Swedish for Argument

In the labyrinth of decisions
In the labyrinth of decisions

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When first you arrive at the new Ikea, the escalator deposits you into the food court. Like a marooned astronaut on a foreign planet, you take your tray and step directly into a line for swedish meatballs.

Being herded in this way is oddly comforting. Though neither of you want to admit it, you know what’s coming.  Might as well do it on a contented stomach.

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Ikea knows what’s coming, too. Decades of careful study of consumer behavior has shown a well gravy-ed belly is a prophylactic against impulsive argumentation. To that end, they stack chocolate bars for you by the register.  Only 99 cents! Do you feel line having chocolate right now?  Not particularly.  Reason not the need.  At these prices, it would be unsportsmanlike to say no.   There is Mirkwood to cross and the Misty Mountains beyond. You’re fortfifying yourselves. So, lets get another, while we’re at it.  And a third one for the road.

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Into the living dioramas of the showrooms we went…to an Other Life, prettier, more well-ordered than one’s own.

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You stagger through them in wonder. Wonder begets desire. Desire begets recrimination.   You stand upon shores of beckoning kingdoms, a rebuke to the squalor of your own circumstances.

Here, you are not.  This, you have not. You are wanting.

Purchasing the tableau entire is never possible. So the question becomes what half Ikea, quarter Ikea, one tenth of an Ikea tableau could you go home with and not disagree with yourself?

Buying it all is easy. Picking the right three items to agree on is where the trouble starts.

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Kitchens were a particular hazard.

You know of one marriage that nearly came to an end with a screaming match at the Emeryville Ikea, with the wife announcing she was going back to China and taking the kids, while the Kitchen Dept. assistant averted her gaze, doodled nervously on her notepad, as though that sort of thing didn’t happen once a week.  The following day you were deputized to return to the scene of the crime and pick up their order for them as they were too ashamed to show their faces.

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As is her nature, Mrs. U  touched everything, opening drawers and sniffing candles as though trying on pairs of shoes.

“Our kitchen is too small,” you announce, breaking the spell.

“These kitchens don’t have walls, making them seem larger than they are. There’s nothing wrong with the size of our kitchen. It’s more than adequate.”

Adequate was the worse possible descriptor she could have chosen in that moment.

She did it on purpose, you decide. The afternoon takes a turn, and you both know it.

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She begins marching ahead of you.   With purpose.

TO BE CONTINUED….

Yes, we’re finishing it…

Can I have some?
Can I have some?

Today I paid five bucks for a cup of joe at a discreet and cool industrial-looking coffee house, down in the Arts District.   Not some soda-sized caramel macchiato whipped cream extravaganza from Starbucks, just a plain cup of coffee in the type of cup they used to set in front of you at Denny’s at 3AM in the middle of an all-nighter. Five bucks.

‘It’ll be six or seven minutes to prepare. We need to whip the almond milk.’

Oh, okay….

I’m in no position to pay that kind of money for anything which fits in the palm of my hand.  This is my second consecutive Christmas of ‘oh, let’s at least have a tree.’  I service my debts….and I do so honorably. Beyond that, my fiscal horizons are brutish and short.  It’s no way to be living at this point in my life. So on Small Business Saturday, if I’m not going to be able to afford to window shop, we can put some miles on the Skechers and take in the city a bit.   Start in Echo Park and work our way down east of Alameda.  My day began with a re-habbing jury-rigging of the kitchen door with mismatched brackets I had dug out of a box of old construction materials.  A shameless piece of hack work I didn’t even attempt to conceal with paint, which succeeded in keeping the stiles and rails connected and allowed for the door to swing shut for another winter.  We watched Searching for Sugarman last night, so I was both in a poetic and appreciative frame of mind.  I did what I usually do when I’m in that state:  I left the Valley.

So out came the coffee.  My almond-whipped, individually prepared, fair-trade, put my feet out after a long week and savor the moment premium cassis.

Ghastly.

Sour.

Strange.

Imagine a rusty freighter hijacked by Somali pirates.  Now imagine a cast iron bucket at the bottom of the hold the hostages are forced to use as a piss pot during their captivity.  Then imagine that cast iron bucket being purchased on eBay by some fancypants collector of conflict memorabilia, which through a comedy of errors is mis-routed to Los Angeles where a hipster doofus decides to re-purpose it as a coffee pot. For authenticity’s sake.  Old camp stove coffee.  Almond-whipped.  And all those rich, brine-y flavors working their way into the foam….

Mrs. Upinthevalley, optimist.
Mrs. Upinthevalley, determined.

‘We’re finishing it,’ my wife announced, reading my mind, but setting down the cup with a grimace.

I went back inside for some sugar. A lot of sugar, which appeared to offend the staff behind the counter.

‘The cup is nice,’ she offered optimistically. ‘I like cupping a warm cup in my hands. It almost makes the coffee taste better. or would if it were better coffee.”

Maybe we just don’t have the proper palate, we decided. It can’t be as bad as it seems.

Until we sipped a little more.

We let Giles lick the foam off the spoon, which he did without complaint.   We considered the five bucks a sidewalk rental, and made the best of it. Slowly, steadily, working as a team, we drained the cup. Hell if we’re going to waste five bucks on anything.

On the walk back to the car, she posed for an album cover.  I thought: how could anyone look this good after 15 years of marriage?

Teacher as moody singer-songwriter
Schoolteacher as seraphic singer-songwriter

She can.   Yeah, we’re gonna finish this, too. I got all the sugar I need.