My Pretty Nice Little Sunday With Tyler Durden, Frank The Tank, And Sven

June 17th, 2007

Driving to Elizabeth this morning, I was reminded of two classic film scenes.

Abbigail and I moved into our new apartment together nearly three months ago. Still, our dining room table lacks chairs. Our books are stacked on shoddy, foldable shelves. And our twenty inch television rests on a metallic microwave stand from Lechters.

And so Abbi and I found ourselves headed eighteen miles south on the New Jersey Turnpike to the Ikea in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

As I drove out of the Lincoln Tunnel and looked back at Manhattan, I thought of “Fight Club.” In one scene, director David Fincher illustrates the vapid, compulsive desires of a consumer culture in one 360° spin around Edward Norton’s character’s apartment. Product description pop up like thought bubbles. Instead of insight or dialogue, though, there is marketting speak and price points.

“I’d flip through catalogues,” Norton’s Narrator says, “And wonder, ‘What dining set defines me?'”

We stopped at the first rest stop outside of the city to fill the tank with gas; it was the least I can do to thank Christofer and Jennifer for loaning me the truck. Waiting in the full serve line at the Exxon surrounded by every color, stripe, socio-economic and psychographic of person, I was reminded of Bono’s line in the bridge of “Bullet The Blue Sky.”

“Outside it’s America!” he chants like a Pentacostal preacher. “Outside it’s America.”

I think of that lyric virtually every time I step off of the island of Manhattan. Suddenly, I am comfronted by the bulk store loving, NASCAR cheering, Red Bull swillin’, honest-to-goodness, real life American. You know what I mean. People who don’t read Page Six. People who buy books because Oprah says so.

Inside too.

Within just five minutes at the Swedish furniture giant’s behemoth, there in the shadow of Newerk Airport (renamed “Newark Liberty in the wake of September 11), I spot a father and son in matching “Proud To Be An American” t-shirts. Couples lounge on $199 couches. Husbands measure. Wives point. Children whiz by on those roller skate shoes.

Moments later I spot a young Latina woman sporting a red t-shirt with the letters U-S-A bedazzled across her chest.

“Every kitchen needs an aloe plant,” she says to her boyfriend, before disppearing into a room full of afforably-priced light fixtures.

I am easily overwhelmed in big box stores largely, once would think, based on the fact that I have little experience in their oversized aisles. That, I think, might be the point, though: overwhelm the consumer into submission so his only response to a lime green cutting board adorned with hot pink lemon slices is, “Oh,my old cutting board is looking kind of, um, old. I should buy a new cutting board.” And then he spots the matching spatula set.

Because he’s an outstanding texter with a terrific sense of irony, I hit Chris Abad from the edge of the tupperware aisle.

“Ikea is it’s own special hell,” I said.

“Agreed,” he replied. “Have you purchased a rug named Sven?”

I have a sense of humor, but still, I have to acknolweldge that we’re consumers. We’re by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty — these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra…

Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart’s polishing the brass on the Titanic.

“You buy furniture,” author Chuck Palahniuk writes. “You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled.”

I worry about consumption. I mean, I like stuff. And our apartment was certainly lacking (pun not intended) some key pieces. But where does it stop? Before this week, I didn’t even know what a charger plate was. Or a euro sham (nomenclature that couldn’t be more apt). I mean, I thought I was advanced for knowing what a duvet was.

A few weeks ago, Christofer and I were sitting on Abbi and my terrace drinking beer.

“Just over that building,” I said pointing, “is the antenna of the Empire State Building. If we had the terrace on the tenth floor,” I said gazing skyward, “we could see everything.”

“That’s how they get ya’,” he said.

Aspiration.

“You’re trapped in your lovely nest,” Palahniuk writes. “And the things you used to own, now they own you.”

Driving back to the apartment, the rear gate of the Ford Escape tied down with twine and loaded to the gills with fine, particle board furniture, I thought of another classic film scene. In “Old School,” Will Ferrell’s character, Frank Ricard, slowly discovers just how emasculating married life can be.

“Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we’re going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.”

We didn’t.

We still need dining room chairs.

That said, our brand-new Lack bookcase (the one I developed blisters building on account of that odd, shoddy, octagonal Ikea tool) sure does ground the living room in a classic-but-modern sensability.