as if all this merchandise is sentient and demands to be called by its given name.
The fake rooms seemed to continue indefinitely, and there were scores of people milling about in them. I suddenly began to feel overly warm. Everywhere I looked was a different dining room set or stack of storage containers. It was all slightly different and yet overwhelmingly the same. How could one ever choose when confronted with fifty-three different end tables that all look vaguely like this:
You can't. That's what I'm trying to tell you. You think you're a reasonable, decisive human being, an individual capable of choosing your own destiny. And then suddenly you look at yourself in a Swedish mirror, and the you you knew is gone, and all you see a mindless drone, shuffling like a zombie through a world of fake homes. Your eyes, once bright and full of hope, have taken on a hunted look, and you wonder if you will ever escape and if anything will ever seem real again.
Such was the horror I felt that day as the mindless hoard, choosing to be static in the thoroughfare, blocked every path and the fake walls began closing in.
Also, I may have started hyperventilating.
When we finally descended to second circle of Hell-- I'm sorry, I meant the ground floor of the store. I get them confused. When we finally descended to the ground floor of the store, the sheer volume of products became completely overwhelming. Gone were the carefully set-up rooms, gone was the semblance of order and comfort, and in their place, bins. Bins upon bins upon bins of things. Anything and everything you could imagine or would rather not. As overwhelmed as I felt, I might have ventured into this pit of stuff were it not for this sign:
I'm fairly certain IKEA was threatening me, and at that point, an acute fear for my life overcame any lingering desire I might have had to complete my circuit of the store.
I wanted out, but IKEA is not keen on letting you leave without seeing everything they have to sell you. Luckily, my ever-resourceful mother found an "emergency exit" and an employee who was willing to open it for us. I tell you that she had to open it for us, not because it might have set off a fire alarm but because the door was LOCKED, making it unusable in the event of an actual emergency.
This door led back to the main lobby, and at last, we were free to go.
On the way out I grabbed an IKEA catalog. Because really, in the end, who can resist the allure of inexpensive, do-it-yourself furniture? And if I ever decide to go back there, you can bet your life I'm going prepared.