Concerning My Panic Attack in the Atlanta IKEA
By – David Blood
TL; DR: If you must go to IKEA please don’t do it on a Saturday morning.
Seeing P2G’s packed spaces should have been omen enough. Was ‘ENTER IF YOU DARE’ not etched on a ragged sign? Up from the deep bowels of the garage to the café takes you through no less than three sets of escalators. No one walks on escalators anymore. No one even leaves a lane on the left side for those who wish to walk. America has spoken. Escalators are my little adult carnival ride, a brief respite from the tedium of consumer life. Up in the cafeteria we queue for the inevitable meatballs (My stomach is already aching and I opt for a veggie wrap) A woman behind me eyes the chocolate cake (another popular choice) and gets within inches of me.
It’s a true crowd: not one to be embraced, but one to be battled. The din of the mad crowd takes on an almost industrial hum. And I imagine that this place would be very eerie indeed if you were to experience it alone. I daydream for a moment about being stuck in here, trying out the living rooms, eating meatballs for dinner and riding carelessly through its halls on my little cart. The crowd’s low hum is broken only by the odd overheard conversation, almost always practical (e.g. ‘Where is the coffee?’ or ‘How much is that lamp?’) I seem only to speak when asked such practicalities from my own dear Partner, who almost seems to sink into the crowd herself. My eyes are aloft and lit with the spectacle of it all.
I can’t help but eat quickly, aggravating my dyspepsia. As we eat, it seems hard to talk about anything other than the IKEA phenomena itself. The Place is a self-contained world with its own food, aesthetic and ethic which seems to have no referents to The Outside World. It’s hard even to see outside from here; the only windows overlook an equally IKEA-esque student apartment complex.
But the saddest thing of all about IKEA is the inevitability of it all: the “choosing” of one or two of the premade meals from its café. (In practice, only two meals are actually chosen from IKEA’s café: chicken tenders with fries and of course Swedish meatballs) A kind of inevitability of lifestyle not actually lived out; it’s hard to see some of these chicken nugget munching bovines living the way these desk chairs or modular sofas demand.
Pixar films emit from predesignated Kid Zones and some of the kids amble up forming corporate memories. After lunch, I dread the thought of plunging myself down the throat of this place and really just want to leave. Somehow though, the idea of coming to IKEA only to eat the food seems deeply unconscionable to me.
IKEA’s Kafkaesque layout seems to stand against everything the consumer is led to believe about the IKEA ethic: functional, simple, and efficient. One is fed through each section of the retail digestive system before being ejected at the register, a kind of yellow-brick road from hell, meandering as if it were a Scandinavian country road. We try to appreciate the Candyland-ish map. The idea of traversing this place any other way than the inevitable predestinated route is laughable; going against the flow of shoppers invites nasty glances and begins to throw me into a tailspin.
And so we descend.
We snake our way through BEDROOM, BATHROOM, and LIGHTING, before finally making it to KITCHEN. My Partner and I squabble over design. The argument that so many couples are concurrently having (and will have) in this place is at once predictable and ridiculous; the idea of individuating yourself from the crowd is hard to resist (‘Oh that’s not my style’) if painfully ironic. And this place seems to make you feel wholesome while you are in it, it’s not until you are spat out into the wide world do its charms begin to fade, realizing that your home does not look like Olga’s 270 sq. ft. mod pad and it never will…
A pure bait-and-switch reels in the uninitiated: newlyweds’ eyes gleam as if their being given a tour of a welcoming friends home, only later to review the receipt and discover how much of their hard-earned USD has been forfeited to those damn Swedes. But my patience for squabbling over table size and color is wearing painfully thin and I’m resigned to sit in one of the outdoor patio sets next to the yellow-brick road, nearly defeated.
Now I’ve all but forgotten my Partner and the purpose of this wretched outing as she approaches the lonely little patio. “I’ve got to get out of here” I say with a face that must have seemed downright pathetic. A final attempt by me to salvage this whole goddamn affair and actually leave the Big Blue Behemoth with some sleek modern Swedish design has been totally forsaken. It’s a full scale retreat boys.
I begin walking quickly now, zipping between idle shoppers who take their time to ogle a light fixture or dinette set. I slalom between them like a crazed skier as I dream of the fresh air outside. I have completely left my Partner now. I’m really feeling like I can’t breathe and hate to think of the scene I’ll cause if I unload my Swedish meatballs right here and now. At some point, my escape becomes a strange quest, and monomania sets it. Deep in the recesses of The Big Blue Ship there’s a single crack that will let me free.
Finally I come to the ugly guts of the place: The Warehouse. Something very sinister about it. A kind of purgatory to the showroom’s Nordic heaven. Stacks of chairs, desks, couches, and beds await their journey to The Outside World. All in brown cardboard with their unpronounceable names printed in black, as anonymous as their buyers. Their purchase seems less of a choosing by the consumer and more like a meeting of kindred spirits. (This lamp is a new member of the family!)
Finally I stumble out into The Outside World, IKEA’s looming Swedish-ness behind me: What once was a strange but inviting blue block, now I can barely look at. I walk out to the edge of the parking lot into a “NO PARKING” zone, sipping a plastic water bottle and enjoying the rare beauty of a drainage ditch. A security guard notices me and with a glance seems to understand my plight. He’s seen my kind before: those with shaky constitutions which IKEA’s belly has proven to be too much. I linger at the edge of the parking lot for several minutes doing some serious breathing (inhale, hold, exhale slowly, repeat) and watch an equally serious storm roll into the city. It’s real lightning. A luxury SUV nearly clips me in the empty lot.
The car is underground and I must reenter The Beast to reach it. I follow (by this point I’ve all but lost my sense of self-determination) a little family down the escalators down to P2G where it’s parked. The darkness and anonymity of the parking garage begin to bring me back to Earth though it takes locking the Kia’s doors, cranking the A/C, taking off my glasses and closing my eyes for at least three minutes to truly regain some sanity.
Although I’m an initiated member of the cult of IKEA, today’s visit has granted me a kind of frazzled clarity rarely afforded, a disassociation of me as member. As if I were floating above them all with their plates of meatballs and carts stuffed with modern Swedish décor, and to see above it all: The System. It’s not hard to imagine them sped up 1000x moving like worker ants. Do they know each other? Do they visit each other’s houses and notice that they in fact have the same chaise lounge and isn’t it so funny… Only later to go straight home and throw the thing away and feel quite dizzy indeed.
I imagine the collapse of society and how this very scene dangles precariously on anarchy. In fact, it’s hard not to see the ape-ishness in all this (and perhaps I would not if it were not for my own disposition) You don’t have to squint too hard to see grown men fighting to the death over a set of dinnerware.
Another visit (if there are to be any more) will surely take on a more reasoned and less foolhardy tone; no more excitement over the “cuteness” of plates. No more talk of the “calming effect” of a minimal bedroom. No more. The Beast conquered me and now I shall conquer The Beast.