Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Why bother cleaning when cars hide the dirt?
Since my mother-in-law has been wintering in Florida (as most mothers-in-law thankfully do), we've had use of her car, which would otherwise be sitting idle in New Jersey. It's given me the chance to partake in the Manhattan dance known as the Alternate Side of the Street Shuffle. 

Starting at 9:00 AM every Monday and Thursday, my fellow participants and I can be seen getting behind the wheels of our cars and sit there like members of the Heaven's Gate UFO cult waiting to be sucked into a passing spaceship. I bring my Kindle both to while away the time and to try to ignore that it's 29-degrees outside. 

This is actually scary in the rearview mirror.
The same routines occur like clockwork. At 9:20, a passing policeman makes sure someone's in the driver's seat of each car. Twenty minutes later, we all start checking the rearview mirror for the street cleaner. Only when it's inches away do we rev our engines and move as little as possible before backing into our spot. Then we sit there for another 50 minutes, since, technically, parking is still illegal until 10:30. Parking spaces being a premium in Manhattan, we repeat the same thing the next street-cleaning day. Nowhere else do people buy cars with the express purpose of not using them.

Oz on the Hudson.
So you can understand my confusion when, over the weekend, my wife suggested we drive to the Brooklyn Ikea for pillows. "But we have a parking space," I whined childishly. "Why can't we walk to Bed, Bath & Beyond?" Two reasons, I was informed. First, she likes the Ikea pillows at her friend's house. Second (in her words), "We have a car, we might as well use it." She didn't understand that by holding a parking space, we were using it for a far better reason than actually driving it. 

She wasn't convinced, and soon we were putting on our coats. Now we have a semi-unspoken agreement: since this is her mother's car, my wife usually drives. Except when we were driving to Rhode Island in a snowstorm a couple of weeks ago. Then suddenly I was given the honors. On Ikea day, my wife hadn't even turned the ignition when a woman drove up beside us, then reversed, waiting for us to leave so she could pull in. I felt cheap and dirty.

Driving to Brooklyn gave us a chance to actually see the landmarks we otherwise only hear about on the morning traffic reports -- the BQE, the Hamilton Street exit, etc. All that was needed was a jackknifed tractor trailer truck and the scene would have been complete. This is what passes for exciting in my life these days.

Ikea: The high-school cafeteria for grown-ups.
Ikea, for those of you who haven't visited, is just nothing more than a Crate & Barrel with a Swedish accent. The main reason it brings in huge numbers is that it's the only furniture store that sells Swedish meatballs. People rave about Ikea's meatballs far more than anything else on the premises. They love standing in line at the cafeteria-style restaurant because it makes them feel like they're getting something special. Oh, Ikea's got other meals to be sure, but it's the meatballs that bring in the crowd. In fact, most shoppers chow down on them immediately upon arriving, giving them the strength to embark on the maze that makes up Ikea.

Ikea has the most laid-back hard-sell in the business. Different areas are devoted to particular part of the house. Every possible way you could furnish, say, a kitchen is provided -- You didn't like the other one? Try this! I finally realized the secret to Ikea's success with women: It brings back memories of playing with dollhouses. For husbands who are bored out of their nut, well, there's meatballs. Everybody wins.

The Ikea non-style.
Ikea is best known for the furniture made out of particle board, which appears to have the strength of very thick paper. We have some a couple of those items ourselves and they've actually held up pretty well. The problem lies in the actual construction -- that is, we had to assemble them ourselves. Ikea says this reduces shipping costs, but it doesn't take into consideration the cost it takes on my marriage. I'm not a tool guy and don't aspire to be. My wife, on the other hand, enjoys nothing more than an evening stroll in a hardware store. She's one of these do-it-yourself types -- Why hire an electrician to re-wire your house when you can do it yourself? Uh, because it's less dangerous?

The Ikea items seem easy enough to put together. But when I'm the guy swinging the hammer, it makes for a sorry spectacle indeed. The one Ikea bookcase we still have has never looked quite right in all the years we've had it. There's something off about it, like the guy at the grocery store who can bag your items but isn't mentally capable of stocking the soup aisle.
Back? Side? Stomach? You tell me.

Between the huge layout and my wife venturing through the store like Stanley searching for Livingston, it took us about 75 minutes to find the pillows. Talk about marketing! They've got pillows for people who sleep on their back, pillows for those who sleep on their side, pillows for those who sleep on their stomach. And those pillows themselves are subdivided into different categories. (Swedes must be easier to fool.) Nowhere in the product descriptions does it say just how these pillows differ -- or which one a guy like me, who falls asleep on his back, switches to his side in the middle of the night and wakes up with his face in a puddle of drool, should purchase. After much deliberation (actually, me saying, "All these things are the same, fer Chrissakes!") we went for the backsleeper-style.

Our adventure complete, we arrived home two hours after we had left. As I predicted when we left, there was no parking space on our block, forcing us to do what 97% of Manhattan car owners do at any time -- burn up fuel as we drove around the neighborhood to find a place to park. But we had our new pillows to look forward to that night. And we didn't even have to construct them. 

Just yesterday, the London Guardian reported that Ikea is opening its own hotel chain. The company promises "contemporary stylish design, approachable service and, most importantly, an affordable price." Translation: bring your own tool kit. 

No word on if the maids leave Swedish meatballs on your pillow.



kevin thomsen said...

What, no mention of the horse meat that was recently found in Ikea's meatballs?
"Let's hoof it over to Ikea, for a new dresser in my favorite Swedish color, Seabiscuit?"
No mention of irony of driving your CAR to go eat HORSE?

Anonymous said...

One of the ways the new Ikea Hotel chain will keep prices low is by asking guests to assemble their own beds.