Friday was a warm day.
A daytime temperature of 17 degrees Celsius and a night temperature of 11 degrees Celsius may not qualify as warm in the part of the world that I come from, but here in New Jersey, it was a welcome respite from one of the severest and most snow-laden winters of recent times. At school, people were already walking around in shorts and sleeveless T-shirts. The weekend was going to be sunny too. A lovely weekend for going out and enjoying the fresh air, one could say.
So although a strong wind had started on Saturday morning and the temperature had dropped below 10, I decided to wear just a fall jacket with my jeans and sneakers while going to IKEA with a friend. I did not take my gloves or earmuffs – they are notoriously difficult to manage inside a warm store. And previous experience had taught me that IKEA was warm inside. On second thoughts, I just pulled on my woolen cap and left.
A visit to IKEA is, of course, less about buying necessary home furniture and more about touching, feeling and getting tempted by unnecessary ones. After a few hours of uneventful browsing which consisted of sitting on sofas, lying in beds, climbing atop bar stools, opening and closing cupboards and admiring ourselves in mirrors of all shapes and sizes, we felt we were sufficiently hungry to do justice to the free dining offer from the cafeteria. During this weekend, IKEA would deduct the cafeteria bill from the store bill for a purchase of over $100. To maximize the benefit of this offer, we filled ourselves up to bursting point with stuffed salmon fillet, buffalo chicken wraps, chicken tenders with fries, some lovely Swedish princess cake and coffee while watching planes taking off and landing at the Newark international airport. We shopped some more for things that my friend needed for her new home and then we proceeded to stuff our bags with random irresistible stuff like stainless steel trivets, photo frames, wooden wall-racks, tool kits and potted cacti until we could barely drag the bags behind us. We would, of course, have the heavy furniture shipped home, so we had nothing to worry about.
At the checkout counter I had the first inkling of doubt that all was not right. The never-ending line eventually delivered us to the lady with the bar-code scanner at a snail’s pace, and there we learnt that we had to actually bring the heavy furniture out too, like everyone else, before we could get them home delivered.
Now this was a problem. We had already paid for our two bagfuls of not-so-light stuff when we were informed of this. Since we could not carry this stuff inside, one of us would have to stand there with the two bags while the other (in this case, I) would have to go and pick up a bed, a sofa and a few chairs single-handedly and re-navigate that queue which had doubled by this time. It wasn’t easy. Apart from the fact that the things would be heavy and hard to place on a cart single-handedly, I would have to somehow fit everything on a single cart.
Which I eventually did. I single-handedly tamed the cart which was constantly trying to roll away and loaded the sofa, the bed, and all the chairs on it, and finally joined the line which was now several times longer. By the time I paid for this stuff and finally passed the counter it was nearly six which meant we were still not too late. We just had to get it home delivered now.
And overcoming the home delivery queue took us… around two hours.
Carrying two large bags of heavy stuff, apart from our heavier backpacks and pushing a cartload of furniture, we waited for two hours. Every few minutes, someone would try to push a cart through our queue and somehow they always chose the gap around me to squeeze in so that I had to readjust my cart. And while the queue passed close to a door to the outside world, we suddenly realized the long queue was no longer our most unpleasant experience of the day. The outside air had cooled beyond our wildest expectations and even standing ten feet inside the sliding door made us shiver.
“Stay warm,” said the gentleman at the counter as he took the payment for our shipment and handed me the receipt. We knew how ridiculously impossible it would be to follow that advice. As we stepped outside the wind hit us like a wall of ice and the next half-hour wait for the bus may very well have been my longest half-hour. Even with the help of a muffler from my friend, I could not get rid of the feeling that I was going to freeze over. The temperature, as I saw later, was a -4 feeling like a -12 and so no wonder my fingers felt like they were going to fall off any moment even inside my pockets. We were thankful when the bus came, even though it was filled to capacity. The standing ride back to civilization on the twisting road which had us hanging on to the handles with the heavy bags may not have been my most comfortable ever, but I can hardly recall another time when I have enjoyed being on a bus more.
And in the end, all this was totally worth it. When the furniture boxes arrived the next day and I looked at my brand new sofa bed and bar stools at the end of four hours of inexperienced carpentry, it seemed to take away all the bad memories of the previous day’s misadventures. This was much better than asking friends for months to help out with car rides – this weekend made us feel that we could actually do something without their help. This was just another enjoyable-in-retrospect weekend activity that was part of the American experience, and now both of us have brand new furniture to show off.
And show it off I will.