I thought I’d faced the worst 2020 could throw at me, but that was before my brother and I tried to buy a couch together. “Tried” is the operative word here.
Back in July, after three years of living with two beloved roommates in an old, drafty, Addams-Family-esque house, my brother and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment. Moving is always fun, especially during a global pandemic. It was a real bundle of laughs. Since you can’t see my face or hear my voice, that was sarcasm.
While our apartment was a definite upgrade – I forgot what it was like to live in a building where you don’t constantly hear squirrels running in the attic or where the outside and inside temperatures are different – the move gave us many reasons to grumble. The lava lamp I’ve had since 2004 didn’t survive the trip. Say what you want, but this was a tragedy. Then there’s the fact that my brother and I own more books than two people should; heavy books that take up way more space in boxes and moving trucks than is wholly necessary.
The biggest headache by far, however, was purchasing a couch for the apartment. I’m a little old-fashioned, so I was ready to go to a furniture store and plop down on all the sofas until we found one we liked…that was available…and would fit in the space…and was in our price range. My brother, however, is hip and cool and took it upon himself to find the perfect couch online. Never one to embrace conflict, I let him do his thing and moved on with my life.
A week later, my brother had ordered a sofa. I don’t believe in badmouthing, so I won’t tell you the name of the company, but it starts with a “w” and rhymes with “Mayfair.”
The couch arrived while I was visiting family in North Carolina, so my brother was the only one around to welcome it into our home. Once he put it together, however, he realized the frame was broken. He called the company, who apologetically promised to send a new couch. Due to the pandemic, however, they couldn’t take the broken couch back. While waiting for the new sofa, my brother was able to give the broken couch to one of our old roommates, clearing up the living room to prepare for the advent of its new fixture.
Fast-forward a few weeks and the second sofa arrives. I was visiting family in North Carolina, so my brother was the only one around to welcome it into our home. Once he put it together, however, he realized the frame – wait a second. Haven’t we done this before?
Why, yes. We certainly have.
That’s right: the second couch was also broken.
Now, it’s important that you understand something about my brother and me. We are two of the most conflict avoidant people you will ever meet. My brother is an avid coffee drinker, but he likes his coffee black. No cream, no sugar. If the barista hands him a cup of cream with some coffee mixed in for good measure, however, my brother will smile, say “thank you,” and wait until he’s left the coffee shop to gag and dump the drink in a trash can. I am a vegetarian, but if my Pad Thai comes with chicken rather than tofu, I will simply eat the meal and leave a pile of chicken on the side of my plate, so as not to hassle the waiter, chef, or manager. For us to call a company twice to request a new product, therefore, is a big deal and a testament to just how broken the couches were.
In the ultimate déjà vu moment, my brother called
Wayfa the company again and explained that the second couch was broken. They were deeply sorry (or so they said) and agreed to send another couch. As before, we were responsible for getting rid of the broken one.
Now, under normal circumstances there are only so many friends you can con into taking a free-but-sort-of-broken couch off your hands. During a pandemic when many of your friends have fled the city, your prospects are even worse. Two school friends were kind enough to take the second couch, patient enough to sit on it for a week, and practical enough to get rid of it and buy their own unbroken sofa.
Skipping ahead another few weeks: couch three arrives. I was back in Boston at this point, so with lots of sweating, improper lifting technique, and yelling “PIVOT,” my brother and I got it into our apartment. Ready for the whole saga to be over, we got to work putting it together right then and there. Everything was peachy until it was time to screw the big pieces together.
In most cases, the expression “trying to fit a square peg into a round hole” does not, in fact, refer to literal pegs or holes. Rather, it’s a way of saying someone is trying futilely to make something happen despite the natural limitations of the parts at play. For example, if I suited up and joined the football team, I’d be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If I entered my dog, who refuses to follow basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” or “fetch,” in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, I’d be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you appointed Betsy DeVos as your Secretary of Education in hopes of making positive and meaningful changes for American schoolchildren, you’d be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
But that’s a discussion for another time.
Sometimes, however, the expression “trying to fit a square peg into a round hole” actually refers to literal pegs and literal holes. For example, one could say, “When the Hart brothers used the hardware pack sent with their third couch to put it together, they were trying to fit square pegs into round holes.” That’s right. The parts included to construct the couch were not the parts necessary to construct the couch.
My brother once more called the company, who I’m assuming was on speed dial at this point. He explained that the parts we’d received with the sofa were incorrect, at which point the customer service individual (who was absolutely not to blame for any of this and who was very polite) responded, “And you probably don’t have the hardware from either of the previous couches, correct?”
When my brother hung up the phone, he did so with the promise that we’d receive a new hardware pack in the mail as soon as possible. In the meantime, the half-constructed couch sat in the living room like an open casket at a funeral. There was nothing comforting about it and looking at it just made me even more upset.
My brother had to take a quick trip the next week, so as he left, I told him he could count on me to put the couch together once the proper hardware arrived. A few days later, he called me and said, “Okay, I need you to do me a huge favor.”
“Alright, what’s up?” I asked with no small amount of trepidation.
“There’s another couch on the porch.” Rather than delivering a hardware pack, the company had delivered a fourth couch.
My brother was out of town, so I sort of stared at the couch in dismay for a while before calling a friend to help me get it into the apartment. There were now two couches sitting in the living room, which didn’t leave a lot of room for living. Neither of them was fully constructed, so they didn’t provide a lot of seating either.
My brother ended up calling the company yet again. I don’t know what was said this time, but he must have found his inner Karen because we got our money back and two company representatives came and took both couches. A happy ending, right?
Wrong. We still had no couch.
For several weeks we put off any further couch shopping, instead taking turns using the single armchair in our living room. Whenever we’d watch a movie, one of us would take the chair while the other would sit in a nest of blankets on the floor like a common dog. It was very bohemian.
The time finally came to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and find a couch for real. We thought we’d start with IKEA. I’d taken a Friday off work so we wouldn’t have to face the weekend crowds.
Now, I fully believe the early bird gets the worm. A quick online search told me IKEA opened at 10:00. I told my brother we needed to leave the apartment at 8:00, my thought process being that this would give us plenty of time to pick up breakfast somewhere and make the drive to the burbs without being held up by morning traffic. Knowing my brother would balk at the idea of budgeting two hours to drive about ten miles, I kept my plan to myself. In my head, we’d get there about fifteen minutes before they opened, and he’d be grateful for my forethought and planning.
The real world very rarely matches what’s in my head.
We left our apartment at eight and made it to our usual breakfast joint in record time. For a city known for agonizing traffic, Boston sure was low-key that day. By the time we’d driven to breakfast, ordered, and eaten in the car, it was 8:35. My brother then pulled out of the parking lot to head to IKEA, which was only about ten minutes down the road.
“I have to tell you something, but you have to promise not to be angry,” I said to my brother.
“I cannot make any promises, but I will do my best to curb my anger.”
“IKEA opens at 10:00.”
After several seconds of silence, my brother told me we were “done” – I’m still unsure what he meant by that – and punished me by making me listen to every track of his new Christmas album that had dropped that day while he loudly sang along. An hour and twenty minutes never felt so long.
We were at IKEA when it opened, and instead of recounting every detail to you, I’ll simply give you some quotes from our journey through the showrooms:
*Driving through the parking garage*
“Where is the door?”
“It’s probably near that enormous red neon sign that says ‘ENTRANCE.’”
“No more talking for the rest of the trip.”
“People could die in here and no one would ever know.”
“We could go with beige, navy, or grey.”
“The walls are tan, and the carpet is light grey. We need variety. It’s just like eating: if we get beige, it’ll look like a plate with all carbs and no vegetables.”
“How do people furnish whole houses?”
“They have money, or they buy cheap couches.”
“You have a master’s degree and I have a doctorate, so what I say goes.” *
*I feel it’s important to point out that my brother does not have his doctorate yet and that he cannot legally use this argument until he walks across that stage with his diploma in hand.
An hour later, my brother and I left IKEA empty-handed. Well, I guess that’s not totally true. We did have a potato masher and a set of wine glasses.
Our next stop was Jordan’s Furniture, the flashy next-door neighbor of IKEA. We walked into the store and immediately realized that simply looking at the furniture in this store was stretching our budget to the breaking point. While I was racking my brain to remember if there are laws against broke millennials walking into furniture stores where they can’t buy anything, my brother found a sign pointing the way to the clearance section. That was the place for us.
We followed the sign through an automatic door, at which point the wood-paneled walls and plush rugs from the rest of the store vanished. The aesthetic of this room was a little more…warehousey? Peasantish? Simply put, that sliding glass door was the furniture store equivalent of the curtain that separates first class from coach on airplanes.
Alas, even the clearance items were a little over our budget, so it was with heavy hearts that we skulked out of the store.
Resigned to our fate of sitting on the floor until the end of time, my brother and I drove off in search of milkshakes over which we could commiserate. Just as I was wondering if bean bag chairs were still a thing and whether they also cost a zillion dollars, a building caught my eye. The sign on the front read “BOB’S DISCOUNT FURNITURE.”
I hadn’t the faintest idea who Bob was, but I knew in my heart that we needed to pull over. It was the same feeling I assume one would have if he found an oasis after staggering around the Sahara Desert for days. We pulled into the parking lot and entered the store with our hearts pounding, hardly daring to hope that we may find the right sofa.
We needn’t have worried.
With the help of a pushy but very nice gentleman named David – I was able to overlook his hovering by creating a backstory for him in which he was basically Bob Cratchit in a modern-day version of A Christmas Carol – we found an affordable sofa that perfectly suited our apartment.
Our new furniture will be delivered in one week. That’s right, I am writing this blog post sitting cross-legged on the floor.
I’m an optimist, so I’m choosing to believe that there will be no other problems in the great sofa saga of 2020. If there are, however, I have already planned to leave the continent and spend the rest of my days in a monastery where creature comforts like couches will have no place in my life. You’ve been forewarned.
Bob’s Discount Furniture, there’s a lot hinging on this delivery.
I hope you enjoyed reading this story more than I enjoyed living it. While I’m so glad we finally found our couch, I would’ve been fine without one. I wouldn’t have gone hungry. I wouldn’t have been without warmth or shelter. I wouldn’t have been denied access to physical and mental health resources. Many families are not so fortunate, especially in the midst of this global pandemic. If you are able, I hope you’ll look through the links below, find a cause that resonates with you, and support it in whatever way you can. Happy Thanksgiving.
Feeding America – US Hunger Relief Organization: This national organization works with a network of food pantries to provide meals to people in need. It also partners with manufacturers, distributors, retailers, food service companies, and farmers to gather food before it goes to waste. https://www.feedingamerica.org/
World Central Kitchen – The World Central Kitchen provides relief from disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic through the provision of meals to those in need. They also partner with local chefs, restaurants, and food providers, aiding them in their struggles and educating them on the best ways to support the hungry in their communities. https://wck.org/programs
One Warm Coat – This organization looks to provide warmth to those in need who are otherwise unable to protect themselves from the cold. The need for a warm coat is more critical than ever when so many are unemployed due to the pandemic. https://www.onewarmcoat.org/
National Institute of Mental Health – The National Institute of Mental Health is the leading federal agency for research on mental disorders, many of which are stigmatized and undertreated. Through outreach, the NIMH works with other mental health organizations to share information and education about ongoing research and future initiatives. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/connect-with-nimh/donate-to-mental-health-research.shtml
National Alliance on Mental Illness – NAMI “is one of the largest grassroots mental health organizations dedicated to creating better lives for Americans affected by mental illness.” Through education, advocacy, and public outreach NAMI works to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and provide aid for those facing mental health struggles. https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Donate-to-NAMI