Another dreary Sunday arrives, and you wake up depressed. Your family is 800 miles away, but you’re not so much homesick as startled. It’s freakin’ May, for Chrissakes, yet there’s no sign of the things that signified springtime in your native South: popsicle-blue skies, the cadence of birds singing, sticky vinyl seats in hotbox Hondas. Instead, it’s 42 degrees (again) and gray (again) and the apartment is a disaster (again).
So your boyfriend decides: It’s time to go to IKEA!
OK, you say, but only if the trip won’t take up our entire day. Because you’ve learned your lesson: Your last IKEA adventure turned into a five-hour tour of duty. The word Iraq comes to mind.
This time it’ll be different, he says. We have an exit strategy. We’ll just buy a couch and leave.
So you go.
From the fluorescent purgatory of the Port Authority, a free IKEA shuttle ferries sad-eyed (and mostly foreign born) shoppers to Elizabeth, N.J., for the promise of Big Box Bliss.
Funny name, Elizabeth—it sounds so elegant, with visions of stately British gardens and ponds filled with swans. But this Elizabeth is perhaps the antithesis of elegance, a rusted scab of industrial blight. And the shiny, yellow IKEA superstore is the puss oozing from said scab. Inside, no one speaks English. Untold masses cram the upstairs Showroom. They clog the aisles with strollers and leave sweaty fingerprints on cream, canvas couches.
You and the BF stay on target. You debate: Cloth loveseat or leather sofa? You measure metal tables. You follow the rules and jot down exotic-sounding names like Ockero and Rosfors on giveaway shopping lists. So handy!
You pass those slips along to the staff—and the verbal lashing begins. This item is out of stock. This you’ll have to pick up yourself.
But it’s a sofa! And we’re on a bus!
At this point, an intercom announces that the last bus back to Port Purgatory leaves in half an hour. You’ve spent almost four hours in the store. Your plan is now fucked.
A frantic dash downstairs to the warehouse leads to a dread-locked salesgirl whose eyes are filled with hatred. We only have one of those loveseats left, she says, pointing to a plastic-wrapped glob. It’s your loveseat, alright—the last one—but there’s a gaping hole in the plastic as well as the brown-paper bottom of the sofa. Another salesguy says they can’t sell it. He’ll have to send it to the As Is department.
As Is? As if.
Now you’re ready to go Columbine. The bus is leaving. You frantically wheel your other purchases (a rug, some mirrors, a press-board mail sorter, crap) to check out. You have personally witnessed riots that are more civil than this clusterfuck. Nerves are frayed. A woman with a baby shoves her way past you and flips off the people in line. She does not speak English. The baby is sleeping.
Five minutes until departure, you realize there’s no way you can possibly place your order for the Rosfors wooden TV cabinet or the Granso dining room table. Why, God, why?
You decide to cut your losses and scurry back to Manhattan: An oasis of calm meditation compared to this savage Third World excuse for shopping. On the bus, the BF crams the rolled-up rug between your seats. Across the aisle, a chunky woman of Slavic descent hovers over her 9-year-old daughter. Her voice is shrill, like Betty Boop. She barely speaks English. Her hair is dirty. The bus smells like armpits and Pringles.
Your BF feels nauseous. You wait. It’s now 5:30 p.m.; the day is over. Betty BaBoopski screams from the back of the bus, telling an Asian lady to please not drop her IKEA bag on her daughter. The daughter looks embarrassed.
Finally the bus departs, and the rotted metal of the Garden State begins to fade into the towering comfort of the city.
Back at Port Authority, Betty BaBoopski is getting cussed out. A short Italian guy screams at her, Do you realize how fucking annoying it is to have you talk over us? She grabs her daughter and you see them again a few minutes later, asking for directions on Ninth Avenue. She’s clutching her oversized IKEA bags in one hand, squeezing the color out of her daughter’s arm with the other. You can’t make out what she’s saying, but it sounds like the same word repeated over and over again, like the clucking of a baby bird whose mother has forgotten the nest: Ockero. Ockero. Ockero.
This, you think, is the sound of springtime in metropolis.
Read more by Tray Butler at Trayb.com.