I didn’t mean to stay permanently. That was never the plan. However, when I lost my job at the carwash because the owner’s three teenage sons needed summer jobs and he realized that good, clean (ha! ha!) manual labor was just the ticket for them, and after I picked up the janitor job at IKEA and also my landlord raised my rent ridiculously, it dawned on me that those tiny mock-up studio apartments and swanky modern living rooms are really great set-ups going to waste, and I could stay a night or two at work till I found something else.
One thing led to another and now I can vouch for the IKEA lifestyle. I should be a salesman in fact! I have all of my stuff in my car, but I just think of it as a distant movable closet, and I do excellently on a day to day basis. Keeps your life pared down to essentials. There is one other janitor (Doug), but he’s the downstairs guy, so I have the whole second floor with all the comfy furniture and thoughtfully designed living areas.
When you talk about tiny, these IKEAns have it down pat. They would have you sleep vertically if they could think of a way to do it. Maybe suspend you from the ceiling by retractable straps? A vertical hammock? I should work in the R&D department of IKEA. I am full of great innovations, and since I live here I know what is lacking and what works best. But I am not Swedish and I suppose that’s a problem for them.
You’d think I’d move around between the mock-up living rooms and tiny apartments, but I really live in just the one with its pull-out-chair-makes-bed, ironing board that is also the kitchen counter, and dining table cum desk/work station. Everything in my apartment is also something else. That’s how they do it in under two hundred square feet. Of course, I don’t have a kitchen and the TV is just a plastic decoy, but I don’t care. I have personalized my place a little, switching out the throw pillows every once in a while and pinching an oversized print of Marilyn Monroe’s face in black and white to hang over the chair-bed.
Being janitor you can go in and out any time. It’s like I have a seriously big home, but life is pretty much the same big or little: I shower at the Y where I have a cheap membership and where I work out. I usually eat in the car or at Burger Barn. I use the microwave and sink down in the Cafe kitchen, and on occasion I’ll take a glass of one of those Swedish fizzy-watery soft drinks from the dispenser, and sometimes I do some “shopping” at the Swedish convenience store by the exit (I like the little Swedish cookies and lingonberries, but I do not like the meatballs.), but I always leave a dollar bill or two by the cash register or on the floor or somewhere when I leave. I’m no thief.
Sometimes for fun I roam around the big warehouse which I find very calming. All these enormous shelves and huge boxes like Santa’s storeroom. The vastness reminds me of looking up at a clear, dark night sky. You know, how situations that make you feel really, really small are comforting: you become infinitesimal and nothing at all matters in your dinky life.
And I like to stroll through the arty prints section and look at the huge photos of the New York skyline or old Paris streets with rusty bikes or those colorful abstracts that match the sofa colors upstairs. It’s my own museum, including the bright duvet covers, curtains, and rugs on display. Everything is art when you start looking.
Of course, I don’t have a great social life. It’s tough when you have to tell people you live in a car, but maybe someday I’ll meet a woman I can trust and her sneak into IKEA and spend the night under one of those fancy duvets on a real big sleeper sofa or an actual bed. We’ll have snacks at the Cafe and look out on the parking lot. We’ll try all the chairs like Goldilocks. (Don’t think I haven’t already.)
I do talk to Downstairs Doug some. He’s a bit of a loner who lives with his mother and likes to fish out at the lake on his days off. I don’t think he fully appreciates the quality, ingenuity, and taste of IKEA, but he’s a decent enough guy. I wonder if he’s ever thought of spending the night, but then again he’s down there with the lamps, mugs, plastic plants, and wine glasses; not exactly living accommodations.
All in all, I’d say IKEA is just about perfect for my needs, and as things are, they are paying me to live here. When you’re at IKEA sometime, take a look around and don’t tell me that the whole idea doesn’t appeal to you just a little. If it doesn’t, I bet it will sometime when you’d like to escape. It’ll pop into your mind; you just wait and see. Convenience, style, and modest luxuries are all here. Next time you come over to my place, tell them Steve sent you.
Eva Meckna is, as her husband always said, an English major gone horribly wrong. Her work has appeared on Points in Case, Funny-ish and Little Old Lady Comedy.