swedeness and light


For a week now we've been basking in the kind of serenity possible only when you know the garage is clean. The tools are lined up and the boxes stacked. Several times a day, okay hourly, I've been going in there for no reason but to look, covet the new space, and swing my arms around without hitting anything. You could actually park a car in our garage now. Not a Lincoln Town Car maybe, but certainly something sporty like the ones at the circus that all the clowns come out of.

Part two of the Garage Beautification Project was the Bringing-In of the Books. Boxes and boxes of books. I've been flying blind without them here in my office, getting lax in my references and guessing at quotes -- "It was the best of times, it was... um... also a really bad time too, trust me." Yes, I'm convinced that the road to better writing is paved with bookshelves.

So on Saturday we went to IKEA. There are many ways to describe IKEA. Imagine if, say, Disneyland and Levitz Furniture collided mid-air over Stockholm...

IKEA sells some good stuff and they sell some cheap stuff and sometimes they sell some good cheap stuff. The building is huge and you can walk around for hours making mental transformations of your house while browsing their little pretend rooms decorated with their merchandise. The weak and inexperienced will always succumb to the lure of a new piece of furniture or two even if they're unnecessary. It's easy to believe that a new lamp will change your lifestyle, but do not be fooled. I know. I've learned. I'm lit.

Before arrival, we steeled ourselves. Just bookcases. Two of them. That's all. But we can dream, can't we? So we walked around the pretend rooms making pretend plans for pretend redecorating with pretend money.

At the end of this maze of fantasy is a non-pretend cafeteria-style restaurant. The food there is okay, and since it was lunchtime, we got in line. The customer ahead of us slid his tray up to the register and handed a credit card to the cashier. Swipe, click, beep, wait while computers talk to banks. More people get in line. Still waiting for computers... more people... trays of hot food getting cold...

Two minutes go by. People are fidgeting now. More people get in line. Swedish meatballs are cooling.

Five minutes. Still no response, the register is the focal point of everyone's attention now. The cashier, a young trainee, just looks down. He won't make eye contact. He's starting to sweat. He doesn't know how to countermand the digital orders to this machine. Thirty people are in line now, and we are becoming a hungry mob.

"Our food's getting cold!"

"What's the big delay?"

"Hey, c'mon, buddy!"

"Pay cash!"

"Jesus Christ!"

A monkey wrench has been thrown into the Scandihoeüovian machine that is IKEA.

More minutes have passed, and now all of us in line are saying we're going to sit down, eat our food, and pay later. It's an exodus to the tables just as the manager shows up to ask the young cashier what the problem is. The cashier, still looking down, explains. The manager goes ballistic, asking who left without paying, furtively looking around the room as if he'd just been the victim of some home invasion robbery.

I went up to the front to get a straw and saw the manager ready to kill the young cashier so I said, "Hey, come with me." I took the manager to where we were sitting and showed him what we had and told him we fully intended to pay. He acted like we'd all just pulled the Brinks job.

"You can't do that! You can't just sit down without paying!" he said.

"Watch me."

"You can't do that! You can't go into a McDonald's and do that! What makes you think you can just do that?"

We haven't gone anywhere, we haven't sprinted to our cars with trays of dishes and pie. We're just sitting here in the restaurant, a few paces from the register.

"We fully intend to pay you." I said. "Here's what we have. Do you want to take care of it now or are you going to make us wait even longer before you take our money?"

It went on like this. As he lapsed into either capitalist fear or managerial paranoia we just calmly proceeded to eat our food. Actually, I would've enjoyed taking it to its logical conclusion wherein the manager calls the police, and in front of witnesses reaches down our throats to retrieve his little brown meatballs, thereby salvaging third-quarter profits.

Mr. Manager did send the cashier around with a little notepad, however, to try to record the transactions, but with no way of knowing who had paid and who hadn't, he was left with humiliating himself by asking customers if they'd forked over the money for what they were eating.

Viv and I spent the meal discussing how simply it all could've been resolved, given the right management skills and authority. But as is so common among enterprises geared around warehouse type mechandising, business fails to focus primarily on customers and instead looks to systems as the pathway to profit. I love having conversations about business management and employees and how to treat them. For a long time now we've all seen the effects of the shift of service. Where employees once served the customer, now they serve the company to the detriment of all.

When I went up to pay after we ate, the manager was somewhat apologetic, but I still got the feeling that he's never going to really see the big picture.

After lunch, which was powerfully satisfying, we headed downstairs to "The Marketplace" to swim through the many ways we could accessorize our home. Theoretically. We knew our goal and avoided temptation. We were stoic. We stayed the course. We were practically Amish.

We purchased the bookshelves, loaded them in the car, and drove home happy that we hadn't bought another lamp along the way.

* * * * * * *

We are not completely Amish though, because when we got home I had to put the bookshelves together all by myself. There was no barn-raising teamwork to be found as Viv and Amy went out looking for Godzilla shoes, which are all the rage in second-grade apparently. But that was okay. I enjoy the act of assembling stuff like this, getting the tools, the logic of the process, the solitude, it's almost meditative. But there was one more thing I had to do first.

I had to break my toe.

It's like this. I'm a forty-one year old man with size thirteen feet. And you know what they say about a man with a big foot. Well, it's true. Yep, I have a gigantic tendency to break my little toe, and it seems to be a semi-annual event now that I'm past my thirties. Either foot, but this time it was the left. Innocently, I was walking barefoot past our bed and WHACK, my littlest piggy got caught against the solid birch leg of the queen size Bjorkvalla bed frame see p.78 of the IKEA catalog thank you very much. It was a bigtime smoosh, and now half my foot is a swollen pod of purple, crimson, and green.

O that I could live forever in that two-second span just before the rushing onset of face-contorting tear-squirting pain. There is no font big enough to properly express an ouch like this. Amputation of the little toes looms as a desirable option.

But did this deter me from my bookshelf work? No. Don't forget I am Martyr Man! I will forge ahead with my task, however trivial, and suck the sympathy and pity from any living creature within a radius of three miles. I got out my tools and started to build.

And build I did, in a frenzy. I got them up and in my office and in record time I had the shelves full of my little cloth-bound babies. Paperbacks too. Now I can just sit here, swivel around like this, ow, must watch the toe, and voilą, "It was the best of times..."


Today's Music:

"Small Change" -- Tom Waits -- SMALL CHANGE


Wisdom of the Day:

"HOW A MEAL BECOMES A MOMENT - Special touches can make any meal even better. Consider your table a canvas and create an experience to remember."

- IKEA catalog page 257