Ikeadom

Several Sundays ago, we made the pilgrimage, Mrs. Bardie and I, to the holy shrine of Ikea. I’d heard it was a shopping paradise. Have heard it is now one of the three main reasons to come to Orlando, Disney and Universal being number one and number two. Just walk in and they have everything, interior designwise. It will make your eyes water, your words go gaa-gaa and your wallet empty. (Guess that’s why God made credit cards, huh?)

First we had to get a map. Made me think of Epcot, only Ikea didn’t charge, and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. Anyplace I need a map to find my way to the bathrooms, I know, is going to be a bit too much. I was hoping they’d give me a compass too but no such luck. And of course, there’s a Shopping List form on the back of the map.

From the entrance, I played Follow the Leader, following my significant-other up the stairs and into the Big Store. She turned to me and said, “Now, Bardie, if you get lost, remember your Boy Scout skills. Stand still and I will find you.” The place was big, I mean, really big. And so many choices. There was book shelves everyplace and the book shelves had book shelves. And they all had Swedish books on them. I’ve never seen so many Swedish books in my life.

I saw a chair that I kind of liked. It looked comfortable. So I sat down. But I couldn’t get up. If I brought this one home, I’d need a crowbar to pull my heft out of all that comfort. If I looked around, I am sure I would have found that crowbar in the accessories department. There were living rooms so spectacular I plan to end up in one of these when I kick the bucket (oops, cliches slipping in there, Bardie). And a place for that big big screen TV I’ll buy when I win the lottery.

There was a sign saying “Serenity Now. Because there’s nothing better than knowing where everything is…” Now that sounded reasonable. I liked that. Too bad Ikea couldn’t help me in that department as I tried to find my way through the store.

Soon I found myself among a whole bunch of closets. There was one so big I commented, “You could stuff a dead body in there.” I was thinking of my Character Closet theory. If a Character has a dead body in the closet, he must be a serial killer, huh? You know it’s the little things, the details, that give a story its color. Of course, this closet was filled with shoes. Imelda Marcos must have loved Ikea.

There were desks and more desks, more desks than I’d ever seen in my life in one place. And I used to work in an office supply store. These Ikeaistas have made the phrase “everything including the kitchen sink” into a life mission statement. There was way too many kitchen sinks for me to want to look at. There were big ones, small ones, medium-sized ones.

Well, I am not one you want to take shopping. I like my shopping in little doses. My head started to hurt. I’d seen too many living rooms and I was starting to run out of steam. All these rooms were taking on the same tinge. I said to the Mrs., “We’re starting to get reruns here.” Sure it was full of well-made furniture that was inexpensive. But it was just too much.

Then, oh, my God, we headed downstairs, and would you be believe, more stuff. The cranky was now coming out in me. And the “I just want to get out of here”. How were we ever going to get out of this place? It made me appreciate Hansel and Gretel and their bread crumbs. “My God, will we never get to the checkout?” Then, “Oh, no, there’s a line longer than the one at the Pearly Gates.” Well, there was light at the end of the Ikea store. I could see the Parking Lot. As we made our way through the noise and the confusion and into the Parking Lot, I knew why someone said, “There’s no place like home.” They’d been to an Ikea store and were ready to head for home.

So that’s my Ikea experience. Maybe it wasn’t a nightmare. But I know one thing. I just don’t want to dream about it. Next time, it’s online shopping for me.

Christmas With the Joneses: A Hero’s Journey

For many of us, Christmas is the big WOW of the Year. It’s the Superbowl of holidays. Year after year, we’ve lived one remake of Christmas after another. Like the Batman origin remakes, we can’t seem to get enough of them. This year we visit our heroes, Mom and Dad Jones, as they go on a Christmas Hero’s Journey.

1. Ordinary World.
Thanksgiving. It’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the turkey feast and Cowboys football for Dad and the kiddies at the Joneses.

2. Call To Adventure.
Mom grabs her purse. “I’m off to Walmart,” she says, noticing none of the Jones gang pays attention.

3. Refusal Of The Call.
Mom takes in the line at Walmart and she’s already done before getting her foot in the door. Mom Jones has had a rough week. It’s like she already has ptsd and the combat hasn’t even begun. She turns to leave.

4. Meeting The Mentor.
Betty Smith, an older neighbor, calls out to Mom, “Don’t leave. I’ll show you the Black Friday tango.”

5. Crossing The Threshold.
Grabbing Mom Jones’ hand, Betty zips in and out of the crowd. Then nosedives through the front door. Before they can say, “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” Betty and Mom are honing down on the last of the Tuckees and the Whiz-Banger-oonies.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies.
Mom gets home with all the junk…I mean, gifts she paid big time bucks for. Little does she realize they’ll all be on sale two weeks before Christmas. But she’s done her part. There’s one more test she has to survive before the day is done. She has to keep herself from killing Dad Jones. He slurped down the last slice of that pecan pie, and she’d wanted it. Bad!

Now comes Dad’s turn. It’s Monday and he’s taken the day off to fulfill his obligation to save beaucoup bucks. He’s up early for Amazon’s Monday Lalapalooza Prime Day. The Prime Day to Beat All Prime Days. He pours himself a big “World’s Greatest Dad” cup of coffee. Before you know it, he’s racking up brownie points galore.

With a smile on his face, he comes to his last challenge. It’s a must-have must-have. And there’s only one of them at half price. A Family Summer Vacation at Boony World. Let the bidding begin. Just when his finger is at the ready-to-send button, there’s a power glitch. Three hours later Boony World Vacay has sunk into the swamp.

In the days that follow, there’s tree hunting. Christmas tree lights to plug in. The nativity scene alongside Santa’s sleigh. There’s putting together the this-that-and-the-other. There’s way too much egg nog for Dad at the annual Christmas party. There’s the DUI he gets on the way home from the office Christmas party.

And for Mom, she still has nightmares from the last night before Christmas. This year there’s the Christmas cookies for the PTA Christmas party that just about poisoned half the school. There’s the Christmas letters she sent that were returned for lack of a stamp.

7. Approach To The Inmost Cave.
Christmas Eve. Mall time for Dad, that giant bit of Americana that seems to be fading into the sunset these days. He’s after a super-dooper Super Dooper for Mom. He’s gonna get one for his One-and-Only come hell or high water. Even if he has to kidnap it.

8. Ordeal.
Christmas Eve. The kiddies are tucked into bed. Mom and Dad Jones start to put the swing set together for Little Alice. Unfortunately the instructions are in Chinese. Dad being handy around the house thinks he’s got the job licked. On his first try, the darn thing comes out lopsided and upside down. Then he realizes he’s been reading the instructions backwards and they’re all Greek to him anyway. There’s three screws missing, and I’m not talking about in his brain. If he had only not thrown away that small bag of leftovers, he would’ve been a-okay.

9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
It’s one o’clock in the morning and the parents have the swing set together and the tree ready and waiting with their goodies. They drop into bed, exhausted, knowing their ordeal is just about over. Christmas Day is only a few hours away.

10. The Road Back.
The next morning Mom and Dad are awakened by a noise downstairs. It’s Snookles, the family Saint Bernard. And it’s pretty darn sure that he’s going to wrap the tree and the presents with drool. Someone forgot to close the back door last night. Heading down the stairs, they move with the speed of light.

11. Resurrection
They are surprised to find Snookles, Junior and Little Alice waiting in the living room, with big smiles on their faces and a “Very Merry Christmas.”

12. Return With The Elixir.
It’s been a long, long journey for our family, the Joneses. The presents have been opened, the dinner has been served, the God-bless-us-everyones have been said. Christmas night, after the kiddies and Snookles are put to bed, our hero couple sit snuggled together on the sofa. For just a few moments, thoughts of joy to the world and peace on Earth good will toward all run through their heads. Then Mom reaches over and kisses Dad and says, “Next year we’re going to our parents for Thanksgiving, then take a month-long cruise.” Dad nods his agreement.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat

“But it looks like a storm,” Hank says to his wife.

“You need new clothes,” she says.

“There’s a storm coming.”

“I know how you hate shopping.”

“We can’t go out in that.”

“Let’s see. You need a new blazer, a parka, a sweatshirt, and a sweater. While we’re at it, we might as well get you some pajamas, undershirts, and socks. Some briefs too. And I need shorts. One of my old pair is beginning to look like boxers. I hate that.”

“It’s going to storm.”

“You’re such a wuss. Now get my purse and let’s go.”

Resigned to his fate, Hank gets her purse and follows her out. All the while, he gets in the last word, “But it’s going to storm.”

The Christmas Man

Harry went Christmas shopping two days after Thanksgiving. He hit the streets early that morning with his list. It was a tradition with him. Avoid Black Friday and hit the stores the next day. He was off with a smile on his face.

The crowds didn’t bug him. The lines at the cash registers didn’t bother him either. He always took a a book and got a lot of reading in that day. This year it was “The Christmas Carol” on his kindle, one of his favs.

While in line, he listened to the carols and let his imagination sink into the world of nineteenth century England. There was a comfort in knowing that everything was going to turn out just right. And Tiny Tim always put a smile on his face. He could imagine the carolers coming around to Scrooge’s place of business, singing, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.

Since he was a boy, since the first time he heard the manger story and the peace on earth goodwill toward men, since the first time he read of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit and the transformation of Scrooge into the best of men, he had loved Christmas. While others barked out their complaints about the crowds and the lack of Christmas cheer, Harry had nothing but happiness in his heart.

When he got home late in the day, the kids waited with hugs for their daddy and Merry had a special kiss for her husband. Then he saw the tree. Merry and his boys had spent all day while he was gone, doing an extra-special job trimming the tree and decorating the house. It was a delight. Tears formed in his eyes, tears of love and wonder.

Soon the day would come, soon the presents would be opened, soon the Christmas feast would be eaten, soon the decorations and the tree would come down, but for now Harry lived one day at a time.

He went over to the pitcher of eggnog Merry had made. Poured a large glass. Took it out to the garage. He finished it, then went out to the car and carried the presents back to his cabinet and stored them away until Christmas Eve.

He locked the cabinet, then he strung up the lights around the house, put up the large Santa and his sleigh along with the Nativity creche on his front lawn. When he was finished, it was time for a late dinner. Then he was off to his job at Santa’s Workshop. He had just been promoted to head elf. He had his own desk. He even had his own special name plate. It said “Harry Christmas”.

So have yourself a very Harry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Strawberries

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.

Denise almost left home that sunny Saturday morning without any perfume on. On her way through the front door, she changed mind, deciding that it was a perfume kind of day. A few dabs behind the ears and on the neck, and she was off to shop. On her way to her favorite shopping destination, she hummed along to the song on the oldies station, “Strawberries Mean Love”, thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice.”

At the mall, she hit three, then four stores, finding nothing in particular to satisfy her hunger for a bargain. She hated to go home empty-handed. One final store and she would give up her treasure hunt for the goodies that would make her day.

Then it came to her. Since she was out-and-about anyway, why not check out a men’s department? Her younger brother had a birthday coming up in a month. Maybe she would find a pair of engraved cuff links. Or, yes, some monogrammed handkerchiefs. She entered a Macy’s and strolled up one aisle and down another and toward the men’s wear, stopping here and there to size up a dress or feel the lingerie. While scanning several rings in the jewelry display, she fantasized about what-might-have-been-and-never-was. Several leisurely stops and she was on to the handkerchiefs.

A few aisles over, a familiar figure appeared like some ghost floating out of the fog of a daydream. “Phil, is that you?” she called over to the figure inspecting the ties, reassuring herself that the man was real and not a passing fancy.

Phil glanced up at the blonde with the close-cropped hair, approaching him. “Yes, it’s me,” he said and went back to the ties. “But I’d rather not think so,” he mumbled.

She was at his side, leaning up to kiss him. He kissed her. It was not a lover’s kiss, just a quick smooch between once-upon-a-time friends. Her perfume smelled like strawberries. He liked the taste of strawberries.

“It’s been two years,” she said.

“Longer.” His eyes rejected a tie that would go well with a dark blue suit and moved on to a light green one.

“I’ve missed you.”

He ran his hand over a black tie with small white dots. Black as their last night together and the snow pouring out of the sky hard and fast. His face did not show any sadness, only his eyes. She knew that face well enough to know how sad he must be feeling, and she was sad. The sadness only lasted a few seconds, then it passed and he was back to the ties.

“What you been up to?” she asked, her voice going soft.

“Buying a suit.” There was frustration in his voice. “First I have to find a tie. Then a suit to match.”

“Maybe I can help.”

He took another whiff of her perfume and said, “Maybe. I sure can’t seem to find anything and I’ve been at it for weeks now.” He always liked her perfume, her smell. It could bring out the warm and fuzzy in him, or drive him right up alongside the moon.

“Aren’t you doing things backwards?” She reached over and fingered the ties. “Don’t you choose the suit first? At least I think that’s how it’s done.”

“I like to know the way things are going to turn out. You know, at the end.” He tugged at a tie and pulled it off the rack. It was red. Strawberry red. He shook his head, trying to shake himself free of the strawberries.

“Won’t that destroy the suspense?” She took the tie and held it up against Phil’s chest. “Nah, that one’s too bright for you.”

He put the tie back with its neighbors.

Denise looked at the ties, then at Phil, then back at the ties. “What about something white?”

“Too obscure.” His eyes followed her eyes. Maybe she could find the right tie.

“What?” There was a small question mark on her face.

“It’s like Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Way too much mystery. I want people to know what I’m about. At least, a little anyway.”

“What’s life without a little mystery?” The question mark had grown larger. “Keep them guessing, I always say.”

“You say that, do you?” He smiled, remembering how she had once kept him guessing, his face becoming the man she had cared about back in her younger, sexy days.

“I do.” She smiled too. “What’s wrong with a bit of snow?”

“It’s not the bit of snow that bothers me. It’s when I find myself knee-deep in it, and I have to sludge myself through all that slush. I want things to be hard, but not that hard. I just don’t have the boots for it.”

“Why not give people a little challenge?”

“They might end up lost,” he said, “and they will not want to finish the book.”

“You mean that novel you’re writing? Whatever happened to that thing? It was all you used to talk about.”

“I need a suit first.” His eyes settled on a tie she was handling. Her hand looked like it had grown attached to it and couldn’t let loose.

“What’s a suit got to do with writing?” She lifted the thing off the rack and passed it to him.

“It’s what the muse seems to be demanding these days.” He studied the tie. A midnight blue with small red dots scatter shot across it. Strawberries. More strawberries. Damn those strawberries. He frowned and gave it back to Denise, wondering if that was the best she could do.

The tie went back on the hanger and she encouraged, “You don’t need a suit to write. You just write. You don’t need a special uniform. Just a bathrobe and a cup of coffee.”

“I’m telling the muse will not let me get on with that novel without a suit. No suit, no novel.” He was bound and determined to follow orders. Find the right tie, then the right suit, and wallah, a novel. But perhaps another Saturday, another store. In the meantime, he might just get some fresh strawberries at the farmer’s market. It was probably too late in the season. “Besides it’s a suit kind of novel.” Maybe he would write a novel about strawberries. Once he found that suit. And Denise had been no help at all.

“Try this one.” Denise held up another tie. She settled it against his chest. It was a dark green with broad white stripes. Her eyes twinkled when she liked a thing and her eyes were twinkling, looking at the tie and the shirt she laid it against. “Remember when we used to play Anais and Henry?”

Taking the tie, his hand weighed the heft of it. It felt solid and it didn’t have that silky touch to it like some. Good. He threw the thing around his neck, knotted it and drew it tight. Scrutinizing the tie in a mirror nearby, he saw a white sky. He saw green fields where strawberries might grow. “Yes, that’s about right,” he said to the reflection of a man who was ready for a novel. He did like the tie.

“What I remember is that I wanted to play D. H. Lawrence and Frieda,” he said. “But no, you kept insisting it had to be Henry and Anais. Personally I think you read way too much of her diaries. As I recall, that’s why we broke up. She brought out the worst in you. And I don’t mean that in a good way either.”

“It’s Anais and Henry, or did you forget? Oh, that’s right. You kept changing the names then too. That was why we broke up.”

He went to say something. However her smell of strawberries pulled him off that road. His face went gentle. He reached for her hand and squeezed it ever so lightly. Her hand was still as soft as he remembered it to be.

She hesitated, then relented her regret. It had been a long time. She squeezed back. Both had enjoyed their little disagreements. It made for some heavy duty making-up. But the time had come when there was less and less of that and more and more of the squabbling. Their relationship was just no fun anymore. Then they were over. Nada. No more. Who knew such little things like the order of names could cost them so much. They held hands before the ties for a moment, then they went back to their two separate worlds.

On their way to suits, they took a detour at the shirts. Denise picked one out which they both thought would go just right with the one good tie they found.

“Think I’ll look good in brown?” he double-checked to make sure they had made the right choice.

“You’d look good in anything.”

“You lie well.” He leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips. She kissed him back and moved closer to him. His fingers ran over a dark suit coat. The material, wool felt good to his touch. He liked the natural feel of it. It gave him the feeling that there was a novel in him and he would complete it. And soon. All that needed doing was the writing, and that was no big deal. No big deal at all. He could type it up with one hand tied behind him in that suit staring back at him.

“Of course,” she said, her slender fingers joining his. “But you will look good in that suit. Good enough to make that novel shine.” Their hands waltzed over the lapel of the jacket. The coat slipped off the rack and he tried it on. After buttoning it up, she adjusted the tie. “Is this novel to be about us?” Her eyes sparkled with hope.

“Not sure. Maybe. Well, yes. It could be. I can see that now. After all, it is an adventure story. And we did have some adventures, Dennie. Back in the olden days.”

“There’s nothing to say that we can’t have some more.” Her fingers massaged his palm. “If you’re inclined?” She let go of his hand, reached over and pulled the suit pants off their hanger, then measured them against Phil.

Suddenly he felt the absence of her hand. “What are you trying to say?” She heard road block in his voice. “That I’ve had a bad case of writer’s blues without you?”

“All I am saying is that it looks like you’ve found yourself a suit.” Her voice was gentle with reassurance. “That is all I’m saying. It’s a good earthy brown too. The kind that will allow you to dig your heels into the language and write, don’t you think? Why don’t you try it on?”

The two headed over to the changing room.

“So how soon do you intend to finish this masterpiece now that you have the suit?”

“Soon as I can figure out how it will end, I’ll start it.” He took the pants from her. “I plan to write it backwards. Kind of like the Hebrew alphabet telling the story. I’m in no hurry. I could take a hundred years, and then some, to put the final touches on it.”

“You’re not going to do a James Joyce? You’re much too tall.”

“No, I know where the commas go. And the periods too.”

“What makes you think you have all the time in the world?”

“Doesn’t everybody?” he said and left her to wait for him to return from changing into the suit and the shirt and tie.

Her eyes twinkled when she saw the Phil come out of the changing room.

“When do you plan getting the ending together?” she asked as she helped him adjust into the suit, running her fingers over the jacket to make sure it fit just right, then she brushed the pants ever so slightly. “Soon I hope. I’d like to read it.” She stepped back to admire their work.

He looked at himself in the full-body mirror. They both liked what they saw.

“I think that it will end the way they all end.” He tugged a bit on the jacket, straightening it into a perfect fit. “’And they lived happily ever after.’”

“For a season anyway.”

“I can handle that.” He was pleased that he almost had his ending. And that she would be in it. The words for that ending were on the tips of his fingers. All he had to do was let them pour onto the page. “In fact, I can handle just about anything in this suit. Even that muse of mine.”

“Let’s get a cup of coffee to celebrate,” Denise offered, happy that the day had indeed turned into a perfume kind of day . “And then, well then we can get started on that novel. If you’re in a writing mood.”

“Think I’m in the mood for strawberries. Just as soon as I change.

“Better hurry then, before they go out of season.”