To Hell and Back: My Trip to IKEA in Red Hook



Neighborhood: Park Slope, Red Hook

To Hell and Back: My Trip to IKEA in Red Hook
On the Ikea Bus by Matti Mattila

I’ve lived in my apartment in Park Slope for about seven months now, yet somehow I’ve entirely neglected getting curtains for the windows in the living room. It never really occurs to me that this is a problem unless I’m home during the afternoon on a sunny day. At night, I like the uncovered windows … the streetlights outside, the domestic scenes illuminated in my neighbors’ apartments. But in the daytime, the sunlight really streams in, beating down so mercilessly on the little wooden table where I sit sipping my coffee that I start sweating even if I strip down to my underwear. The sun may also may be damaging my laptop, I consider … but I do nothing about this (perhaps I am unconsciously "punishing" the technology for the hold it has over us all).

But today I was seized by a mania of activity. Before I even knew what had come over me, I was striding off down the street toward the bus stop, bound for the shuttle bus that takes you out to the IKEA in Red Hook, where apparently they sell obscenely cheap furniture.

"Today," I crowed triumphantly, as the women with their baby strollers gaped at me in alarm, "I will buy curtains!" (However, being the type of person who obviously doesn’t ever buy furniture, I did sort of doubt the existence of this "IKEA" place — but I had talked to a few friends who said they’d actually been there, which tempered my skepticism somewhat.)

To my surprise, the shuttle bus arrived immediately, pulling up to the curb just as I got to the bus stop. The automatic door swung open slowly — but in a rather pleasant, friendly way, it seemed to me. I boarded jauntily, followed by a dozen or so other hopeful cheapskates and bargain hunters, and off we went.

It turns out Red Hook isn’t so far from Park Slope at all, though as we rumbled past the numerous old factories, neglected warehouses and ramshackle storefronts that make up the landscape in between, I was reminded how truly crummy certain parts of Brooklyn are. Ah, but once you reach the waterfront, everything is freshly manicured and sculpted to perfection, and IKEA rises out of the ground like a giant blue-and-yellow mountain — like, truly, this is a … destination!

Once inside the monstrosity, I immediately began to swoon. Every aspect of IKEA rebuffs me. I am an inept shopper to begin with. And on this scale it’s almost hopeless. An abundance of choices confounds me. Crowds disgust and fatigue me. I forget what I’m looking for; I forget what I’m even doing; I forget who I am.

"Who are these people?" I wonder, reeling — "are they like me?" I feel no connection to them … but I know that I am the strange one.

But! — fortunately I brought a list! Yes, I excel at making lists, and I had enough foresight to measure each of my windows beforehand and mark down exactly what size curtains I would need. After a stressful and confusing detour through the "Showroom" area of the store, where they have all these depressing little rooms constructed entirely out of flimsy IKEA furniture and accessories, and where people lounge about senselessly on couches, or lay on beds, or walk in circles bumping into each other and mumbling apologies, as hordes of sugar-charged children run shrieking to and fro between their legs … after this misstep, I found the "Marketplace," where I could actually find curtains for sale.

After pondering the parts that go into mounting a curtain rod to a wall for what seemed like an hour, I found some prepackaged rods that contained all the necessary brackets and end pieces and doodads and whatever-the-hell. Then I settled on green curtains for the large windows — after being briefly tempted by dark purple ones but ultimately deciding that that was a little somber and strange, even for me. The smaller windows proved even trickier. IKEA is all about massive size, and it turns out they don’t even sell curtains small enough for my other windows. But I was saved by a sales girl who told me I could fashion curtains out of a piece of fabric, which she was kind enough to cut for me.

As I staggered toward the checkout area, my eyes fell on a towering display of coffee tables — an item that is also conspicuously missing from my apartment. I settled on a simple model that was humorously and appropriately named "Lack." It comes packaged flat, in pieces, so I was able to drag that with me to the checkout area as well without too much trouble.

Twenty-seven lines! And still they all move at a crawl. When I finally got to the register and paid, I asked the cashier what she thought the best way for me to lug all this home was.

"Buy a bag," she informed me flatly. I was very confused at first (as I often am), but it’s true — at IKEA the bags are not free. You have to buy one for 59 cents. I guess they get away with that because the bags are reusable and they’re able to market it as part of their "green" campaign, or some nonsense like that. As if by shopping at IKEA you are actually helping save the world. But when will I ever reuse a giant blue IKEA bag?

Also, the cashier told me, I could make a handle for my coffee table over at the "Wrapping Station." I naively expected there to be an employee over there to help me — but really, once the shuttle bus drops you off at IKEA, you have to fend for yourself. I was able to make a crude handle by wrapping two pieces of rope around the package and looping a third piece through for the handle.

By the time I got back to my apartment, the rope was cutting into my hand — I live several blocks from the bus stop — but the trip was a success. I probably won’t get around to actually hanging the curtains and assembling the coffee table for another week or so, but still, this constitutes a fairly major triumph in the life of a man like myself.


Rob Williams is a mercenary copywriter and copy editor who currently lives above a meat market in the East Village.

Rate Story
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars

§ One Response to “To Hell and Back: My Trip to IKEA in Red Hook”

  • Nick says:

    I loved this story.

    IKEA (it is vitally important to use all caps) is carefully designed to strip away your personhood and leave you in an optimally placid purchasing state of non-awareness. Its horribly effective.

    I went 5 years ago when they opened their Phoenix monolith, having recieved their 600 page catalog full of charmingly alien Norwegian words and cute little warmly-lit pastiches of efficient, friendly living. I didn’t actually need any furniture, but was somehow compelled to go anyway just to experience IKEA. Well, suffice it to say that by the time I made it across the 4 sq. mile parking lot, past the throng of people straining to pour themselves into the place, past Smaland (the children’s area. How cute! [i]Smaland, like Small-land[/i]) and up a quadruple wide escalator to the beginning of the route through IKEA, past the living catalog dioramas, past the Norwegian cafeteria and back around, finally to the checkout, and out into a blinding hot December sun, I found myself with $400 worth of shit I was only dimly aware that I had actually purchased. I actually briefly considered retuning all of it in protest, but of course, I just dejectedly stowed it in the back of my Jeep. I felt like Ed Norton at the beginning of Fight Club and was angry about my own sheepdom, which I had actually come here to get in touch with, as some kind of misguided personal experiment. How easily captivated! I drove like a complete asshole the 35 minutes back to my apartment.

    5 years later, all I have left of it is the SLITBAR knife set, which I think I’ve kept for the name alone.

§ Leave a Reply

Other Stories You May Like

Nearby Park Slope, Red Hook Stories

In a Pandemic, Reflecting on my Race with Mortality


Lately I’ve been working the elliptical hard, pumping the pedals like I have something to prove. As a cancer survivor, [...]

Still Standing


It was not so long ago that I would ordinarily drive into Manhattan from my home in Park Slope. However, [...]

Defending the Park Slope Food Coop


Dina confronts Fran Giuffre about her piece, Confronting the Park Slope Food Coop

Chronicle of a Divorce Foretold


About to begin a trial separation, the author encounters an astrologist who wants to sublet her apartment

Air Disaster 1960


A plane lands on Brooklyn.