San Mateo, California,
February 13
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AUGUST 22, 2010 10:09PM

Dante’s Inferno Revisited –Furniture Shopping at IKEA

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My friend L called up last week and asked if I wanted to go shopping with her at IKEA on Saturday.  For those of you who don’t know about IKEA, it is giant store that handles EVERYTHING for furnishing an apartment or home CHEAP. We’d been talking about doing this for a couple of months. I was interested in a new desk lamp. I wasn’t sure what she was looking for.  This Saturday, she arrived at 1:00 on the dot.  As I was gathering up my up my jacket (summer this year has by passed the San Francisco Bay Area) I airily asked what she was looking for today.           

“Everything! I’m redoing my home office!” she answered.

I froze suddenly wondering if I could tell her I felt an appendicitis coming on.

“I want a new desk, book shelves a credenza.  Could we take your SUV since I may not be able to get everything in my car?”

For any of you who have ever been furniture shopping at IKEA you will understand my growing panic.

“You have been to IKEA, right?” I manage to gasp out.

“Of course, that’s where I bought patio wine glasses and plastic dishes. Are you ok, you look a little strange.”

Now’s my chance.  If I’m going get out going, this is my moment.

I am a better person than that.  I take a deep breath. I will not let my friend go to IKEA alone.  I smile brightly. “Everything’s fine. Let’s go.”

I believe it is possible that the Swedish founders of the IKEA stores read Dante’s Divine Comedy and developed the IKEA stores’ floor plan based on the levels of hell in the Inferno.

We start with Limbo (the First Circle of Hell), in the parking lot.  It’s Saturday afternoon.  Everyone is at IKEA and everyone is looking for a parking space. L drove my SUV because I did not trust myself not to do a U turn over the freeway meridian as we got closer to our destination.

“Is that the entrance over there?” I heard her say with longing in her voice as we circle down another aisle taking us further away from the entrance.  Just at the moment when I begin to hope that maybe we won’t find a parking place, I hear her shout, “Here we are!”

Now I should pause for a moment and describe my friend for this will be important later.  L is super savvy, super competent, take no prisoners middle aged African American woman. She doesn’t put up with any shit from anyone. Period.  Armed with a notebook in which she has laid out a diagram of her home office, with measurements and a layout of where everything will go, we now go up the elevator to the Second Circle of Hell: Lust or as in IKEA speak, the showroom.  For those of you who have never been to IKEA, the whole huge barn like top floor is made up of sample rooms with all the furniture, cabinetry and accessories they sell for every room in the house.  My friend is now excited looking at the various rooms and we are discussing the merits of various bookcase designs. I admit this part was fun. I did ask if she realized everything came unassembled.  She said she had planned on paying an unemployed artist friend to assemble everything for her.

By the time we walked the yellow arrows that lead us through all the various rooms on the floor, L figured out she needed three bookcases, 2 work tables with stainless steel tops and legs (they are sold separately), 2 red file cabinets and a red credenza.  “This is fun,” she exclaimed as we come to the end of the yellow arrows, which conveniently enough terminates at the café. “Oh the fun hasn’t even begun yet,” I smile and suggest we stop for a soft drink before we descend to the next level. 

As we sit sipping our drinks, I mention that I don’t think everything she is buying will going to fit in my SUV.  I mention to her that when my daughter shopped here for her kid’s furniture when she was setting up her new home after she and her now ex-husband split up that she had everything delivered.  L nodded in agreement.

Though it appears we are only going down one level, we actually descend to the third and four circles of Hell (Avarice and Gluttony) better known as Accessories: dishes, bedding, rugs, frames, lighting (this one sucks me in as I hungrily roam the aisle checking out every single desk lamp before picking the tidy black one.). I catch up with L in the window shade department and help her pick our shades for her sliding glass door, then together we head for picture frames, vases, etc.

By the time we get to baskets and vases, we’ve been in IKEA 2 hours.  L shakes her head. “I’m done, I’m on overload.  What do we need to do to get the stuff I’ve already decided on and get out here?”

I look at her with sympathy. I can see her energy is flagging.  Her brain is on sensory overload.  I have been where she is. She does not know what is ahead of her.

“We need to get a cart,” I say pointing to the line of people waiting in line by a blue sign that says “Flat Carts.”

“We already have a shopping cart? Why do need a flat cart?” Her brown eyes look at me puzzled.

“We have to get a cart so when we find the aisle and bins for everything you have written down, we load them onto the cart.”  I try to sound positive as I say this.

At that moment L looks up and sees beyond the Flat Carts sign the looming warehouse entrance in front of her with endless shelves stacked 30 feet to the ceiling with boxes. 

“Welcome to Hell.”  I try to smile. Circles Five-Eight loom in front of us.

L looks at me for a moment in disbelief and then we both burst out laughing not for joy but from hysteria at the thought of the task ahead. We pull ourselves together. We decide the best thing to do is look like to helpless older women and see if we can’t find one of the guys in yellow IKEA shirts to help us.  With in seconds, L finds someone.  And then it begins- up and down the aisles, with me pushing our shopping cart of “accessories”, and with L pushing the Flat Cart, the young guy doesn’t even offer to push it.  But he does load three flat boxes of bookcases, one credenza box, two tabletops, but they are out of legs, and the file cabinets.  He says brightly she could go over to Information and see when they will have them restocked and then he walks away toward a young Asian couple staring helplessly at the shelves in front of them.

Meanwhile, L determinedly walks over the Aisle 12 and the Information booth that is manned by a live person.  I pull our carts over by a pine kitchen set display and step up into the display and sit down on the kitchen chair.  A young Hispanic woman who is sitting on the chair across the table from me rolls her eyes to heaven. I nod with understanding, but don’t dare smile for I can feel hysterical exhausted laughter beginning to bubble up. Then I see L walking back toward me (I’m on aisle 23).  Her eyes are glazed, the skin on her cheeks sags.

“The fool said that there are twenty more units of legs in stock and that I should just go get a cup of coffee and wait to see if anyone restocks the shelf. Otherwise it will be two to three days. I’m not sure what to do?” Her voice is small and pathetic.

I take a deep breath, force down my tiredness (we are now in hour three). “Look, why don’t we pay for this stuff and go over to delivery and get rid of it.  Then we can come back here during the week (we work nearby), and check to see if the legs and cabinets are in when it isn’t so busy. The rest of this stuff which should fit in my SUV.”

She nods and we make our way to the cashier. We pick the shortest line only to discover the reason it is short is because the cashier is on the phone trying to sort out a problem for the couple five carts in front of us.  There’s no point in changing lines because they are all just as long. After fifteen minutes of waiting, we get to pay for our purchases. Now all we have to do is go to Delivery and we are done. 

But as we make to Delivery the scent of warm cinnamon buns fill the air.  I can hear L’s stomach and feel mine growling.

“Why would they have another café down here at the exit?” L asks. “Oh GOD! That’s not the line for Delivery is it?”  I hear her strangled cry and I look up to see a line that snakes 50 feet from the Delivery counter to the Café. 

L looks at me helplessly. “There’s no turning back now is there? I’ve already paid for it.”

She glances at the Returns line; it’s equally as long.

We’ve reached the Ninth Circle of Hell (Betrayal), the hope of release dashed. Everyone around us has the same glazed, exhausted, brutalized, helpless look that we do.

“I’ll get us some water.” I say.  She nods as she rolls her Flat Cart into line behind two young guys, one white and one East Indian guy who have three Flat Carts full of stuff.

Over the next hour the line barely moves.  Finally, I notice a gap has opened up in front of a set of two flat carts piled high with stuff but no one is around to push them forward.  The two guys in front of us are sitting on floor of the display platform not paying attention.  A Chinese family, father, young son, and wife, is sprawled across the black leather display sectional mouths open sound asleep. I ask the guys in front of us if those carts are theirs.  They shake their heads.  I rouse one of sleepers on the couch. Not theirs either.  I order the two guys in front of us to cut round these carts as I push them out of the way. I have become ruthless.  L pushes our carts past as well. 

At the end of the fourth hour, L finally gets to the counter and pays for delivery.  We push our shopping cart with our accessories before us into the elevator to the garage.  We do no speak. We get to car and load in our things. Drained and exhausted we sink into the seats. We stare out the window for a moment. Finally L looks at me, “You knew it would be like this didn’t you? And you still came with me.”

I nod. “I did this with my daughter. Can you imagine doing this while depressed?”

L starts to laugh uncontrollably. I join her. Tears run down our cheeks

L gasps. “We have to do this again in two or three days!”

Oh well, what are friends for!

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This was so funny. Just yesterday a friend of mine said she was going to Ikea today with her college daughter. She didn't ask me to go, thank god, but I told her "I hate Ikea". For just the reasons you just wrote about.
This is like a nightmare I once had..
I swear..:)
Rated with hugs
you wrote this so well, ravensword! i wish it were in a magazine at the doctor's office with cool illustrations - how you wove inferno in and out was totally believable. you can shop online, ya know.
diana, that is part of their evil plan, even if you buy on line, they don't deliver if you are near a store...We tried!
I am also looking for some beautiful furniture for my personal room. This is very good information for me. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article.
French bedroom furniture