The biggest lesson in well-being is knowing what contexts are good for you, and which ones cause convulsions. In my case, shopping induces not just convulsions, but also STS (Sudden Trump Syndrome), which includes temper tantrums and involuntary repetitions of the word disaster; to say nothing of the pain and suffering I inflict on my wife.
My congenial personality changes dramatically the minute we set foot in a store. Precipitously, my affable self becomes grouchy and grumpy. In the best of times, I manage to laugh at shoppers, but in the worst of times, I get dizzy and swear irrepressibly in four languages.
Nevertheless, in my never ending pursuit of (a) becoming a better husband, and (b) overcoming my shopping phobia, I conducted a comparative study. I wanted to see if my mood would be better in certain shopping environs. The research consisted of comparing my mood while shopping for home goods at IKEA and JC Penny.
I was excited to go to IKEA because I admire the Swedes. I owned two Volvos, I respect their progressive social policies, and I value their egalitarian culture. My love for the Swedes was supposed to counteract the phobic aspects of shopping.
I was ready to begin the desensitization process. Unfortunately, to get to the local IKEA we had to contend with Miami traffic. It took us over an hour to get there. Once we arrived we realized the store was the size of Aventura and Dolphin malls combined. If you’re not from Miami, let me put it in context. IKEA is double the size of the former Yugoslavia.
After we parked our car we had to take three elevators to get to the right floor for the official start line. IKEA is not like any other store where you can roam around freely. In IKEA you must follow a single path and go through multiple sections en route to your destination. Before we got to ours, the kitchen section, we passed seventeen different departments enticing you to buy things that (a) you don’t need, (b) will take you the entire weekend to assemble, and (c) will require that you spend the rest of the week cutting the carton boxes into small pieces that fit in the recycling bin (the alternative is to throw the boxes in the garbage, contribute to global warming, and accelerate the submersion of Miami, not to mention environmental guilt and the looks of your green neighbors).
The traffic on the road was nothing compared to the foot traffic in the store. After thirty minutes of following signs and getting hit by baby strollers, we reached our destination. Ora got really excited. She inspected every single kitchen cabinet on display, opened every single drawer, compared hinges, colors, materials, design, door knobs, make, weight, and birth certificate of each countertop. All combined, there were 65,389 possible combinations of color, style, design, material, and blood type of kitchen cabinets. Ora, of course, had to contemplate them all.
By the time Ora chose something she liked I was comatose, but we were finally ready to approach the friendly salesperson. I could tolerate the bombardment of stimulation in the expectation that, when ready, an efficient customer representative would give us the Swedish treatment.
As soon as Ora started explaining what she liked, the friendly salesperson directed us to a computer terminal, asked us to set up a password (what the *& %$!@???), and basically told us GOOD LUCK! It was up to us to figure out the pricing by inputting the size, make, color, wood type, and environmental footprint of each cabinet, door and knob. Once you inserted the exact measures, height, width, race, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation of the cabinet, the computer would spit out an excel sheet with 95 lines and 543 rows with potential pricing options.
Once you figured out pricing you had to press on a link that took you to a different portal. There you could enter all your biographical and logistical data, including address, door width, house type, pet names, country of origin, preferred language, and date of last colonoscopy. If you survived the screening, you could approach a customer service representative who would ask you to call a warehouse to see if your choice was available. At that point I decided that the Swedes had gone completely mad with the do it yourself concept.
But wait, if you thought that this experience was not nightmarish enough, trying to get out of IKEA was a Kafkaesque ordeal. To get to the exit you had to traverse the length and width of the store, twice, just to make sure that you saw all the wonderful things on sale. If by the time I got to the store I was mildly neurotic, by the time I got out of it I was severely claustrophobic, agoraphobic, and Swedophobic. It turns out IKEA forces you to go through a labyrinth before you can see the exit sign. You cannot exit the store without going through twenty different sections tempting you to buy useless things that you have no idea how to assemble.
After the Swedish saga we went to the JC Penny Home Goods store in Kendall. By the time we got there Ora had already checked online three different types of sofas we were interested in. The friendly salesperson greeted us with a big smile. The store was nearly empty. It took us five seconds to get to the right section of the store and another three minutes to choose the right sofa, a matching lazy boy and a coffee table. Compared to the IKEA torment I felt jubilant. For starters, I could see the exit sign. There weren’t 25,678 types of sofas, and most of all, I did not have to create a stupid password to buy what I wanted. From now on, I buy everything at JC Penny Home Goods, from sofas to broccoli to suppositories. If I cannot find it at JC Penny, I don’t need it. Context is everything.