IKEA, A Vitruvian Man, and a Yellow Elephant

by Elison Alcovendaz

The first time I went to IKEA, I was in the OC with about 50 college friends. We'd just had one of those "ultimate" college experiences - after playing Olympic (not really) style games with a bunch of other college kids from around the country (mostly just an excuse to play with water balloons and buckets of water with holes in them), we partied at the House of Blues, played Truth or Dare in hotel rooms, club-hopped in Hollywood, and somehow ended up in front of that Big Yellow and Blue. At the time, there weren't any IKEA stores in Northern California, so we didn't know what to expect. One of the older guys - the one who'd be married in a year with a good job and very stable life - looked at me and said, "This is going to rock your f'in world."

It did (yes, a furniture store). I was 18 and a few months out of high school, which I felt at the time had been a relative success. I'd had a high GPA, a pretty good high school basketball career, a couple girlfriends - but when I stayed back in Sac and some of my classmates were getting scholarships to Ivy League schools and studying in D.C. and backpacking east Asia and playing college baseball up in Oregon, I kind of felt that living at home and seeing the same people at the under-21 nightclubs every Friday was just, well, not the business. 

So when the escalators placed me under those big, white lights, every HEMNES bookcase and every KLINGSBO coffee table became the keys to growing up, to making it. Living in 528 square feet looked pretty awesome to me, even if your toilet and stovetop were too close to seriously do any "healthy" cooking. I chatted up the employees. I grabbed those paper rulers and measured couches I couldn't afford. I jotted down the aisles and the rows of cabinetry for kitchens and bedrooms for a house I imagined would come right after college. Under those lights, I had dreams of crazy things. Playing basketball in the NBA. Becoming an actor. Owning a house with ten bedrooms. I was this close to the big time. I was excited. With the $20 in my wallet and smiling like a fool, I bought a pack of mini picture frames, a mini Vitruvian-Man-mannequin thing, and a couple of mini hot dogs. When I got home, I put the frames above the wall and the Vitruvian guy on the desk across from my bed, his head and hand raised in respect, as though he knew I was on my way.

I've been to IKEA many times since then and I've accumulated a lot of stuff, a few of which have been donated or sold at garage sales but most of which are still around in their ratty, discolored states. Contrary to popular belief, most of their products will last longer than your dreams (wow, that was melancholy) - as long as you can follow those pictographic directions - so they're hard to get rid of. I remembered this when, a week ago, we moved into our new house and I was looking at the den and the nearly 500 books on the floor that wouldn't fit in the IKEA shelves that were already many, many years old and something told me I didn't want IKEA any longer. It wasn't good enough. We had a nice new home and we needed some real furniture. Sturdy. Oak, maybe. The kind of furniture that made you think of leather armoires and random globes and old men sitting around smoking pipes inside their offices for no reason. Something to replace those wild, 18 year-old dreams I'd started having that day at the OC IKEA. I know this line of thinking is mostly a commoditization-based ego thing - I believed IKEA was the thing you got in college or just out of college when you were renting that apartment with the roommates you ended up hating and wished would just disappear and you wanted to look cool only you wouldn't realize until later that EVERYONE had that same EKTORP sofa. It wasn't the type of thing grown-ups did. I didn't want to be that college kid anymore. I wanted to be the guy who had a house and was proud of it. I wanted real furniture to symbolize real reality. I wanted to be the adult. 

But those $3000 limited edition shelves I wanted were "slightly" out of our price range (which Patty rightfully and annoyingly reminded me of every five minutes as I stood there drooling over them) and, knowing the Big Yellow and Blue had cheap, faux-wood shelves that would match the ones I already had and would do the job for awhile, I drove over to West Sac, parked my car, and ended up under those lights that had only gotten bigger and brighter since my first stop in the OC.

I hated it. I hated being directed on how to live in 328 square feet. I hated seeing fake TVs. I hated seeing every single book used only for decorative purposes and probably never touched or read. I hated seeing furniture that would destroy your back in half an hour. I hated seeing bookcases you had to screw to the wall. I hated seeing boxes that I knew held those terribly designed screwdrivers that always threatened to break your thumbs. I hated seeing the hipsters who would spend 30 minutes trying to get that box into their Prius. I hated those damn meatballs. I hated all the geometry and the pretty little rooms and all the younger twenty-something couples who argued over a dresser like it would make or break their relationship. But above all, I hated that I wanted those bookcases, that couch, that frame, that print, that rug, those curtains, that shower caddy, that GRUNDTAL, that lamp, that fake plant, that sweet-looking cinnamon roll.

Now that we own a house that needs ceiling fans and landscaping in the backyard and enough water for the sod and sealant for the tile and a couch for the great room and chairs for people to sit in and a lamp for the bedroom and blinds for our windows and shelves for the garage and a hose for the washing machine, I realized that there is way too much of that kind of adulthood going on. We have enough of that crap to deal with. Instead I bought the metallic shelves the teenage me would've loved. I got an awesome print of a yellow elephant. I'm not saying I don't want to grow up, that I don't want these responsibilities, but I am saying that sometimes, your 18 year old self knows a little bit more about growing up than your 34 year old self does. I can't permanently get back that naivete, that careless hope when adulthood is on the precipice, but I know that when the grass dies and the dryer fails and the pipes leak and the windows break, I'll be able to sit on the ground, cross my legs like a youngster, stare at the yellow elephant and know that, at least for awhile, not everything gets old.