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"I'll Never" (a.k.a., "I Will")

I’m known – in my little circle anyway – for making “I’ll never …” statements. I’m also known for “almost always” failing on keeping my “I’ll never …” statements.

I’ll never eat (insert food item).”

“I’ll never wear (insert piece of clothing).”

“I’ll never go to (insert tourist attraction).”

You get the picture. It’s happened time and time again, and the most recent incident was Saturday. Years ago, I made a version of an “I’ll never …” statement when I said, “My Ikea record is clean, and I want to keep it that way,” meaning in essence, “I have no desire to go to Ikea, so I never will.”

Let me state for the record that I have nothing against Ikea, people who shop there (some of whom are those closest to me) or those who work for the company. I just never had the urge to visit. When I’ve heard others talk about it – most billing it as an experience just shy of Heaven – when they started getting into the details, it just didn’t sound like my “thing.”

First, I’m not big into – or good at -- shopping, and I’m even worse at browsing, so spending hours (and that’s usually what people said about the experience, that it takes hours) slowly meandering across square miles of retail real estate, not looking for anything but probably buying many things held little charm for me.

When I want or need something, it’s generally a five to 10-minute experience: park, find item, purchase item, drive away.

Another thing – and this is irrational, I understand – is that when people speak so highly of something, or say things like, “You have to go!” or “It’s the greatest thing ever!” I tend to silently push back and out of spite, it generally leads me to some form of “I’ll never …” statement.

And so, Ikea became an “I’ll never …” for me, something Joan reminded me of as we traversed the massive parking lot leading up to the main entrance on Saturday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, as we set out to run a few errands, have lunch and “hang out,” which has become a typical Saturday when we have no concrete plans, Joan mentioned in a breezy, casual off-handed way that only she can pull off, “Oh, and if we have time, I’d like to stop at Ikea to look at some frames for the family room. If you don’t want to go, I’ll just go by myself some other time.”

I had an out. Joan said she’d go on her own if I didn’t want to. And I believed her. She wasn’t trying to guilt me into going. Fact is, there’s a 50/50 chance she was hoping I’d say no. But two things were in play at that moment:

1. I rarely say no to Joan when it comes to an activity of any sort. That’s precisely how

she’s gotten me to snorkel in the ocean (I’m a terrible swimmer and not a fan of open

water) and climb the face of a large rock (I’m afraid of heights), among others.

2. Since I had previously made an “I’ll never …” statement about Ikea, it was a karmic

certainty that someday, I would end up within it walls, wandering aimlessly, smelling the

aroma of … “Is that meatballs? Oh yeah, I remember now hearing about the meatballs.”

So, I said, “Sure, I’ll go,” and off we went to pursue our short-but-defined to do list and seek out lunch.

Several hours later, after the errands, some food and a little “hanging out,” Joan said, “Still up for Ikea? You can say no.” Little did she know, I couldn’t say no. (See items 1 and 2 above.)

“Let’s go,” I replied, and off we went.

Now, I’ll admit (as I often do, some would call it “eating crow”) that my vision of Ikea did not the actual experience. What I thought I’d see was a combination of Black Friday at Wal-Mart (without the fighting and pushing) New Year’s Eve in Times Square (with better bathrooms and access to said bathrooms) and something that had the look and flow of a huge lumber yard (without, well, all the lumber).

If you’ve been to Ikea, and I assume you have since it seems like until Saturday like I was one of six folks in the modern world who hadn’t been, you know that the experience bears little resemblance to my uneducated, preconceived notions, the very notions that caused me to make my “I’ll never …” statement in the first place.

It was, for lack of a better term, pleasant. I won’t go so far as to say I enjoyed it but given my expectations (or lack of same), it exceeded them. Joan admitted that we “hit it” at a good time; late on a Saturday afternoon, when crowds were manageable.

That said, the atmosphere was nothing like I imagined. The customers (save for a 20-something who kept doing karate kicks every time he turned a corner) were calm and cool, not rushing around throwing items into carts and onto dollies like doomsday preppers readying for the Apocalypse.

I didn’t see anyone fighting over the last set of “on sale” flatware, or crying with glee, screaming, “I can’t believe I got these wonderful sheets at this price!” There were no meatball fights in the café (that I witnessed), and I don’t think I saw a scrap of paper on the floor or a speck of dust … anywhere. In other words, it was nothing like Wal-Mart, Times Square or a lumber yard.

The staff was nearly invisible, but folks with their blue “Hej!” t-shirts would suddenly come out of nowhere to smooth a comforter and fluff the pillows in a bedroom display or straighten the chairs on a dining set. And when you needed assistance, they were there, not with over-the-top “put on” friendliness, but just the right level of energy and knowledge. Like Disney but without all the … well, “Disney.”

That impressed me.

And the shopping carts? Pretty cool, each wheel working independently to offer maximum maneuverability. (Since I didn’t have a mission, I was the cart guy.)

We spent about an hour there, which I thought was just about right, especially for a first visit. Joan -- not an experienced Ikea veteran, but she knows the ropes -- browsed, occasionally placing an item in the cart. I offered playful commentary and banter (as I’m wont to do), and in the end, it wasn’t bad.

Again, we weren’t choosing anything from sections 21 to 28, which I’ve learned is the gauntlet where you find out if the furniture you wanted (which you wrote down on a little piece of paper with a little pencil you got from a dispenser near the entrance) was actually in stock.

No, we (and me “we” I mean Joan), picked up some casual plates and bowls, a couple plants, a small runner for our front hallway and tiny pitcher. And just like that, we were back in the car: no injuries, no arrests, no arguments.

My review? Given my original – and irrational -- expectations, how could it be anything but favorable, right? Will I go again? Probably not, but I’m not ruling it out. Did I have the meatballs? In a word, no. I’m not a fan of food served at discount or big box retailers (though I’ll refrain from making an “I’ll never …” statement about it).

So that’s my Ikea story.

Postscript: If I do go back, I might have to buy the Mona Lisa they had on sale for $49.99. To be honest, I’m kicking myself I didn’t get it Saturday.

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