The Shopping Maze

It’s a little intimidating: Walking into the gargantuan building that makes the little mom and pop equivalents we’ve been visiting look like cramped strip mall cell phone booths. The place has its own attached parking garage, although curiously the concrete structure seems to waste a lot of space with no parking zones and unexpected loading bays that look rather unused. Still, any place where you can enter from a front door on the second story and requires gigantic signage to instruct you how to shop is going to create an atmosphere that is a bit overwhelming for your Standard Earth Guy.

The place is Ikea, the pseudo-discount home decorating/furniture store that has a somewhat unusual series of reputations. On one hand I think most people are familiar with the self-assemby meme that runs through the store’s merchandise. This seems to be okay with most folks because the prices do seem to be a bit more reasonable than places that offer a lot of free delivery, no down payment, no interest for a year financing and pre-built furniture so in general you’re doing a trade off between convenient sucker buying or hassled commonality.

And make no mistake, Ikea’s popularity is one of its detriments. Perhaps it’s just me, but the thought of that many people with that much interest in the same kinds of products I was looking at (don’t let the size of the physical Ikea stores fool you; there are only a few dozen varieties of any given item type) wasn’t too thrilling. Not that I am so obsessed with appearances that if I went to someone else’s house and found they had the same chair as I did I would die of some sort of social embarassment, but I do like to think that the stuff I might pick out would be unique enough to not have to look at the same stuff on every TV show set and magazine pictoral for the next seven years. You’re not going to get that with Ikea.

But for every bad part of Ikea there is a corresponding good and in this case they mostly get away with their popularity/ubiquity by having several basic styles of their key products and then going above and beyond to make them modular and customizable. For example their primary line of shelving units (“Billy,” they have weird names for stuff) is pretty standard and were in just about every showcase on the upper floor of the store. But it didn’t really get tiring or overwhelming seeing all those roughly identical shelves because they have dozens of variants from height expanders to corner units to glass doors and when you assemble them in various different ways you end up with something that has enough uniqueness to it so you aren’t thinking, “Everyone else in the world has this exact same thing in their den.” Plus we’re talking about wooden boxes that hold books, so individuality is probably going to come from what you put in and on it.

In any case my overall impression was favorable; in this case we’re primarily looking for a couch and though we’ve been to about eight different stores, Ikea was the first place where we actually sat on a few couches and went, “Man, this is comfortable.” I don’t know when comfortable couches went out of vogue, but I’d like to humbly request that we bring them back. Most of the other small furniture stores we’ve visited have offered a wide array of what I call “Gradma Couches” which are ornate and perhaps well crafted but were never designed to accept human buttocks and their associated weight. They seem designed for their appearance alone and honestly that appearance is some gross hybrid between classic elegance and modern ugliness which results in things like dark stained heavy oak frames with far eastern print fabrics and floral pastel throw pillows. Looking upon such monstrosities can kill a man dead, such is the affront to good taste, and while my taste is somewhat questionable to begin with I manage to escape with only a mild headache.

In the end we found a few options we’re considering for our purchase at Ikea. I still want to investigate further since we’ve only been shopping for a week or so (the time spent doing price comparisons I believe to be proportional to the amount of money one intends to spend; Nikki likes to tease me that when we start looking for a house we ought to be “looking” for roughly six and a half years which means what we should have been doing from the moment we got married was price shopping homes so that at this juncture I might just now be ready to buy). Still, it was a trip I didn’t mind making, although I’m glad we brought the Honda: Nikki’s earnest insistence that an unassembled bookshelf which in all reality could crush our Civic like a stepped-on soda can just might fit in the trunk suggested that the Swedish consumer magicks running through that place had captured her very soul.


HB was in rare form last night as we watched the Sharks play their latest home game versus a surging Edmonton team. He griped and predicted the end to the Sharks playoff run, which honestly irritated me more than it really had a right to. Our collective frustration with our favorite team culminated in a brief and not necessarily unfriendly exchange of grouchy banter. I think what annoyed me the most was that I knew he was right.

The Sharks can’t score on the power play. They can barely score five-on-five. They miss little details. Toskala is slipping. They don’t shoot nearly enough. Now I hear that the San Jose fans booed the Canadian national anthem. I’m ashamed at the moment to be a Sharks fan.

They could be a Cup-contending team. They aren’t at the moment. They’ve showed it before and maybe being on the verge of playoff extinction will spark them back into gear. I sure hope they make Wednesday’s game in Edmonton more than just a win but a statement that they aren’t going to go out like chumps and that they can actually step above the abysmal officiating this series and the cheap shots by a dirty team to, if not win, at least go out with dignity.

But when their fans can’t even separate the Oh, Canada! sung by probably half their team and coaches from their frustration with the opponent, I fear the worst.

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