Apparently after my last posting, many of you became curious as to why I have been missing from this blog for almost four years. In December of 2012, I told a friend I actually enjoyed a bottle of Barefoot Sparkling Wine, but the guy turned out to be an informant for the League of Very Relevant Wine Bloggers, who subsequently banned me from writing about wine for 40 months.
Truth be told, I found it necessary to limit my creative pursuits as I devoted more and more time and energy to my faltering marriage. Long story short: Yeahhh, that didn’t help so much, and now I’m on the business end of Divorce #2. I found myself hesitating to write about the breakup, which is weird really, because my writing is not unlike drinking an entire box of Franzia Chardonnay: It’s uncontrolled emotional vomiting. “Oh my God, JT, what happened?” Funny you’d ask…actually, not really funny, because the fact is it’s the first thing people ask, strangely enough even before “who got the wine collection?” Divorces are like death: You can’t read an obituary without learning the cause of death in the first two sentences. All that crap about how this person lived and loved comes at least three paragraphs down. What everyone wants to know is what killed the poor son of a bitch, as if by knowing they may somehow escape the same fate.
This need to know is universal, and permeates every aspect of our lives, from our survival instinct to pop culture. Back in college, I had this amazing screenwriting teacher named Bob McKee. He was an expert in the craft of storytelling. He won an Oscar for Chinatown. He also absolutely hated me. Probably because I slept with his wife*.
Anyway, on the first day of class, Professor Bob posed a question to us: Why do people go to the movies? Each of us offered our own extremely lame answer (which we personally believed to be genius because, you know, we were in college). After the tenth agonizing, pseudo-intellectual, pot-fueled speculation, Professor Bob enlightened us with the answer: People go to the movies to see how other people solve their problems.
And this is why I get asked why. People want to know what happened so they can walk away with That Very Special Insight: How was this problem solved, or as the case may be, not solved? What is the “Eat Less Bacon” solution to my marriage’s cardiac arrest?
As this is my second marriage to take that final, swirling ride into the Love Sewer, I keep coming back to these immortal words: “The common element in all your dysfunctional relationships is…you.” Indeed, I have allowed myself to wallow in a Category Five Snot Hurricane of insecurity and self-loathing that dwarfs the first ten seasons of The Bachelorette combined. But as I allowed time and emotional distance to give me a more rational perspective on what went wrong, I finally faced an unavoidable, inevitable, horrifying conclusion:
I was going to have to go to IKEA.
For those of you who may live under a rock (one that is not composed of pressboard and built with an allen wrench), IKEA is the largest furniture retailer on Earth. With stores so massive they make Walmart look like a 7-11, IKEA is the brainchild of Ingvar Kamprad, a reportedly-psychopathic Swedish national whose dream of disassembled furniture packaged to nearly two-dimensional proportions is now the Kafkaesque nightmare of divorced men worldwide. By eliminating expensive production and overhead elements like quality…and durability…and size…and employees that got past the fifth grade…and quality…IKEA is able to sell furniture at the Lowest Prices In The Known Universe. And they sell everything. There is not a single manufactured household item known to man that is not available at IKEA. It is your one-stop shop for The Complete Redefining of Your Life In A Six Hundred Square Foot Living Space.
So off I went.
Being a Bay Area guy for twenty years now, my local IKEA is in Emeryville, just north of The City and right off the Bay Bridge, but still a good thirty miles of gridlocked traffic from my little slice of suburbia. Inside, I witnessed the Glorious Rainbow of Humanity, but the majority of customers can be broken into two groups. First, there are My People: Wide-eyed and terminally confused divorcing men, aimlessly pushing carts stocked with nothing but two plastic spatulas and a Hemmes end table (all IKEA furniture has Nordic names like Floogstrad and Bjorksaas, which for all I know means “We will bury you, Yankee” in Swedish). Then there are the giddy and affectionate young couples, playfully testing out the sofa beds as they furnish their first apartment together. Honestly, it’s cute and I don’t want to be cynical…but…don’t throw away the allen wrench, buddy. This shit doesn’t fit back out the front door in three-dimensional form, if you catch my drift.
Fortunately, about half of those giddy young couples are gay, and by following about five discreet steps behind them, I got endless amazing ideas on how to furnish my new apartment. Seriously, I don’t want to stereotype, but there’s either some kind of genetic thing going on here or, while no one’s looking, gay men get shipped off to Gay School, where one of the required courses is How To Make Your Apartment Look Fabulous! Anyway, lots of tips there, so that was cool.
I finally wandered into the children’s section, which was packed floor-to-ceiling with bright, cheery and fun-looking kids stuff. Near the corner of the display was an item that really caught my eye. It was a combination bookshelf/toy chest/supply cabinet called a Stuva, and it was all brilliant white with pretty pink drawer facings, and as I stood there staring at it I just knew that my girls would go nuts for this thing.
“Ermahgerd!” squealed the young, pregnant woman next to me. “This thing is totes dorbs!”
“Totes McGoats,” I happily replied in the proper vernacular.
Unfortunately, all this elicited from the pregnant woman was The Look. As this is not my first Divorce Rodeo, I am quite familiar with The Look, which I get most frequently at playgrounds and volunteer school functions. It’s a visual combination of “you must be a pedophile” and “how come you’re not at work, asshole?”
Oh well. I made note of where to find the Stuva and its accompanying drawers – the aptly named Stuva Grundligs – in the vast self-service section of the store. I also decided on a Fethen, a Lapland, two Liatorps (one which would go on top of the Bjorksaas, ‘cause I’m just wacky that way), the Torby with the white glass top, four Addes at a crazy-ass $12.50 a pop, a Mydal for the kids and a vast assortment of avocado-green kitchen utensils and gadgetry (because Orion, the Gay Hipster, assured me that Avocado was the accent color of the season – and yes, I want to change my name to from John to Orion, even if that means I have to be a Gay Hipster. I’d probably get laid more anyway). Finally, I made my way to the checkout aisle.
Even though all this crap is deconstructed into the flattest form possible and packed in cardboard boxes, I didn’t have room for most of it in my Honda Accord, so I arranged for delivery. To IKEA’s credit, they deliver on Sundays, so I got it scheduled for 10am, cracked open a bottle of 2015 Yao Family Wines Napa Crest Sauvignon Blanc, (because 10am is The Officially Sanctioned Cocktail Hour of Your Second Failed Marriage), and started warming up my hands for the 15-hour allen wrench marathon that was about to occur.
About seven hours into the construction project, it became apparent that the Stuva Grundligs were not going to fit my Stuva. I thought maybe at first I had built the Stuva incorrectly, but it was pretty obvious I simply had the wrong Stuva Grundligs. I’d have to go back to the store and exchange them, which meant another weekend planned entirely around an IKEA visit. There’s a reason there’s a restaurant in every store: A trip to IKEA is a half-day process at best, and something akin to a family vacation at worst, if yours is the type of family that likes to take vacations to the Fourth Circle of Hell.
Again, to give credit where credit is due, the exchange process at IKEA is pretty easy. You simply have to wait in line with about thirty other beleaguered divorcing men, most of whom are carrying horribly misconstructed bookcases that look as though they came out of an Escher painting, and get your store credit, typically with just an explanation.
“My Stuva Grundlig doesn’t fit my Stuva,” I told the IKEA clerk with the Man Bun.
“That’s what she said!” he laughed in return.
“No, it was more like, ‘I’m keeping the house and all of the furniture,’” I deadpanned.
Store credit in hand, I sought out a consummate IKEA professional, someone who really knew their Stuvas from their Godmorgans. Someone who could literally walk me over to the proper bin, point out the correct Stuva Grundlig and place it in my hands. Thank God for Tyler is all I can say. He knew exactly what my problem was, knew exactly where to find the right pieces, and even made me feel like I wasn’t so much of an idiot because “this sort of thing happens to everybody.” Confident that I was on the right track again, I jimmied the kids into the trunk, packed the furniture into the back seat (or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t remember), and returned home.
But I was not on the right track.
It was the wrong freaking Stuva Grundlig. I was pissed. I literally wanted to disassemble the thing, bash Tyler’s head in with it, rebuild it again around his lifeless body and bury it in the IKEA parking lot, marking the gravesite with nothing but the 18th goddamn soft serve cone I would have to bribe the kids with to keep them from running around the store like a pack of hamsters on meth.
Though it took me an hour this time to have my number called, I still kept my cool when The Girl With The Thousand Yard Stare finally handled my exchange. I mean, there are two schools of thought in this life, right? One is, “If I act like a dick, I’ll get everything I want,” and the other is, “If I act like a dick, I’ll die alone.” I ascribe to the latter, so I addressed my Customer Service Expert with the nicest – but most determined – tone I could muster.
“I was assured by a professional that this was the correct Stuva Grundlig, but it’s not,” I pleaded. “This is my third trip to the store, my third weekend blown because of this. Look, I don’t want to be That Guy, but I need you to make this right. I need something more than just store credit or my money back. I need reparations.”
The Girl glared at my half-built Stuva Grundlig as if I handed her a cereal bowl full of small pox. “I hate everything about my life,” she mumbled.
“Ok,” I said. “Store credit is fine.”
I could see only one way left to get this done right. I went back to the section where the Stuva Grundligs that actually fit my Stuva were on display, and took a photograph of the serial number, the SKU and the aisle and bin number where the item was located. I took another picture of the dimensions displayed on the tag. I then matched all this information six times with the appropriate cardboard box in the appropriate bin at the appropriate aisle. Everything matched perfectly. I’d done it. I’d beaten the Swedes at their own, devious game. This was the right Stuva Grundlig, so deez nuts, Swen.
But it wasn’t.
I sat there among the cardboard IKEA ejaculate splattered about my tiny living room, staring at the Stuva Grundlig sticking about a foot out of the Stuva, like a tongue hanging from a dead man’s mouth. I checked my instructions three times. I looked back over the pictures I took for some kind of discrepancy. I cross-checked the SKU and the serial numbers on the box. Yep. Everything matched.
I sighed and sat back against the edge of my Fethen, casually flicked my allen wrench away like a two-headed coin, slugged down half a glass of Cabernet, and smiled to myself. It wasn’t one of those, “what else can you do but laugh” moments. It was simply a quiet resignation that I would not be building a cute Stuva with pretty pink drawers for my kids. I wasn’t about to go back to IKEA – it wouldn’t do any good. I did everything I possibly could. I saw the freaking floor model with my own two eyes. I know the Stuva I want is out there and the Grundligs are supposed to fit, and that people obviously have these things in their homes or you wouldn’t see pictures of happy Swedish kids in the IKEA catalogue putting toy salmons or whatever in their Stuvas. I talked to a specialist who assured me I could build it properly and I wasn’t the only one who screwed these things up. I read instructions, I followed directions and each time it didn’t work I went back to the store again to try something different. And yeah, maybe I could have bought a different Stuva, one that fit the damn Grundligs I kept building over and over, or maybe I could have ordered the piece online, or hell, maybe I was reading the directions wrong and I just suck at building IKEA furniture. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never know. All I know for sure is that I’m not going to own a Stuva.
So, yeah. That’s why I got divorced.
Getting Divorced For The Second Time And Screwing Up The IKEA Furniture In Your New Apartment Pairs With: The first freaking bottle within arm’s reach. For me, it was the 2013 Baldacci Family Vineyards “Fraternity” Red Wine Blend, Napa Valley. I drank the whole smooth, balanced and delicious bottle in one evening, the last evening I spent at my house, saying goodbye to the croaking frogs and watching the full moon’s light dance across the pool.
If the movie of my life were to end right now, most people would walk out of the theater saying, “wow, that was rather anti-climactic.” God knows Bob McKee would. But that’s because, unlike a movie, life doesn’t usually hand you Epic Moments of Self-Realization forty-five minutes after Epic Moments of Suck. Worse still, the solutions to our problems, let alone the reasons for them, are a lot less black and white and much more a foggy shade of gray.
On the other hand, life does provide us with choices. I chose the Stuva, which provided me with countless hours of misery and horror. But I also chose the Fraternity Red Blend, which became part of a very important ritual in my life. It’s the magic of wine, and the magic behind the choices we make.
The most important choice we get in this life is happiness. I think what so many of us fail to realize as events happen around us, to us and because of us, is that happiness is indeed a choice. Of course it’s not easy, and believe me, there are plenty of moments I find myself choosing self-pity and anger. But with a little bit of work – ok, a shit ton of work – I can go back to choosing happiness instead.
So that’s what I do. I choose my kids and writing and music and wine (lots of freaking wine) and friends and laughter and the determination to suck up life like a sponge. And maybe all I’m doing is toasting marshmallows around the fire of my own burning bridges, but I think that’s what choosing happiness means.
Just don’t expect me to choose a Stuva anytime soon.