If you don’t have a life, you may have noticed that this blog has been sporadic and quiet of late. I would like to be able to report that it is for some noble cause (rescuing baby otters / trekking up Mt. Kilimanjaro / rescuing baby otters who have failed in their trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro), but the truth is that none of those things were the case.

My name is Danny, and I am a victim of flat-packed Swedish furniture.

If you have never been to the zip code known as Ikea, then you’ve come to the right place. My friends, I have seen the face of evil, and it comes in a heavy cardboard box. After two months of furniture assembly, I finally screwed the final part number 1300567 into drawer slide RL at about 1:15 this morning.

You’ve never traversed those Swedish waters, you say? Let me break it down for you:

Step one: discovery. (approximate time investment: 20 minutes) No one just stumbles upon Ikea.  Nobody drives down a major interstate, sees a building slightly larger than the Pentagon, and thinks, “Hey! There’s furniture in there!” No, there is always a friend who exposes you to the seedy underbelly of do-it-yourself trundle beds. Much like incorrigible teenage thugs, these “friends” tell you of their great deals and huge savings and chic furniture. These same friends also go into the witness protection program and block your number in their cell phone as soon as they hear you’ve rented a U-Haul to go pick up said furniture.

Step two: the warehouse. (approximate time investment: 7.5 hours) My family and I blocked out a Saturday to take a day trip to Ikea. Family. That was mistake number one. Families go in, but families do not come out. Perhaps the same number of people come out, but they are most certainly no longer family. They are individual units that refuse to speak to each other on the two hour drive back to Durham, but they are not family. My wife very astutely observed, “Ikea could triple their profits if they’d set up marriage counseling stations throughout this place.”

We were in Ikea for longer than we would have been on an international flight to Stockholm. We had kids ranging from sixteen years to 22 months old. And we involved a special friend just because we wanted her to see that the pastor and his family is perhaps unsaved.

The day began with lunch at the cafeteria, which had been touted for its cheap prices. And in this case, “cheap prices” meant “nearly 40 dollars worth of nasty meatballs.”

From the cafeteria, we wandered around 1.56 million acres of furniture showrooms. We stepped over the carcasses of shoppers who had gone before us and failed. We wrestled the aforementioned 22 month old in a corner hidden away behind futons, as we fruitlessly tried to get her to take a nap. And in one desperate moment, I considered writing my Social Security number and “tell my wife I love her” on my arm with a Sharpie, because I got separated from my family and the dehydration and delirium was setting in.

We argued. We fought. We said hurtful things that we could never take back (and that was just me and the idiotic shopping cart with four independently pivoting wheels…my conversations with my bride were much worse).

If you’re unfamiliar with the process, we used Ikea’s very helpful system of picking furniture that we would collect at the end of the day. The helpful system translates to using a tiny golf pencil and a tiny score pad to write down item numbers containing approximately 47 digits, plus another number for an “aisle,” plus another number for a “bin.” I thought “aisle” and “bin” were fun euphemisms for employees that would deliver these things to us while we sipped ligonberry smoothies in the lobby, but no. “Aisle” and “bin” are actual “aisles” and “bins” separated by several square miles in no obvious pattern. What that meant was after several lifetimes of picking out furniture, we had to spend several more lifetimes picking up the furniture. I’m fairly certain I saw several Hindus be reincarnated through a few life cycles while we were there.*

Here’s a rule of thumb to remember: picking out the furniture generally only causes your spouse to hate you. Picking up the furniture allows your children to hate you, as well. “NO NOT THAT SIDE! YOU LIFT ON THIS SIDE! IT’S LIKE I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU ANYMORE!”

Step three: the assembly. (approximate time investment: 8 weeks) It’s best to assemble your furniture on a flat surface with plenty of workspace and no one around to hear you scream. I say this because any modicum of respect my family had for me after step two flew out the window once I realized that the assembly instructions include diagrams of pieces of wood with seven no eight no 36 pre-drilled holes and you had to make sure you were working on exactly the right piece of wood or else you would get to step 137 in the instructions and realize that in step one you were supposed to have a piece of wood with 36 pre-drilled holes but instead you picked up the piece of wood with 35 pre-drilled holes and now not only do you not know how to undo what you’ve done but also you’ve spent so much time on this piece of furniture up until this point that you no longer remember what you’re assembling.

Step three involves lots of Very Bad Words** that are constantly present in your heart and your mind but also occasionally cross the threshold of your lips. Sometimes the Very Bad Words emerge because you realize that you have the furniture assembly skill of a toadstool, other times the Very Bad Words spill out because you made your ten year old balance a piece of wood over his head for far too long and his little arms gave out and when the piece of wood came crashing down the side of your head was in the path of part number 4566219 and that part gashed your skull and also caused tremendous amounts of damage to your Vlöörmokpt side table and you don’t know how to clamp pieces of broken fiberboard together and now your household furniture is going to look like you preserved it from your college dorm room.

I harbored Very Bad Words about the furniture. I harbored Very Bad Words about Ikea. I harbored Very Bad Words about the continent of Europe and NATO treaties and the Swedish foreign exchange student that lived with my wife’s family when she was in tenth grade.

Step four: repent of step three. (approximate time investment: ongoing) 

Step five: repeat the process. (approximate time investment: unknown) I would like to say that we have learned our lesson. I would like to say that we will never ever ever purchase flat packed furniture again. I would like to say that I will take a longer amount of time to save money towards furniture or that I’ll take a side job or that I’ll sell a vital organ so that we can do whatever it takes to buy pre-assembled furniture and never have to see the oddly-shaped Ikea man in the assembly instructions again.

But I know it just ain’t so.

I know that one day soon, I will be sitting on my Odklørpf easy chair, thumbing through the Ikeapedia of a catalog that we picked up while maneuvering our independently-wheeled cart through the cavernous warehouse, and my eye will rest on a black-brown entry hall table, and I’ll think, “How hard could that be?”

And then I’ll go ahead and sign up for marriage counseling, because you just never know.

* only kidding. No false religions were harmed in the making of this blog post.

** “shucks.” “Darn.” “By golly.” What did you think I meant?