Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Desk Debacle

As I’ve mentioned before, I moved to LA with only what I could fit in my car.

No bed.
No dresser.
No desk.
No tables.
No sofa.
Not even a lamp...

I packed in a few small trunks and plastic drawers that could double as storage and decoration, but I had a lot of purchases to make. As I mentioned briefly before, those purchases were a major emotional undertaking!

I became a mental case – one moment thinking, “I have to have a mattress. That’s a basic need,” then the next moment, “But the money I have saved will be gone after just a couple months rent! I can sleep on my roommate’s air mattress for a while longer…”

Then after deciding I was going to buy something, I went from, “I deserve nice things, I’m going to use this every single day.” To thinking, “I should go the cheapest possible route. I could get a mattress off Craiglist… Hopefully the $100 price tag doesn’t mean someone was murdered on it…”

I am extremely thrifty. I love my TJMaxx and Big Lots and I manage to sniff out the deals no matter where I am. So, as I’ve expressed previously, not being able to find the stores I know, or know the stores that are here is insanely frustrating! I spent hours online, trying to locate businesses and identify credible Craigslist deals.

Finally, after a month of going between an air mattress and small futon and feeling good about my final interview for the Tour Guide job, I decided I deserved a gawd damn mattress! In North Hollywood there’s a block with like four furniture stores, one was advertising $200 mattresses on Craigslist. I was skeptical of the quality and first went into a different store, in front of which I had parked. Al’s Discount Furniture. I was feeling simultaneously jubilant about recent successes and fed up with my sleeping situation to the point of apathy. In Al’s I was immediately “up sold” from a full to a queen. “They’re basically the same, so you may as well get a queen.” “Okay,” I blindly agreed, not questioning the fact that I thought they were exactly the same or asking what the price difference would be. The salesman showed me the cheapest mattress in the store and then one quite a bit better and $100 more. I was very blunt about my broke/new in town status and remained reluctant until I got a “for you” price for the better mattress. My boyfriend is a sales manager, so I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it was a cheaper quote than the display price.

I sent my boyfriend a text and tried to call him for a second opinion, but didn’t get an answer. I hated the feeling of uncertainty as I completed the transaction. I even joked with the sales guy, “I know I’m your dream customer,” meaning one who makes an instant purchase. I was a grown ass woman, buying something we all need, yet spending that much money made my stomach turn. Back in my car in front of the store I finally got my boyfriend on the phone; his first words were something like, “Why did you let them talk you into a queen?”

My reaction surprised me – I literally threw my precious Coach purse (which had been gifted to me, of course) across my car and screamed “GAWD DAMN IT” as tears welled up in my eyes.

Three thousand miles away and very perplexed, my boyfriend tried to make sense of me, and again, even I was taken aback by my actions. Sure, we all get mad and cuse sometimes, but to literally scream and throw a values possession? What the hell? I haven’t reacted in such an immature manner since childhood.

When it comes to negotiable transactions, there is certainly added pressure not to be taken by the salesperson, since I’m with one and know their tricks. That, compounded by my own genetic tight-ass-ness and self-imposed stress about making the right decisions led to a major breaking point.

As it turns out, I got the mattress, box springs and delivery for like $300 less than it sells for in a department store. But, at that moment, I felt compelled to walk to the store I had originally planned to go to. The fact they were selling mattresses for $200 was not surprising – the place was a complete dump. I would never want to sleep on anything from there. However, I did want a lone desk sitting by the door.

The salesman was very aloof, as I held his Griffin Terrier, I even wondered if he was “slow.” He quoted me either $150 of $195 for the white, made to look antique, hutch style desk, with drawers on the bottom half and shelves in the hutch. I said thank you and left, certain I could find something cheaper. The other stores on the block were equally shitty, making me feel better about my mattress purchase.

I continued checking Craigslist unsuccessfully for a desk and finally decided to take a trip to IKEA. Ah, IKEA. I had heard such wonderful things about it from everyone… and the little bit of me that’s not German is Swedish! My experience, however, is not one I will soon repeat.

At this point, I was looking for lamps, bedding and a desk. The trouble with IKEA is that it’s mainly made up of vignettes, small displays with everything a room would need set up for you to marvel at. That means there isn’t a specific section of lamps, or rugs, for example, to compare prices and styles. You have to have a very good memory or go back and forth from display to display. What a great marketing tactic; I’m sure some people see a display they like and buy everything featured in it, but that is clearly not how I operate!

The bigger problem with IKEA was that it made me feel like a fucking rat in a maze! Unlike a normal store, where you can walk off the main aisle way and through a section, IKEA was basically one winding aisle. A quarter of the way in, I asked where the bathroom was; I had to completely backtrack, then go through the chaotic kids section and cafeteria.

I was hungry and exhausted and my patience was quickly becoming starved too, as the prices were not a low as everyone had made them out to be. Like a normal store, there was a large section of office furniture, none of which I liked. That was when I decided I was done. My feet hurt and I was getting the woozy feeling I often experience in a Super Wal*Mart.

I found an exit sign, but around the next corner, it said Dining instead… To make matters worse, there were children everywhere. Who brings their brats to shop for furniture and home goods? Then I realized I was on the second floor! Down a flight of stairs, the exit signs had completely disappeared. The amount of people around me and endless nature of the store had my head spinning. I was hot, weak and pissed. Finally, I saw a sales associate, and with absolutely no regard for the swarming children, I politely said, “Excuse me sir, GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.” Taken aback, the early twenty year old asked, “Um… are you going to buy anything?” “NO!!!!”

Thankfully there was a Starbucks in the bookstore across the street.

Between the coffee and fact that I didn’t have to move my car, I managed to drag myself into the adjacent Office Max. There, I realized what a great deal the white desk in the crappy NoHo furniture store was. Sure, you can get a computer desk for thirty bucks on Craigslist, but that’s not what I wanted. I have a laptop and use it in bed; I need a desk for storage and display purposes.

Not sure if I’d been quoted $150 or $195, I went back to the store and casually said, I’d take it, “$150, right?” This time, an older Asian gentleman waited on me. His English was bad and he seemed quite frazzled, so I kind of talked passed him to the first guy, who sat on one of the display couches with his shoes off watching TV with the dog. The Asian man left as we discussed delivery; he quickly returned to say I had to pay $250. I knew the desk had been custom made as part of a bedroom set that was not picked up; it was the last of the pieces to be individually sold; apparently it had been the Asian guy’s deal.

I argued briefly with him, “I don’t understand sir, it clearly has 3 inches of dust on it…I’m willing to give you something for it.” He was belligerent and I left. My spirits were broken, knowing I could not find anything I liked as well for as good of a price. As I crossed the intersection, the first guy and his dog pulled up, telling me, “He’s just an asshole; comeback when he’s not here and I’ll sell it to you.”

On three separate occasions he failed to deliver it on our agreed upon time. He never returned my calls and countless times the angry Asian man would answer and I’d have to say “No, you can’t help me, I’d call back.” I even went so far as to have my roommate get a quote on it. The angry Asian told her $299, and that it was originally $500!

In the mean time I had sat the long cardboard box my boyfriend had sent my electric piano in across my decorative trunk and set of plastic drawers. I covered it with a blanket that did not compliment my bedding; if I flipped the blanket up and folded a flap down, there was storage inside. I used Styrofoam from my printer and lamp boxes to enforce the ends so my printer and orchid could sit on top. At first I was so proud of myself. Damn, I’m resourceful! It worked, but it was not ideal, convenient or attractive.

As time passed, I went from proud to depressed. Really? My very existence is a small business, yet I was using a fucking cardboard box as a desk! I knew moving here meant a lot of sacrifices; I’ll gladly eat peanut butter and jelly everyday, but when it comes to organizing headshots and resumes and bills and receipts and scripts and pens and pencils and my stapler, my printer, my pictures, my books, my stationary, my plants… Using a cardboard box was fucking ridiculous!

So last week my boyfriend was in town; while I was at work I asked him to go check out a unique shelving unit I had found on Craigslist for $35. I had already checked and knew I could rent a pick-up truck for $20 for the day. $55 was the absolute cheapest option I had found for something I actually liked. If my printer would fit on it, it would serve the function of storage and display.

My boyfriend reported that it was very heavy and nearly 7 feet tall. “Excellent!” I thought, that makes $35 an even better deal! However, my beau was concerned about getting it up the stairs to my place and that fact that once we put gas in the pick-up, the ordeal would be more expensive than I thought. “Yes, but still less than anything else…”

One of the most difficult things about a distance relationship is that you can’t help one another; you can only be there with words, which often times doesn’t do much good. Once again having the temporary ability to fix things for me, my beau insisted we could surely find something else somewhere else. I know his intentions were well meaning, but my mood was immediately soured. As if I hadn’t looked everywhere there was to look… As if I hadn’t spend hours online… As if it was my fault that they wouldn’t fucking deliver me what I wanted!

So I insisted on showing him the desk they wouldn’t deliver me. Other boxes were piled on top of it, making its size and details difficult to see. Just like my roommate, my boyfriend’s reaction was that it was not worth the money. “Are you kidding me? Have you been to an office store ever in your life?” For $150 at Office Max you don’t even get a drawer!

As we drove to Target to see their at-home-assembly pieces I cried. I cried! First over a mattress and now over a stupid desk! The whole process had just been ten times harder than it ever should be and I couldn’t believe we were wasting part of his visit on that! I was seriously offended that now two people had disagreed with the value of the only piece I had found and liked. As I already knew, the options at Target were more expensive with less storage, and in my opinion, a lower quality. So we dropped it…

LAX is some 14 miles from my apartment; it’s “over the hill,” as we say here in The Valley. Near the airport my interest was peaked by a Big Lots that looked ten times nicer than the one in NoHo that I’ll not go back to and an Office Depot, which I didn’t think LA had. After dropping him off, I suppressed my sadness by going to both stores.

The Office Max had a pile of at-home-assembly Sauder’s desks, as in Sauder’s of Archibald Ohio, originally $99 to $129 marked down to $15. I shit you not! FIFTEEN DOLLARS! There were six or seven styles of desks; again, they were computer desks with limited storage, but I knew instantly one would be going home with me! Luckily, the most stylish desk, with a dark cherry finish and silver hardware had two small shelves and two doors for hidden storage, as well as a matching two-drawer filing cabinet. So for thirty bucks I finally got my storage and display area! My beau can have his credit for fixing my situation, since I would have never been near that store if not for him. The desk came in a box that was probably five feet tall, but only four or five inches thick and was 80 pounds; it barely fit in my car and luckily neighbors helped me carry it upstairs.

Never mind the pride of turning a cardboard box into a desk, I was so impressed with myself that I completely and successfully assembled both pieces in a few hours. Check the pieces out here and here. Can you believe I got those for $15 each!?!

I know this isn’t the most interesting or entertaining blog entry, but it’s an experience worth recording. As I keep saying, everything is just more difficult here and this is a classic example. Not to mention that it finally marks a sense of completion for me. I’m no longer sleeping on an air mattress or living out of a suitcase or cardboard box. Sacrificing and being resourceful is an attribute of successful people, but I think actually having resources and organization from which to work will allow me to be even more successful!


Anonymous said...

This was really sorta funny! Thanks! Keep searching for those bargains.
Did anyone take your photo during the performance? I'd like to see it.
Still following the other website for M.O. news. Heaven forbid the Board of Directors or those 'in charge' would take the initiative to put events, etc., on their website (when hell freezes over).
Nancy M.

Anonymous said...

Good! If I can't find a way to infuse some humor, I'm not doing it right!


Anonymous said...

Wow! I was going to tell you to go to used furniture stores...but that is one hell of a bargain! Even if it is for cheap ass particle board! They are pretty! Just don't get them wet!!! UGGGHHHH!

Mombi said...

I'm sorry to laugh, but that post made me laugh so effing hard! Especially your IKEA experience, I swear it's like we have had the same experiences!