Saturday, August 11, 2007

Lucky Chaarms

So I dropped in at IKEA in Renton the other day, an idea which scares some people (like, you know, me). Even scarier, I discovered that they had expanded.

Now saying that the IKEA, blue-walled purveyor of flat-pack furnishings, has expanded is sort of like saying the the Vatican has suddenly thrown up another wing. When I first moved out here, the IKEA was a big warehouse, half of which was store and half of which was indoor parking (a surprising rarity in a land with so much supposed rain). Well, most of that parking is gone, and they gutted out the warehouse next door for more parking, and gutted the next building over as WELL for the overflow lot. So yeah, they've expanded.

And like the Vatican, the IKEA is its own self-established nation-state completely surrounded by another, larger governmental entity. Actually, it is more like mitochondria in our cells in that it has its own unique DNA that doesn't match up with its surroundings. It is this little (well, big) wafer of European salesmanship in the midst of otherwise American consumerism.

Anyway, my goal was to find two items that the Lovely Bride has been unable to locate in more traditional outlets - a hand-held orange squeezer (which looks like a frozen, unbloomed flower, or a small, medieval mace), and the plastic lid you put on the plate you put the plate in the microwave. They were pretty common but specialized items, and I felt if they would be anywhere, it would be here.

So, walking into an IKEA is a strange thing in itself, with its carry-all bags and recycling bins. Very different from the stink of desperation and failure I always get when I go into a Walmart. Indeed, there is a feeling of Scandinavian progressivism that extends far beyond its blonde furnishings and low-priced Swedish meatballs. The layout of the store is a single lane that meanders through its huge vault, punctured by small but discrete openings in the walls. These do a great job separating the shoppers (who take the paths and are looking for many things) from the buyers (who want to go in, get what they want, and leave).

But it does create this weird vibe that you are rats in the maze, and in his secret bunker, Ingvar, secret master of IKEA, is watching your progress, flanked by two busty Scandanavian assistants in tight lab coats. "You see?" He says, as Sasha (or is it Inga?) marks down something on a clipboard, "By moving the entrance to the cooking implements three feet over from the Persian rugs, we have increased cross traffic by three entire percentiles!"

And I admit, I felt like a very smart little lab rat, being able to avoid the home furnishings and framed posters to get to the cooking tools. Where I found what I was looking for with very little difficulty. In non-American tradition, there was only ONE orange-squeezer (called chaarm - everything here has its own strange, cute name. There is a lab somewhere in Denmark filled with writers whose only job is to come up with these names). But it was a big bin of chaarms, negating the need for any other chaarms in the world. Similarly, there was only one "plastic-lid-you-put-on-the-dish-in-the-microwave", called a haaselhoff or something, but it was the only plastic-lid-you-put-on-the-dish-in-the-microwave you'll ever need. You can imagine Invar and his assistants testing hundreds of them is some clean, bright lab, just to bring you a bin of them.

And there was stuff there that I, Food-Network junkie that I am, could not identify - single-taskers that would make Alton Brown have a cardiac. I had to ask one of the well-informed clerks to identify something that looked like a cross between a rifle bolt-action and a robotic sex toy, and was informed it was a corer. I think its name was knurdel.

So, having grabbed my chaarm and haaselhoff, I fled for the exits, to discover that there are fewer secret doors the deeper you go into Invar's lair. I finally found myself in the new checkout area, where they have incorporated self-checkout. I was partially successful, for while the haaselhoff read properly, the tag on the chaarm was such it would not read and ANOTHER friendly, well-informed clerk ran it through. Properly armed with my chaarm and haaselhoff, like a knight of old with lance and shield, I fled to the indoor parking lot next door.

Though I left, I could have sworn I heard Invar's dry, Swedish chuckle behind me.

More later,