Last night was not unlike so many other nights in my household, although it was imbued with a special sense of purpose. Far more than the usual preparations had taken place: I made the great trek to the basement to retrieve the tape measure and actually determine with some level of accuracy the physical dimensions of a space in our house that we envisioned filling with yet more cheaply priced, cheaply made, pressed-sawdust-and-glue-with-fake-woodgrain-laminate-surface, some-assembly-required (OK, all-assembly-required, and-with-a-tiny-awkward-metric-Allen-wrench-at-that) furniture, courtesy of IKEA.
IKEA is a mystical place with a rabid cult-like following, and for many years SLP and I have counted ourselves among them. We pined for the big blue-and-yellow box when we left California, and we praised the heavens when we learned it would finally grace the adopted homeland of 99% of the world’s Swedish emigrants. (C’mon, what took so long?)
But I gotta say, the magic is wearing thin. Too many meals of dried-out overcooked meatballs and new potatoes for which the adjective can only be intended as irony. Too many cheap pieces that took way too long to assemble and then never quite matched anything else and eventually ended up in the basement, on the curb, or in pieces (for sport).
Alas, last night was just such a time. We were on a mission to locate and acquire at least five, perhaps more, short bookcases to line a knee wall below an angled ceiling in our upstairs. But the $20 “Kilby” (or was that “Billy”… or “Fjørnårsl” or some such nonsense) bookcases we had our eyes on happened to be 2 inches too tall. Oh well, at least we fed the entire family for under $11.
What to do… I know! Let’s try Target! 80% of the cheap, DIY furniture in our house may be from IKEA, but the other 20% is from Target, and the bookcases we already have and know will fit, which we thought we had gotten at IKEA, must’ve actually been from Target.
The problem is, Target’s gotten too big for its britches. In trying, admirably, to position itself in stark contrast to Wal-Mart, they’ve gone and done away with all of the basics, like the cheap, no-frills Sauder (slogan: “Good furniture made possible”… yes, possible!) bookcases and such that they used to carry for years and years. My wife constantly complains that Target is lacking this or that simple necessity, but for me, now, it finally hit home.
Faced with having my grand mission of obtaining approximately 25 cubic feet of book storage for less than $100 devolve into nothing more than a rambling trek along American Boulevard, with nothing to show for a wasted evening besides a mediocre meal and my son’s Blue’s Clues jigsaw puzzle (which just goes to prove Target Axiom #2*), I pulled out one last possibility.
Well… we could always try Menards.
Now you have to understand, I am deeply scarred from a lifetime of unwilling exposure to the Menards guy (yes, I was just as shocked as you are). He’s long since retired, but the mind-melting jingle (“Save big money at Menards!”) endures. I have nothing against the place, in particular; it’s just not a place I generally think to go to for… you know… anything.
But it just so happens that there was one a convenient distance from Target. On our way home, in fact. So, why not check it out? I was amazed. They had a mountain of just the cheap Sauder bookcases I was looking for… but a new model… wider… and on sale for $15.88! So we actually ended up getting more precious cubic feet and saving about $20 from what we’d expected to pay at IKEA or Target.
I was a bit disheartened, though, to notice the bookcases are apparently a part of Sauder’s “Beginnings” product line. Ten years of marriage, and we’re still stuck on “Beginnings.”
Anyway… tonight came time for assembly. Now I’ve put together enough cheap furniture (and then some) in my lifetime. I’ve seen so many of that particular sort of cam locking screw mechanisms (and the wooden support pegs that always seem to be paired with them) that I could probably put together something assembled with them without instructions… or tools… using my feet… while sleeping… in another house.
Sadly, it was not enough humiliation for them to simply call these bookcases “Beginnings.” No, no. The cam locks are gone, and in their place a new device of such cunning design, given the almost sinister appellation “hidden connector,” that I am convinced that the only reason Sauder still retains designers in its employ is to concoct ever more devious, counterintuitive, and downright impossible means of sticking two boards together. What’s so bad about, you know, a screw?
The hidden connector consists of a circular piece of brown plastic, about the size of a quarter and 1/4 inch thick, with two opposing holes on the edge and a large angled hole on one side. These are pounded with a hammer into circular holes that just slightly overlap the edge of the shelf boards. Then you insert special screws into the angled side hole and stick them through the edge hole that lines up with the place where the hole in the wood overlaps the edge (are you still with me?), although actually you should have put the screw in the plastic piece first… that’s easier.
Next, try to figure out a way to stick a screwdriver in the hole at an angle and actually make solid contact with the screw head. Good. Next, attach the shelf to the side pieces, and repeat for the other shelf… but don’t attach it too well, or you’ll never get the bottom bracing board, held in with four metal pegs, in place without having to use undue force and, in the process, scratch the hell out of the thin layer of laminated oak pattern lithographed paper that’s glued to the outer surface of the pressed-sawdust-and-glue boards that constitute this fine piece of furniture, the best you can buy for the price of a CD or an extra large supreme pizza.
OK, how long did that take, 45 minutes? Great! One down, four to go!
Ah, the things I’ll do to save a buck.
* Target axioms: 1) If you go into Target set on buying one small thing, and only that one small thing, you will still somehow end up spend at least $50 and needing one of those jumbo plastic shopping bags to hold your purchases; 2) Even if you are absolutely convinced that you will walk out of Target empty-handed, if only just this once, you’ll still end up buying at least one item.
Addendum (October 27, 2006): I’m sad to report that it appears the “Menards Guy” website is no more. As for the Menards Guy himself, I do not know…