I am, after all, a travel writer. I've been an awful lot of places.
But I've also been to a lot of awful places, and this essay concerns the most awful of these, a place so awful I've decided (in good superlative form that the industry has made a fetish) to honor this place with the title
The Worst Place in the World
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting...
SNARKY TOFU'S WORST PLACE IN THE WORLD AWARD .........
One of my regrets from my former life as a hardcore hallucinogen abuser is having never given PCP a fair try. Angel Dust was popular among certain circles in my youth, and my friends who were into it often described the experience of getting dusted as one of total hellish dissociation. To the individual high on Angel Dust, everyday items have a twisted appearance, and situations that should be normal take on an extremely menacing demeanor. Reality becomes a grotesquely exaggerated nightmare from which only the passage of time offers release.
Much like a shopping trip to IKEA.
Once you enter IKEA there is no turning back, as surely as if you'd just smoked a bag of angel-dust laced weed with a psychotic skinhead on Avenue D. The world you thought you knew melts away, replaced by an endless maze of Swedish products, things that seem on first glance familiar, only to take on horribly twisted, strangely sinister hues as time wears on. What appears to be a three legged chair has an inverted seat, and is tilted at an angle almost certain to cause the sitter to slide.
(The Stöövk retails for $49.49, and would look equally awful in either kitchen or living room.)
You turn a corner to inspect a pile of garishly colored dinnerware looking like something found in an Oompa-Loompa break room. It's a seemingly reasonable deal at $17.23 for a set of five - until you realize the plates are made of a wavy plastic-glass hybrid and whose shape would make cutting anything placed upon them impossible.
(A sign tells you these items are called Svünköm, and a picture on the box shows a family of blue-skinned pygmies happily enjoying what appears to be a meal of gigantic grasshopper heads. You back away nervously.)
You want to retreat, but you've lost the path. Why didn't you lay a trail of breadcrumbs? Too late for that. At IKEA the only direction is forward! Forward! Forward!
Cut through the living room section. If Ingmar Bergman directed a film based on the short stories of HP Lovecraft, you'd find this furniture on the set: A pink beanbag chair called fnärf, seemingly made from human skin.
(There are still patches of hair, and a crudely done tattoo.)
A black-framed metal futon whose bars are spaced too far apart to offer support for the ghastly brown cushion that nonetheless beckons you to lie down, to take a rest from the endless maze of nightmarish home furnishings in a consumerist dungeon designed by M.C. Escher.
That shower curtain isn't half bad, despite the outlandish pattern, a child's scrawl that, with enough squinting looks like the distinctive zig-zag shirt of Charlie Brown (stripped from a corpse found beaten to death in a rock quarry).
The curtain is labeled quisp and is only $2.97, an additional buck for the not-quite round curtain rings called ülkvites in the neighboring bin.
You grab ülkvites and quisp and smile nervously in the hopes that public display of intent to purchase something, anything, will appease the mad deity in charge of this place. Perhaps something is watching you, something living (if that is the right term) in a secret control bunker in a dark recess deep below the Stockholm Metro?
You move forward, or what appears to be forward, past bins filled with strange utensils.
You try to avert your eyes from Qvüll (a malaise-gray soup ladle looking thing with hinged handle and single Euro-coin sized hole in the spoon part) and fail.
Your consider purchasing a Sömätz (best described as an inverted corkscrew with a plastic puce handle) and a set of Gügönäpüög (It's purpose is a mystery. Perhaps it is designed for grilling meat, or for performing tracheotomies on choking waterfowl). The latter is lime green and a bargain at $1.09.
Following a glowing arrow painted on the floor indicating hopeful exit you turn a corner only to find yourself back where you'd started, the Stöövk looking strangely less impractical than it had at first glance (now an even greater bargain at $34.12).
You are famished suddenly, craving horse-flavored meatballs. A steaming bin labeled köttbulle appears before you. You stick debit card into slot labeled "äta" and face into trough, feeling the caress of warm, moist tentacles on your skin as a voice in your head whispers....Din själ är vårt !
Ghastly hunger sated, you continue on, desperately trying to find your way to the checkout line, basket of ülkvites and quisp hanging limply from one hand as the other drags the Stöövk you can't remember picking up. You think you feel a breeze, fresh air coming from somewhere up ahead, promising exit. Finally you see it, a row of checkout counters, beyond which stands an exit to the world you once knew.
Does time seem to slow as you move towards the checkout counter, or does space itself elongate?
A haggard, aged face stares back at you from the stainless steel surface of a row of items labeled Förtvivlan
(Blenders? Stereo speakers? You don't care. You'll take one, hoping that one will be enough.)
You stare in mute recognition at the reflection before realizing that the face looking out from the förtvivlan is your own. After an eternity you reach the checkout counter.
"Did you find everything you were looking for today?"Asks a chipper clerk with a single, pierced eyebrow in a voice dripping with deep fried corn syrup.
"I don't remember."You want to reply, but are physically unable. You have no mouth, but you must scream.
Mutely you pay for the ülkvites, the quisp and the stöövk, as well as the förtvivlan and gügönäpüög you do not remember picking up (yet lack the will to resist purchasing).
"Have a nice day."Suggests the clerk, his voice a dentist drill coated in saccharine. Pushing preternatural purchases, you stumble-crawl across the parking lot, imagining yourself free from Ikea's awful fugue.
Somewhere deep below Stockholm an unearthly thing watches from unseen camera and giggles in delight.
*** Fin ****
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