Of Two Minds
When I tell people I’m from Spencer, Iowa, I don’t expect them to automatically know that my hometown was ranked the 10th Best Place to Live in the United States by Relocate-America.com’s “America's Top 100 Places to Live for 2007.” So if people don’t already know, which is often the case, I tell them right away and wait for their minds to be blown by such a staggeringly rare honorific title. I mean, we beat out Portland, Oregon and Seattle, so you can imagine how truly fantastic life must have been in Spencer, Iowa circa 2007.
Then they usually ask me why it’s such a great place to live, and I tell them it’s a bit of a mystery, but the proof is probably in the pudding, so to speak, or as I like to say, in the numbers. For instance, in 2010, there were 11,233 people living in Spencer, Iowa, and 27.4% of households had children under 18 living with them. 47% of those households contained married couples, 9.5% had a female head of household with no husband (this means single moms), 3.4% had a male head of household with no wife (this means single dads, though I can tell you I never once met one of those), and 40% were so-called non-families (I’m assuming this is referring primarily to the gays, because everyone knows that wherever gay people move, the quality of life increases proportionally due to subsequent increases in the arts, better food, and things of that nature).
 Demographic statistics, which may or may not be entirely made up, are from Wikipedia.com.
Since I’m nineteen now, you can calculate that back in 2007 when Spencer was ostensibly one of the Greatest Places to Live in America, I was only twelve. Back then, I was one of its 47.7%-male, 96%-white people (which represents a 1.57% increase in diversity from the year 2000—the Asians dropped a bit, but we made up for it with an apparent exponential increase in the Pacific Islander population, which shot up from 0 to a whopping 0.04%, which corresponds roughly to 449 people, a fact which I find to be literally amazing in and of itself—and everyone knows that increased diversity leads to better standards of living because of greater choice in ethnic foods, more holidays to celebrate, et cetera), and I was living with one of the area’s 9.5% single moms at the time. As far as I can tell, we also contributed to the 9.5% of the total population living under the poverty line (I know that’s the same percentage as single moms, but these sorts of coincidences happen all the time in statistics, and we can’t draw any factual conclusions from them in any way, shape, or form). Sure, the median household income was $32,970, but for females it was $21,709, because everyone knows that females are physically smaller human beings and need less food and other things of that nature to survive. But then I tell people, Don’t Worry, there was plenty to keep me occupied in that town from dwelling on being, technically speaking, poor.
For instance, you may have heard that Spencer, Iowa was home to Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. If you haven’t, where have you been? It’s been optioned into a major motion picture, and as of 2008, Meryl Streep was slated to play the librarian who wrote the book and then got $1.2 million for the rights to the story of the cat. You’d think it wouldn’t take this long for a movie to be made about a library cat, but then you don’t know show business.
So once I’ve explained to people that Spencer, Iowa is really a truly phenomenal place to live (or at least to have lived circa 2007), they ask me why I now live here, 3 hours and 15 minutes away (no traffic) in Bloomington, Minnesota, and I tell them to look around them. Isn’t it obvious? I came for the Ikea.
That was the absolute biggest downside to living in Spencer, Iowa, I must say. The entire state of Iowa has not one Ikea within its borders, not a single one. Zero. Zip. Zilch. You might wonder how I even knew about Ikea having grown up without one close by and with no internet connection in the home, but I did grow up near this pretty fantabulous, aforementioned library which at one point in time had its very own world-famous library cat, and one day after school while I was perusing the stacks for comic books, I came across a discarded Ikea catalogue resting open-faced on the arm-rest of a winged-back (wing-backed?) armchair. The chair, I remember, was royal blue and had an array of smudgy grease stains in the pattern of a Holstein cow, of which we had a plethora in and around Spencer, Iowa and Clay County in general, but I climbed onto its hospitable, pliant cushion nevertheless and read the entire catalogue cover-to-cover that very afternoon. This is what some people like to call Destiny, or—in the movies—Kismet. I like to call it Luck. It’s why you find me here today, working in the Bloomington Ikea, which is filled with the things that I love most in this boundless universe: that is, numbers and comfy furniture. So yeah, this is basically my dream job. A dream come true.
But I’m no country bumpkin, let me tell you. Cultural institutions in Spencer include a glass studio, a community theater, and a bona fide art school, which relocated in 2008 from the city of Detroit, which as you might have guessed, did not make the cut for Relocate-America.com’s Top 100 Places to Live for 2007. Hence, the art school moving to Spencer. If you’re wondering how a city gets on the list, it says on Relocate-America.com’s website that theirs is the “only list that is determined by statistics and feedback of the people who live, work & play in these communities.” So basically, they take in consideration both fact and opinion and process them in a secret formula to produce a totally non-biased ranking based not just on numbers but also on the enthusiasm of Real People Who Definitely Live There. This explains why we are only three slots down from San Francisco, California on the rankings, because we are definitely on par with a major metropolitan, ocean-bordering melting pot with a majority-minority population of close to a million people where it Doesn’t Snow Ever; anyone who’s ever been to Spencer, Iowa can attest to that.
If you were to look up a map of Spencer, Iowa, it tells you the town is located at the confluence of the Little Sioux and Ocheyedan Rivers, which reminds me of how much I’ve always loved that word, confluence.
Now, seeing that you are here at the Bloomington, Minnesota Ikea, you must be in want of some furniture, which I can definitely help you out with. Since we’re in the living room section and you are resting on one of our sofas, I’m assuming you’re looking for living room furniture. Are you looking for an entire living room experience, or just a particular piece? Because I have to say, there is nothing more amazing on this planet than coming into your home after a long day’s work and sitting down in a STRANDMON Wing Chair (unless you are lucky like me and work here, and then you get to sit in them all. day. long.—at least for a few seconds at a time anyway). A lot of people prefer the trendier options, but honestly, they’re not that comfortable, and I’m of two minds about telling you this: one, because I have loyalties to Ikea, and two, because I want you to know that I am telling you the Absolute Truth About Everything. But the STRANDMON Wing Chair is the best of both worlds, embracing class without sacrificing style and comfort in a confluence of functionality and fashion that is all you could ever ask of a chair in this short life.
I sense, from the very small legs sticking out sideways from underneath that shawl of yours, that you live in one of the 24.7% of households in Bloomington, Minnesota containing children, and that you are in fact a mother. If you want some free advice from someone who has had a mother at some point, do not, under any circumstances, write bad checks to cover the rent and groceries, because people will come from the county, which I understand in this case is Hennepin County, the 34th-most populous county in the United States, and they will take your child away—if you are one of the 9.7% female heads of household in Bloomington without a husband, that is (which means your kid might have what is known in the vernacular as a Deadbeat Dad)—and send you directly, Do Not Pass Go, to JAIL. In this case, your child will have to live with Strangers, which heretofore had been people your child was not supposed to talk to or otherwise engage while not under the direct supervision of a Parent or Legal Guardian. Now these Strangers will become Legal Guardians overnight, no matter how terrifying their facial-hair growth patterns may be and no matter how much their house smells perpetually of the confluence of microwaved fish sticks and parakeet guano.
And especially don’t do this if your child is anywhere near the age of 18, especially if he or she (though I am guessing it’s a he from the stereotypical primary-colored racecar shoes, though I am in no way judging you if it is, in fact, a she)—if he—turns 18 towards the beginning of the school year and will age out of foster care and be required to live on his own well before graduating from high school.
For this, as you may already know, could bring about a Real Life Crisis, such that the child will be forced to live hand to mouth, a term meaning he may or may not have to do what is known colloquially as “dumpster diving” and eat pizza that has other people’s bite marks on it, which may or may not cause him to so-called “lose his lunch” at one point or another when he has to do this particular thing, such as it were.
Now, I see you have chosen to take a load off, so to speak, here on our KARLSTAD sofa in Isunda gray upholstery (which I assume refers to “roughly sketched hash marks” in Swedish). Most people go for this sofa because of its confluence of clean, chiseled lines and affordability, but let me be the first one to tell you (though you probably already know this, having been sitting here for quite some time) that this is not the best couch for long periods of sitting and relaxing, that is, for purely comfort purposes. For that—for hominess’ sake—I would direct you to the inimitable EKTORP, the classic, overstuffed sofa in Jonsboda blue (which I assume means “deep ocean abyss” because you could really lose yourself in this thing). This here is a Family Sofa with a capital F. I assume that you—being, as I see now, in possession as you are of what is generally characterized in our society as a wedding band—are not, in fact, a member of one of the 39.8% of Bloomington households with children that are categorized as non-families (unless you are, in fact, what is known idiomatically as “gay married,” which I wholeheartedly support with every fiber of my being), so this particular sofa, along with (if you will) a STRANDMON Wing Chair, especially in Skiftebo orange (how could you ever be sad while annunciating the word Skiff-tee-bo!), will guaranteed (a personal not a professional guarantee, mind you) provide you with the penultimate family living room experience, with or without said family present.
How do I know all this?—you might ask, and rightly so. Well, in my innumerable capacities as a bona fide Ikea employee, I have tried, tested, and tampered with every single piece of furniture in this entire, wondrous store—though “store” obviously conjures an altogether inadequately diminutive image of this place of a thousand homes. And in my entirely unbiased, rigorous evaluations, there are some very real things that have made themselves apparent. One is that the STRANDMON Wing Chair, in addition to providing “extra support for your neck” with its high, crested back, is clearly representative of, and in fact fully embodies, the human form in all its infinite glory. Those five petite buttons across the front, well it’s obvious what those stand for. Then the wide-open arms, the perfectly level, buoyant cushion, ever-steady, constant as daybreak. The hourglass outline, tapering inward below the seat, and in that precious shade of Skiftebo upholstery, a blood-orange, Venusian richness that is the veritable well-spring of life itself. It’s really all that and a bag of chips, as it were.
It might also behoove you to inquire if I, myself, have indeed purchased and ultimately enjoyed to the fullest level of satisfaction such furnishings for my own humble abode, and I would have to disclose, in all complete honesty, that this space here is, in fact, in all its indubitable splendor, my one true home. I don’t, as it were, get what is generally referred to as remuneration, that is to say “get paid,” for my services, insomuch as I don’t have a contract or a start date per se—that is, yet. But I’m practicing for my interview, which I am sure they will call me for once I receive what is sometimes called a GED, or Certificate of High School Equivalency, which they tell me they will mail me as soon as I can supply a valid address, that is, a verifiable place of residence; a place where one lives, “living” being the thing one supposedly does in one’s “off” hours when one is not “working” at a so-called “job.”
But for me, this job is my life, and so I say that I live here. Doesn’t it look like a home? See the communal family meals ($1.99 for a plate of eggs and bacon!), see the ruddy-cheeked children rolling around on the warm tendrils of high-pile rugs, see all the pregnant Women, soon to be Mothers, arm and arm with their Husbands here for their crib mattresses, their changing tables, faithfully representing their 46.6% of the population’s married households, these “families” that we speak of, “we” being in fact, only me, as it happens. When you get right down to it.
And you, who seem to be nursing—if I may use that term—your small, slumbering child. You may or may not be aware that the company provides an actual “nursing room” to its customers, but you should in no way whatsoever feel compelled to use it. You should feel free to rest here as long as you like. Can I get you a pillow? An ottoman? I can even bring you coffee or tea, even though that is not, as such, one of my specifically delineated duties as a not-quite-but-eventually-future-Ikea-employee. I can play that role. For you, I can be anything you like.
About the Writer
Marléne Zadig (rhymes with “Train a Bad Pig”) is a writer and a mother in Silicon Valley with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, Reed Magazine, Sakura Review, and Crack the Spine. She occasionally blogs with a writer friend who lives in Guinea at writersblockduo.com and tweets @MarleneZadig.