Comedy · Everyday Life · Japan · Writing

My Coffee Table As a Metaphor For Life

Way back last August, Husband and I got our second apartment together, and we needed furniture. Like, lots of furniture. Because we literally didn’t own any.

“How can this be?” you ask.

Pretty easily: we’d sold all of it in Japan a year and a half beforehand.

I tell a lie; I did, last August own a lovely plant stand. But I have to say that of everything my apartment needed, that was the least of it. And so, a year and a half after leaving Japan, thirteen months after realizing that our stay with my parents was not as temporary as we’d have liked (this is actually an appropriate place to say “thanks, Obama”), Husband and I headed to that well-known furniture heaven, IKEA, and proceeded to buy an entire apartment’s worth in one go.

Ah, bliss.

Sofa, kitchen table and chairs, shelves, side table, desk, bed, mattress, hamper, TV stand, pots, pans, shower curtain, window curtains, drinking glasses, nightstands, sheets, pillows, cushions, lamps, a mirror, artwork, candles—so much stuff we barely had room for ourselves in my mother’s minivan and drove home scrunched in our seats, the mattress flopping on the roof, sated and content.

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The most beautiful table in the world. I’d also like the curtains back.

Of the things we bought, what I was possibly most excited for was the coffee table. Sounds silly, I know, but in Japan I’d been forced to sell my beautiful, wonderful walnut table, knowing I’d never see the like again. And then in IKEA, I’d found an ash table that was so similar it brought a tear to the eye. I’d declared we were buying it, and that was that. My perfect little coffee table.

Turns out, it’s not so perfect. Because six months later, I’m shopping for a new one. Oops.

See, this table is square and fills the space badly; we need a rectangle or oval so that walking to the bathroom does not involve turning sideways. The current one is also twenty inches tall, but Husband and I like to use it as a floor table for eating, so we need one that’s about sixteen inches off the ground, no more than eighteen tops so we don’t feel like little kids at the grown-up table. And we need to be able to put our legs under it while we eat, so tables with strange bases are out of the question. No soft-topped ottomans, no low dust-catching shelves. So, basically a table.

Sounds simple, right? It is. In fact, I’ve found a perfect coffee table that I love twenty times over!

Just not in my price range. Ahem.

Many years ago, I discovered this really neat trick I can do: walk into any store and instantly find the most expensive item. How do I do this? I just figure out which one I like the best, and lo and behold, there it is!

You’d be amazed how un-useful this talent is when shopping for furniture. Because while there is definitely a low end to the price spectrum, a hard line under which the prices never venture, the sky is the upper limit.

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This is my Japan coffee table. I’d take it too, or the rug. Actually, I’d rather the rug, but either’s good.

I have found some lovely coffee tables in my search. I’ve found mid-century modern pieces that will dust in a cinch. I’ve found gorgeous glass pieces, incredibly cool works of art. Tables that fold, tables that warm people’s legs, tables of every size and shape and material. And then I’ve spotted the price, and while my smile didn’t evacuate my face entirely, it acquired a glazed sort of quality as I realized that, once again, I was lusting after something I couldn’t have. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d be willing to shell out that much for what is, at the end of the day, a table for coffee.

It was in the midst of this dilemma last night, with my husband at his computer droning on about the current political polls and tax law, that I realized I’ve hit middle-age. My immediate reflex at that was to buy the orange laminate coffee table, but it was $600 and made for people in their fifties who are furnishing their children’s suites and can afford to waste a few thou, so I couldn’t. Middle-aged me stuck back with the college students going “a crate can be a table. You know.”

Except unlike the college students, I do have a coffee table! A lovely coffee table that is perfectly wonderful in every respect except for being the completely wrong size and shape for my home.

So here I am, browsing web site after web site, wondering why the heck every coffee table I love either a) resides in Japan or b) costs the same as all my husband’s game consoles combined. Though that gives me a great idea about where to find the money for the perfect table while solving the problem of having controllers everywhere. But alas, what’s the point of buying the perfect table for having coffee with yourself?

I jest, of course; I’m only held back by the fact I can’t use ebay worth a darn. And so for now, I shall continue to use my imperfect coffee table and turn sideways on my way to the bathroom while I wait for someone to volunteer to mail me stuff from Nitori.


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