9 Circles of Ikea

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Something to do on a Sunday afternoon … Rain in the forecast … Remodeling projects in various stages of completion …

Perfect setting for the four words every red blooded male longs to hear, “Let’s go to Ikea!”, dear Carol exclaims.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Ikea was founded by a 17-year-old (which explains a lot) in 1943, and is renown for it’s architectural designs of furniture and appliances and an eco-friendly approach to interior design.

This was the First Time for me, although Carol insists I had been there before.  But no, I would have remembered this experience had I lived through it before.

The store was inviting; painted in bold Blue and Yellow – the national colors of Sweden, the visuals reminding me of a favorite U.S. icon, the Blue Angels.  What could possibly be more inviting?

systembolagetYet something was gnawing at the pit of my stomach like a yellow worm with teeth (Ween).  What is wrong here?  What about this makes sense? Didn’t the Swedes also create Systembolaget, a government-controlled alcohol monopoly?

Danger, Will Robinson …

We walk into a bright but spartan lobby that invites you to ride the escalator to the retail floor.  This was an oddity in the Land of Good and Plenty.  Nothing to sell while rendering first impressions?  No impulse-buying enticements?  Primary retail space on the second floor?  Not even one store greeter … no Nordic blondes playing Abba music on nyckelharpas?

But they do have plenty of these over-sized eco-harmonizing shopping bags.  And large enough to fit a Volvo

My shopping psyche is a strange amalgam of wonderment and an anxiety of what lies beyond … I was in Limbo.

And violà!  We arrive on the retail floor!

Immediately you realize the Swedes ain’t no dummies!

We are immediately driven to Lust for the quirky, practical designs of Äpplarö, Falster, Arholma.  This is going to be an epic quest to furnish that unique space in our home.

Did I mention, I’m not a big fan of Quests?

And just then I see the store map …

Rule of Thumb:  Any store that requires a map for you to figure out where you are and to find what you want, can use the same device to make sure you can never leave!

Can you get to the cheese?

Can you get to the cheese?

I’m struck by the resemblance the Ikea store map has to those primitive maze tests used to measure the learning habits of lesser species.  This causes one to wonder, who exactly is the “lesser species” in this Nordic inspired ecosystem?

We push on with our journey, moving right into Gluttony as we peruse the quirky, imaginative shapes and functions of the Artichoke Pendant Lamp, Befintlig candles, Smörboll bedding, and Ödmjuk coffe cups.  Hours seem to have passed in minutes, I am aware of a foggy, detached feeling as though floating through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, barely tethered to the Earth.

When I am able to roust myself from this peculiar state, Carol is nowhere to be seen and the cart I am pushing is overflowing with abstract Swedish home appointments.  I must find her before we descend any further into the bowels of Scandinavian home furnishings Hades.

And then I see her!  Not Carol exactly, but that head looks familiar …

Tallemaja - seductive Scandinavian forest creature

Tallemaja – seductive Scandinavian forest creature

She appears from out of the flimsy veil of the Åderblad window treatments.  She appears to be unclothed with what looks like the tail of a cow.  When I ask her name, she replies in a foggy voice that sounds so very far away, “Tallemaja”.  She beckons me to follow.

An overwhelming sense of pressure and heaviness … When I look down I am holding three of those enormous Ikea saddle bags crammed full of sheets with artsy patterns and ingenuously designed table lamps.  I absently reach for my wallet …

The Circle of Greed!

I fight the urge and set out once again to find Carol.  I find her sorting through a clutch of Gräddig wall decorations, semi-catatonic and mumbling incoherently.  I warn her not to fall for the charms of Tallemaja.

She looks at me, her head cocked to one side.  “Who the hell’s Tallemaja?!?  I was talking to some guy named Nykkjen.  I don’t think he’s an Ikea employee; but he seemed to know a lot about this place!”

Cue the spooky music …

I urge Carol to dump her load of Riktig Ögla and Malma mirrors so we can make a hasty retreat.  I glance nervously over my shoulder half expecting her to morph into a pissed off naked forest nymph.

We need to get out of here … Now!

Heresy!”, she shouts in Anger.  I look around embarrassingly at the mumbling shoppers nearby, displaying those same blank stares, speaking gibberish …

No one here can hear you scream …

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Swedish futboler, shape shifting nicker

But finding an Exit in this place would be as likely as stumbling upon Zlatan Ibrahimović picking through a collection of Bild posters.

Desperate to escape this madness I prod Carol along.  We manage to move but a few steps when Carol calls over her shoulder to a figure bent in appreciative study, “Hey, Nykkjen, let’s go!  We’re outta here.”

So of course Zlatan Ibrahimović – Carol’s tricked out psyche version of Nykkjen – unfolds slowly to his feet triumphantly holding his latest acquisition … a Bild poster!  

Stunned momentarily I stumble in confusion, the Home Furnishings Department spinning dizzyingly.  I reach out and steady myself against the Norwegian soccer nicker’s shoulder, and – true to his Euro fùtbol tradition – collapses like a gunshot victim, grabbing at his ankle in fairy tale agony …         

 Wonderful …

Fraud and Violence in the blink of a referee’s eye … And stand perilously close to the boundary of the 9th – and final – Circle de Dantè!

I convince Carol that we should concentrate on the table and cabinets she wants for her craft room and leave this Den of Temptation before it’s too late.  She agrees and we race through the remainder of the retail floor, heading downstairs to the furniture warehouse.

By now I’m a nervous wreck, with my wallet shoved down the front of my pants and a terrified look on my face.  Carol – always quick to pick up on this sort of thing – asks me what’s wrong.  And I tell her we were oh so close to joining the lost souls in Hades, crossing 8 circles out of Dante’s 9.

Treachery - I tell her – was all that remained.

She rolls her eyes and glances around almost seekingly.  I swear she’s really searching for Zlatan that hunky Nykkjen.  “Well then, let’s get out of here, Mr. Treachery.”, she says, “You know you have to put all this crap together when we get home.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo  ……

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Worst trade ever …

BergdahlSo after five years Bowe Bergdahl is heading home.  But there is hardly unrestrained joy and relief outside of the small community of Hailey, Idaho, where Bergdahl grew up.  In fact, Hailey decided to cancel its planned celebration in the face of much doubt over his circumstances and the deal to exchange five Taliban military leaders for his freedom.

For the time being, you will not hear me calling him by service branch and rank.  From what I have read, he doesn’t deserve it.  I do not take this position lightly, even as one who never wore the uniform.

Normally, I stay silent in cases where an investigation is clearly warranted.  It’s not for me to judge.  But this situation truly makes my skin crawl.

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and ...

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and …

By all reports, accepted as truth by those who served with Bergdahl, he willingly; knowingly; and worse of all recklessly relative to the safety of his fellow troopers, walked off his duty station to “start a new life“.

Bergstrom did not simply walk out the gate or go under the perimeter wire; he may have even hid in a contractor’s vehicle to secretly exit his outpost.  He went out of his way to send many personal belongings home before abandoning his unit.

Bergdahl’s desertion is unforgivable for no other reason than the danger in which it put other troops once he was listed as missing.  When that happens, the U.S. military – whether you are on land, in water, or missing from the air – is going to try to find and recover you. They will not leave a man behind if at all possible.

That puts a number of military personnel in an order of magnitude several times greater than your personal worth in harm’s way; exposing themselves to all the dangers of that theatre of operations; going into dangerous and volatile situations they would normally avoid just to find you.  Bergdahl’s actions in this regard were unconscionable.

... Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

… Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

Certainly Bergdahl deserves his day in court, privileged by the assumption of innocence as provided by those very principles he decided to leave behind when he so clandestinely worked to melt into the Afghan countryside.  Hopefully the truth will come out, though I doubt he will receive more than a dishonorable discharge if found guilty.

Of course, that assumes he doesn’t receive a White House pardon.

The troops who served with him and who lived closest to him before he deserted his post are very free in their feelings towards Bergdahl.  They are – to say the least – angry at his selfishness and furious at the losses incurred on his behalf.  They knew him to be a loner, though no sin in itself.  They knew he didn’t want to be there.  They saw him gaze into the mountains near their base, wondering if he could reach China by heading in that direction.

They are the ones to whom we should be listening.  They are the ones who knew him best.  They could tell whether he was with them in duty or looking for a way to salve his disillusionment with his chosen profession.

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went to Afghanistan and announced the release and repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl, his announcement was met with stony silence from the American troopers in attendance.  Don’t buy the story line of young American troopers showing “reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief”.  That never seems to be a problem with emotion when the Commander-in-Chief shows up.

Their lack of reaction and none-so-fond memories of Bergdahl’s fellow unit members are good enough for me.

A Trolley unfazed and not so jolly Holly Days

photoIt’s not often that I write about my experiences as a consumer of products and services. Sometimes though, these experiences simply beg to be addressed for either for their positive or negative experiences.

This post will address an example of each.

Do Not
Eat Here …
You’ll never eat at home again!

This was the plaintive – and rather imaginative – plea and a tweak from the good folks at the Trolley Car Diner, located on Germantown Avenue in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, directed at protestors exercising their somewhat misguided 1st Amendment rights in front of their establishment.

Carol and I frequent the Trolley Car as part of our pre-game ritual for “Business Person Specials” Philadelphia Phillies games that starts at 1:05 PM.  As we had the game played last Wednesday, May 14 (a sleeper of a shutout loss to the LA Angels), we headed down early for the pre-game breakfast/lunch.

It’s only called “brunch” on Sunday’s, right?

Anyways, as we turned onto Germantown Avenue, we immediately noticed signs imploring the public “Don’t Eat Here!”.  My first reaction was “Crap! Don’t tell me we have to find somewhere else to eat!”  Then as we got closer we noted more signs, including one with a likeness of the owner and another that alleged the owner’s role in depressing fair wages and benefits.

My reaction was immediate.  “Unions …”, quickly followed by ” … Philadelphia!”

Those two thoughts, neither of them presented here as negatives within themselves, seem to always be connected.  And maybe my thought process was primed a bit by the ongoing union travails and controversy at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which included the unusual sight of union members in several trades crossing the picket lines of others.

Only in Philadelphia …

As we entered and were greeted by the host, I kiddingly asked him whether we should even eat there.  But he was immediately ready with a one-page letter, written by owner, Ken Weinstein about what was happening out front and why.  The letter, addressed “Dear Friend”, is a public relations homerun!

For my fellow Phillies fans, whose team currently ranks 28th out of 30 MLB teams in round-trippers, a homerun is a very, very good thing.  Just sayin’ …

Trolley Car Diner Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

Trolley Car Diner
Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

The crux of the matter – of course – was the inability of unionized electrical contractors to compete with subcontractors who use non-union labor.  In this case the very same International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, lead by Philly labor icon John Dougherty that had crossed the picket lines of carpenters and teamsters at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, had out-priced themselves from a Weinstein redevelopment project.

That, my friends, is karma!

Weinstein explains his plan to rehabilitate four vacant, historical buildings that previously served St. Peter’s Episcopal Church; his hiring of a general contractor; and the effort to solicit competitive bids from both union and non-union contractors.  Weinstein’s claim that the one union contractor to bid was 35% higher than the selected non-union provider.

This should be of no surprise to anyone, nor should the union’s reaction when losing fair-and-square in the market of competitive bidding.  They picket, not the site of the prospective work to be performed, but the wholly separate earning capacity of the developer – the Trolley Car Diner – with accusations of “depressing wages” and “denying benefits”.

They are nothing, if not dogged and disingenuous as to the cause of their particular problem!

Sorry, IBEW, you get no sympathy here.

So if you get the chance, show the Trolley Car Diner some love.  With a fine menu, great food, and a nice selection of bottled craft-brewed beers, you will not be disappointed!

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Next is my negative experience with Holly Days Nursery, a well-regarded botanical nursery in Horsham.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I did not take my aggravation any further than the landscaping representative that decided to blow me off last Tuesday for a scheduled appointment for an estimate on planting a few trees and bushes.  After taking a few hours personal time from work to meet him between 3:00 – 4:00 PM, a quick apology and an offer to reschedule does not in any way recognize the fact that my time should be just as important as theirs and their other customers.

The only thing that prevented those few hours being a complete waste of my time was that the lawn needed cutting anyway.

I already had trouble with two previous trees from Holly Days.  Both were purchased at the nursery, but planted by another landscaper.  I do not necessarily blame the nursery for both losses; but simply chalk them up as further indication that for whatever reason our relationship was not to be.

In an area where high-quality nurseries are easy to find, one would think competitive pressures would ensure a faithful adherence to the appointment schedule … or perhaps the drive to work a longer day when commitments are missed … or maybe a bit more than a “Sorry, I couldn’t get there. Let’s reschedule.”

The kicker was his response to my complaint of already having wasted 3 hours of personal time.  “Well, do you have to be there?”

Yeah … I do.  But you don’t!

Primary colors

Turnout in the Horsham 1-3 is approaching 10% (84 voters).  Not sure whether to be relieved that we might hit my 125 prediction or go take a nap …

Both maybe ….?

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So Pennsylvania’s DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down today.  Am I a bad person for not caring … Neither celebrating or belaboring …

is it OK that I never cared what others do in the privacy of their own world to express whatever love they feel?

Is it OK that accepting the concept of Personal Liberty, brought here in The Declaration of Independence – that makes this country so strong – leads me to the conclusion that I should have no feeling or take no action one way or the other?

Is it OK to be of the mind that I have way too much to manage in my own life to have the time, energy, or desire to manage everyone else’s life?

Can I rightfully believe that we have way too many and much more important issues and problems facing us than this?

DOMA’s dead?  Wonderful …

Now can we get some REAL problems solved?!?

 

A Primary plan

primary-electionPrimary days … I hate them.

Off year elections can at least be interesting.  The upcoming November ballot will be much more intriguing with Pennsylvania Governor and mid-term Congressional elections to be decided.

That one will be fun.

Primary elections?  bleah …

As a Republican committee representative, it’s always a long day at the polls.  What makes it most interesting however, when the political conditions are right, are the interactions and discussions you can have.  People who make sure they get out to vote are those most likely to be keeping abreast of the political news.

The greater the interest, the more voters show up, the better the day …

Tomorrow, with only one significant Republican race (PA 13th Congressional District) in my district (Horsham 1-3) and a slate of State Republican committee nominees to select, there’s not a lot of sexiness to attract much attention.  I guess I’ll pass the day baiting what Democrats turn out for their primaries for Governor and the PA 13th, which is like trying to pick The Golden Ticket out of a bag of lemons.

For those waiting patiently for my PA 13th Congressional Republican endorsement, you won’t find one.  I am disappointed in what little I have heard – which is nothing – from Beverly Plosa-BowserDee Adcock put me to sleep in 2010.  To win the 13th, you must have the connection and the energy to make inroads into the Northeast Philly chunk of the district.  Neither has convinced me they will have what it takes, so let the voters decide!

I will be at the Horsham firehouse on Meetinghouse Road for most of the day tomorrow.  Stop in and keep me from falling asleep!

Christian Laettner, I still hate you!

Laettner cutting out my heart

Laettner cutting out my heart

I never win anything even remotely related to skill or the ability to analyze complex data sets to project a likely outcome.  Gave up on sports wagering years ago after – finally – coming to the realization that I sucked at it.  Could never even begin to understand horse racing and handicapping odds.  Nor could I fake the slightest understanding of a daily racing form …

Recent years I gave up on one of my last remaining weaknesses … the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets (for entertainment purposes only). I have always enjoyed the tournament, especially the early rounds where upsets lie in deadly ambush.  But winning “entertainment purposes” from my finely honed college basketball acumen?

Not gonna happen …

Funny how most people I know rarely ever watch pre-March Madness college basketball, yet they believe they can reasonably predict the end result of the sport’s 66-team, rabidly emotional, magically unpredictable, championship-determining tournament.

I was one of those wackadoodles once; but it hasn’t been the same for me since 1992.

That was the year the East Regional was held in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.  It was the year of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State as the top ranked teams.  It was the year Michigan made the run from a 6-seed to runner-up, losing to Duke in the National Championship game.

It was the Year of Christian Laettner.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

Normally the NCAA Tourney was just a reason to spend several afternoons in a public establishment amply equipped with televisions in the company of friends.  But in the early rounds of the 1992 tournament bracket I was en fuego!  As the Round of 32 ended, I realized I had a pretty good bracket collection going … through no fault of my own.

As luck would have it, I had ridden Michigan as my surprise entry into the Final Four.  I had the potential – with a Kentucky win over Duke – of having three of four Final Four survivors! (Kansas and Ohio State having been ousted earlier by University of Texas – El Paso and Michigan respectively.)

So, like any other stat geek with a finely developed obsession common among baseball fans and fantasy sports addicts (Guilty x2), I spent hours analyzing the various permutations and likely results from the conveniently supplied Excel spreadsheet provided those like-minded “entertainment purposes” fans who had ponied up the $10 donation.

And I quickly realized that if Kentucky won its Regional Final matchup against Duke, I would be in the primo “entertainment purposes” driving seat heading into the Final Four and almost unbeatable due to a significant “entertainment purposes only” point lead!

I was on top of the world!

And then this happened …

For a more rounded, less suicidal (mine) version of this History of Misery event watch Ric Bucher‘s video report of The Carnage that left me with a nervous facial tic for years whenever I glimpsed the basketball floor at the Spectrum.

Of course, I don’t really hate Christian Laettner.  I simply hated what his exceptional skills on the court contributed to my wakening realization that fortune did not await me as the result of my keen sports betting insight.

So yes, I guess I hate Christian Laettner for saving me untold fortunes in the 20 years or so since.

It’s a complicated anti-relationship!

Bent Tie-Rod Challenge ’14

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Yes, daily commuters, it’s pothole dodging time once again!

As Winter haltingly relinquishes its grip to warming temps and the inevitable thaw, a challenge is presented to drivers across the America’s Snow Belt.  With Spring sitting teasingly just beyond the calendar’s horizon, snow and ice give way to blacktop that hasn’t been seen for months, trapped this Winter under layers of an  impenetrable permafrost.

The big melt reveals roadways that in spots are in a state of severe deterioration.  Craters the size of Baltic countries, fissures capable of swallowing a Prius whole, and teeth rattling jolts from “puddles” hiding deep water glacier lakes!

Maybe owning this would help

Maybe owning one of these would help
(From the movie “Armageddon”)

Terror, Thy name is Thaw!

This year I dub this the Bent Tie-Rod Challenge in memory of the one destroyed just a week ago when I set out to forage for family sustinence at local pizza establishment.  The jaw-jarring impact was exceeded only by the jaw-dropping cost of repair.

The mechanics of pothole creation are fascinating.

OK … Maybe that’s a stretch.  But it might be useful to keep in mind that it ain’t the snow that’s the enemy in this game of suspension system roulette.  It’s water and the freezing, thawing, freezing, thawing cycle.  Exciting, I know …

Anyways … The purpose of this post is to give you a few coping mechanisms in the form of games you can play as your car does The Dance of a Thousand Pep Boys.  Your fingers clenched white-tight on the steering wheel; one eye searching the roadway frantically for tell-tale signs, the other watching the vehicle ahead for warning swerves and teeth-rattling bounces.

Although these ideas cannot be guaranteed to reduce your stress level, they will give you something really stupid to think about as you sit panting from exertion at the next red light.

Enjoy!

Olympic Pothole Freestyle - This is an timely salute to the daring do of the downhill skier and snowboard half-tubers.  Visualize a treacherous downhill ski slope, full of hazards, danger, and emergency room visits.  Your car is the downhill skier/boarder swooping gracefully between the gates and around the deadly edges of certain disaster.  But instead of being happy to simply arrive at work with all your fillings intact, get graded on Skillfulness, Graceful Lines, and Number of Four-Letter Utterances (excluding those uttered in the Idiot Driver category).  Just remember the Swiss judge can be brutal!

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Pothole Asteroids – Take this favorite arcade game from the 1980s and make it a part of your morning commute.  Establish a point system that recognizes the potential cumulative damage to your undercarraige and commuter sanity relative to the size of the divot, pothole, or moon crater you impact.  Lowering scores are the objective.  Half all points for commutes taken before sunrise and after sunset.  For an added touch of Asteroid realism affix a weapons-grade laser to the front of your vehicle.  It won’t improve the pothole situation, but you can use it on the idiot in front of you. (unless you prefer to let him continue to clear the minefield ahead of you.)

Name that Crevasse!  This is a season-long challenge to name those memorable road bunkers you see every single day for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It requires a slower approach to your commute which also allow you to appreciate the grandeur and majesty of Mother Nature’s work in asphalt.  Look for those holes with iconic features and familiar looking profiles.

Last year's winner "Barringer"

A hole called “Barringer Crater”

Suggested themes: Countries and Islands,  National Parks and Monuments, Famous Profiles in Politics and Entertainment (Streisand, LBJ, Washington, Durocher, Durante, Hitchcock), States of the Union.  Note the location of each road canyon you affectionately name, then swap and collect locales with your friends.  For added fun try Bosses I Have Worked For, just make sure you have enough in the bank account to correct damages from the irresistible temptation to hit those road cavities on purpose!

Are you meat or a space commander?

Are you meat or space commander?

Lunar Lander –  This challenge would be the toughest of all!  Another variation on a beloved arcade game where you landed a Lunar Landing Module on the surface of a planet crowded with towering mountains and tiny plateaus with a very, very limited supply of fuel.  Unfortunately in this challenge, consistent with a space vehicle that was paper-thin in many areas to keep weight to a minimum, any contact with a pothole means “death” and loss of the challenge (Houston, we have a problem!).  Complete said challenge at night, and achieve Lunar Mission Commander status! (Tranquility Base here, the Eagles has landed!).

Now get out there and make that chariot of yours dance!

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