Saturday, January 30, 2010

DIY Payback

Payback, as someone once said, can be a bitch. A guy cuts in front of you at the line to the movie theatre, but you get better seats than him. A woman grabs the last carton of orange juice at the store, but it leaks on her. A car races up behind you, sits on your bumper and flashes their lights to pass, only to wind up several miles down the road on the shoulder with a cop. Somehow the celestial scales seem to balance out.

But it doesn't always happen in an immediate time frame or with malice. It can be a long term scenario, where all had the best of intentions, and the offenders have no reason to think they were doing anything wrong. Quite the contrary, they might even have thought they were doing right by all concerned. But eventually the aggrieved gets to set the record straight, giving the perpetrators a taste of their own medicine, albeit in a non-confrontational manner. If it sounds like I'm rationalizing, defending the parties involved even, I am. Because... well... we are they.

When we first had kids and moved into a new house, we were faced with a problem common to many: how to furnish it quickly and cheaply. We had an assortment of stuff from our old place, but needed to ramp up or spend a lot of time sitting on lawn furniture. Fortunately, the Swedes have come to the rescue of us all in the form of Ikea.

Say what you will about this mega-furniture store chain, and indeed many have. There are riffs from comedians about their size, picture instructions and checkout procedures. There are spoofs of their products and their unpronounceable Swedish names, including my favorite, the "Sokkomb," a built-it-yourself guillotine. There's even "Ikea Heights," an online series shot entirely in the Burbank store without the store's knowledge or consent. But if today you just have to have a bookcase ("Byom"), a kitchen table ("Leksvik") as well as a set of wine glasses ("Ivrig"), there is probably no better place to go.

So more than once when our kids were little, we journeyed to a branch of the store in New Jersey, and wandered the aisles looking for dressers, beds, desks and storage units. We assumed the kids were amused, as there were lots of colors and things to climb on. It never occurred to us that they would have any issue with an outing where we came back with shiny new things for their rooms.
It was only recently, some 15 or so years later, that we learned otherwise. When we mentioned the store as a source for some quick decorating to our eldest, who is out of college and renting his first apartment, he told us the truth. Turns out both he and his brother hated going there. "Could you think of anything more boring to two kids than furniture shopping?" he asked.

I was floored. "But you seemed to like it," I sputtered. "What were we going to do?" he said. "We were little. Wasn't worth complaining about, and we knew we were going anyway." One more parenting point we had misread and gotten wrong. Still, on balance, if they're going to eventually need therapy, I guess better this than because we didn't love them.

And here's where the flip comes. In helping him move into his place in Brooklyn, we offered to help him pick out and transport a bed to the apartment. The best option? The nearby branch of the chain in Red Hook. So on a busy Saturday, we joined the throngs, threaded the maze that is the showroom floor, and spent a solid hour standing next to him as he looked at a "Maal" vs "Aneboda," laid on a "Elsfjord" vs. a "Fidjetun" and decided between "Laed" and "Lillaker" support slats. He was right: it wasn't half as much fun as I remembered it.

Finally he had all the right numbers and locations. We selected all the boxes, got lucky at the checkout and managed to fit all the pieces into the car like a giant jigsaw puzzle. We got it to his place and hauled it up to the third floor. No pieces were missing and we were able to follow the pictograms and get it built in short order. All is good, and I now feel like we have atoned... at least until he needs a dresser, and we get to put a tick back in our column.


Marc Wollin of Bedford hadn't been in an Ikea in 15 years, and that was fine. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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