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Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Before I tell you my tale for today, I have important news! I’m going to be at Books of Wonder in New York tomorrow, with a lineup of authors so stellar . . . I can barely speak. They include: David Levithan, Coe Booth, John Green, and E. Lockhart. Obviously, this event cannot be missed. When was the last time you got that much entertainment for free? That’s right. Never. We’ll be there from 5-7 PM. Get there early.

Now I have to tell you about my trip to IKEA.

IKEA is just like that other famous Swedish export, Abba . . . deliciously accessible. When I first moved to New York City, I was a very, very poor graduate student, hustling in restaurants and taking strange jobs that really did involve working with live tigers. IKEA was my lifeline to any semblance of normal life. I could just about afford the furniture there, and their brightly colored, happy knickknacks were perfect for my student digs.

I should be over it by now. I should have moved on. But I never do. They send me their catalog, and I react in the same way I did when I got my hands on the Sears toy catalog when I will little. I become entranced by the world it presents . . . the bright colors, the shag carpets, the walls of round mirrors, the beds covered in multicolored throw pillows. I know it is cheap and that it may break. I know those fabrics are scratchy.

But I just can’t help myself. I’d even forgiven them for the fact that the last time I bought something there, they forgot to put in a bolt, and because their bolts are weird, my purchased sat, unassembled, on my floor for six weeks. I still go whenever I have an excuse.

And I just got one. My agent, Daphne Unfeasible, is moving. Daphne has the same IKEA weakness.

“When you move,” I said, “we’ll drive down and go shopping.”

(NOTE: Most authors do not go IKEA shopping with their agents. I have known Daphne for a very long time and we are good friends. So, if you get an agent, don’t say that you read here that they were supposed to hang out with you in IKEA, because it is just not true.)

So, Daphne called the other day and said the time had come for our trip. We are usually scrupulous planners (though, this point will be disputed later in this story), but this time, we just said we would go on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, I woke to the sound of my phone ringing. I slammed around until I found it.

“You wanna still go?” Daphne said groggily.

“Yeah,” I croaked back. “It’s IKEA. We have to.”

“You’re right,” she said, yawning. “It’ll be fun.”

Like I said before, I don’t own a car. But I belong to a car sharing service, so that I can access one on no notice. Except that by the time I checked, all the cars I wanted were gone for the weekend.

“Forget that,” I said, calling back. “Let’s just take the shuttle there and back.”

IKEA knows that New Yorkers hate bothering with cars, so they thoughtfully provide a free shuttle that goes back and forth all day on the weekends. Getting on the shuttle is like boarding the field trip bus in grade school. Everyone is excited. There is a happy air. You can hear catalogs being flipped through.

“This was so much easier,” I said to Daphne, as we rode along. “It would have been a pain to drive here today.”

“You’re right,” she said, snatching away my catalog.

Daphne needed a bookcase, and I needed a lamp. Neither one of us was stupid enough to think that was all we would walk away with, because that’s the whole point of IKEA! It’s so magical and so wonderful, you can’t help but buy lots of things. It’s like going to Candy Mountain. You are going to overconsume, but it will be worth it.

Daphne and I worked our way around the store. Daphne was entranced by a fake coffee shop they’d built to show off their products, and she got behind the counter and pretended to serve me coffee. Not all agents are as happy-go-lucky as Daphne.

Unfortunately, I had trouble finding what I wanted. They were out of the things I was looking for, or the parts were in different areas of the store, which is very large. But I was going to make the best of it. I would get SOMETHING.

At the end of the day, I had gotten my lamp, plus some long fabric panels to craft wallhangings. We had both loaded up on wrapping paper and bows. I also bought a little table. Daphne had filled a cart with all sorts of things she needed for her move. The very last thing we needed to get was her bookcase, which was in the big warehouse-like section near the cashiers. We found Daphne’s bookcase. The box was much longer and much heavier than we had anticipated.

“That’s not going to fit in a cab when we get back to the city,” she said sadly.

We gazed around, as if an answer might present itself to us. Amazingly, one did. Daphne pointed to a sign on the far wall.

“Look!” Daphne said. “Car rental! We can rent a car for a few hours and drive our stuff up to the city tonight! I really need my bookcase. I don’t want to wait.”

I went over to the desk while Daphne hauled her bookcase from the rack. There was a man in front of me getting a car. The woman behind the counter kept talking about his timing, because all of the cars were gone, except for one. I could have that one, but I had to hold firm in line.

The longer I stood there, the more it became clear that there was only ONE MORE VEHICLE, the more anxious I became. I started calling Daphne, reporting the entire conversation to her as she stood with our carts.

“Get it!” she said, picking up on the mania. “We need it!”

When the woman behind the counter got to me, I practically jumped on her.

“I have a cargo van,” she said. “Will that be okay?”

I clearly wasn’t listening carefully. I was just ready to agree to whatever she had to rent to me. I nodded away, senseless as a bobblehead, and signed all the documents shoved in front of me.

“You can’t miss it,” she said, passing me a key. “It’s right outside. We close at 6:00.”

“That’s okay!” I said. “We have to get back here by six anyway for the last coach.”

We happily grabbed our things, wished her well, and walked out the door. Waiting for us by the curb was a large white van. If it hadn’t had Enterprise Rent-a-Car painted on the side, I would have said it looked like something you would hear described in a police report as having been “slowly circling around the area several days before the disappearance.”

“It’s big,” I said. “Big and white.”

Daphne wasn’t interested in the evocative word-drawings I was conjuring. She was already shoveling our goods into the back. They took up about 2% of the space. This was a truck for hauling sofas, or even smaller cars, certainly not the tiny lamp, the fabric, the two flat boxes, or the wrapping paper we had purchased.

“It’s big,” I said again.

“Let’s go!” she answered, shoving her long, packed–up bookcase into the back. I got behind the wheel of the van and started testing out the controls. They felt loose and weird. I looked over my shoulder to back up, and was astonished by the view. There was an entire ROOM behind me. It seemed endless to me, like the dining hall in Hogwarts. This was the vehicle I was about to drive through insane New Jersey turnpike traffic, through New York, with drivers speeding around me and cutting me off and merging.

There was a lot of room behind me.

I started to put the van into reverse. It lurched gracelessly. I had only the remotest sense of what was behind me. I put it back into drive and inched it back into its space.

“What?” Daphne said.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “I can’t drive this thing into New York. It’s too big.”

I admit that that may sound a little weak-willed, but New York traffic is serious, and it’s best to know your limits. I would have been willing to drive the van down a highway, but not into my neighborhood, where cabs like to race you and people drive backwards down one way streets without so much as glancing over their shoulder.

Daphne looked desperate.

“Okay,” she said. “Maybe you can go back in and see if you can switch.”

I’d heard the whole “no more vehicles” conversation, so I thought there was no chance of this, but amazingly enough, when I went back in, the woman said I could switch with someone who had just been given a minivan.

“The thing is,” she said, “it has no gas in it at all. It’s about to die. I’ll have to lead you over to the gas station.”

It was already 4:00, and we had to have our car back by 6:00, when the rental area closed and the last coach went back to Manhattan. Our chances of making this trip were already slim. But I still agreed, because we were in it now.

I couldn’t get the minivan out of the parking lot for ten minutes, because someone had decided to bring a horse trailer to IKEA, and they had decided that the very best place to plant it was behind MY NEW MINIVAN. I offered a bit of color commentary on the wisdom of bringing horses to IKEA, but they could not hear me. Then I realized that the emergency brake was on, and I had no idea how it disengage it, as the minivan makers had cleverly decided to hide the release. Daphne had to get out the manual.

“Page 81,” she mumbled. “Emergency brake . . . push over and to the right, like it says here.”

I did that, further engaging the brake. This car could not be more stopped.

“Wait, wait . . . hit the button on the . . . page 96 . . .”

Once the horses moved and I got the brake off, we followed the rental car woman to a quaint little gas station about three towns over.

“We are so not going to make this,” I said.

“Of course we are!” Daphne replied.

This may be a good time to note that Daphne and I lived in London together right after we graduated from college. We decided to take a “quick and cheap!” trip to Paris one weekend—because Paris was so close, and we were such savvy student traveler types. In the end, instead of making a brisk midnight crossing, we: drank warm wine in Trafalgar Square at 3 AM, lied to the police in order to gain illegal entrance to Victoria Station in order to rest on the floor and throw change at pigeons with tramps, rode on what I think was a refrigerated train car to Dover to take a 5 AM ferry to France, paid more than our monthly rent to get on the TGV train to Paris . . . where we appeared, quite literally, in the middle of gay pride parade in the middle of the day. We were there for about 18 hours, but were so sleep deprived that we couldn’t even go anywhere. So, this may cause you to revise your opinion of our (otherwise flawless) planning skills.

We filled the minivan’s bottomless tank, which took another ten minutes. Then, and only then, did we hit the road. The ride was insane. The radio station we tuned to was playing a disturbing mix of Van Halen and Christmas Carols, which toyed with my frayed nerves.

“Why did we come on this stupid, doomed trip?” I said, yanking the minivan out of an easypass lane.

“Because IKEA is fun,” Daphne said grimly. She handed me more money for tolls. The tolls and bridges alone had cost as much as my lamp by this point.

“*#^%*&#^%$ IKEA,” I said.

At 5:05, I pulled to a screeching halt in front of Daphne’s new building. We unloaded the minivan in ten minutes, and then got back in it and started the trip back.

“We aren’t going to make it,” I said. I had gotten a bit happier. Doom sometimes does this to me. I relax a little. I started to drive with a focus so total that I astounded myself.

“You will make it by six,” I told myself. “You just will.”

“I guess if we miss the coach back,” Daphne was musing, “we can try to get over to the airport . . .”

[IKEA is directly across the turnpike from the airport, which means that as you drive there it looks like planes are about to land on you, which adds to the fun].

“ . . . or we can stand by the door with a sign and hope that someone takes us home.”

“Or we’ll just get stuck in IKEA and have to sleep in one of the fake bedrooms,” I said.

“It’s be just like the From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!” she said.

But we were making time. In fact, we pulled off at the IKEA exit with five minutes to spare. IKEA Boulevard was right in front of us. But the sign was a bit confusing.

“Which way?” I said, slowing down. “Right?”

“No,” Daphne said. “I think . . . I think straight.”

I went straight, but it became immediately clear that we had just made a fatal error. Daphne started screaming at herself as we barreled toward the airport, where we would be stuck for at least fifteen minutes.

“I’m so STUPID!” she said. “SO STUPID!”

“Stop blaming yourself,” I said, my eyes madly fixed on the road. “It’s NOT YOUR FAULT!”

I was tuned into the road now.

“You know the way,” my Zen inner voice said. “Just go to IKEA.”

I cut abruptly through a diner parking lot, and magically got the car back on to IKEA Boulevard.

“Oh my God!” Daphne said. “We may make it!”

The minivan pulled up to IKEA just as the clock ticked over to 6:01. I yanked out the key and ran inside.

The woman was gone. The desk was empty. My heart was pounding.

“Where is she?” I said to a stranger standing by the desk. “WHERE IS THE WOMAN?”

“I’ve been here for ten minutes and no one’s been here,” he said.


He smiled and backed away toward the Swedish food emporium.

Daphne was already calling me.

“I found the coach driver!” she said. “They’re still here! They’re still here!”

“But the woman is GONE!” I said.

Daphne ran over and looked at the scene for herself. The empty desk. The lack of any note or sign or instruction.

“What in the #^$%#$^&% am I going to do with this minivan?” I said, wandering around in circles.

“There’s a little hole here,” Daphne said, looking into an opening on the desk. “Maybe you should drop the key in here?”

We wandered around until we found someone who showed us where the lock box for the keys was located, and then we ran over and leapt on to the waiting coach. We hadn’t eaten all day. Our nerves were shot. We looked like two hostages who had just been released from a bank robbery.

I arrived home later, exhausted. As I looked around, I realized there were one or two things I should have gotten when I was there. And I honestly thought to myself . . .

“Maybe I’ll go back next week.”

I mean, come on. They really are like Abba. You can’t hate IKEA for long.


Anonymous Daphne Unfeasible said...

It's all true. And I kind want another couple of yards of that pretty fabric...

Also, for the record, I did very very well with all the directions up until that ONE wrong turn. I mean, at least we didn't wander too far into the Bronx, right?

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great line up of authors! That's exciting! :)

4:11 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Haha...great to know I'm not the only who gets sidetracked by IKEA. They choose the WORST location for their stores! You have to circle the one out here in the Midwest while you're on the expressway before you can get off and attempt to recall which direction you're supposed to be going in...ah well, it's IKEA--IT'S WORTH IT.

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Hannah said...

Wow, I wish I could go to the reading. Great Lineup.

Your IKEA experience seems quite similiar to one of my own. Your blog is always good for a laugh. Thanks Maureen! And good luck to you and Daphne on your next IKEA Excursion.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Radical D said...

I... think I'll stick to Target. Same cheap stuff, better location.

Also, I have a car.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

I love IKEA. It isn't just the cheap furniture, or the play area. (Yeah, I love the play area. Whatcha gonna do about it?) It's the blue and yellow exterior. And in honor of IKEA, I got blue and yellow for my braces.

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flat packed furniture with happy drawings to show you how to put it together with no other written instructions. God, how I love IKEA.
I hate to admit that half my house is furnished with IKEA stuff, because I cannot resist the organized life they show. I can't quite get my house to look as cool as their displays, but I'm going to keep giving them my money until I do.

5:52 AM  
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