What is there to say? I'm not very interesting. I'm not a good writer. I don't even dress well. If you insist on knowing something about me just wander through the archives. It's all there.

Friday, September 23, 2005

On “some assembly required”

One of my neighbors decided to surprise her husband with a new oak ottoman for their anniversary. She chose a model from a beautiful picture on the company's website. When her order arrived, it did not resemble the pictures. It came in a much too small box that contained numerous unrecognizable pieces of wood and metal. She was horrified. How could she surprise her husband with his new ottoman when he returned home from his business trip?

This is where I come in. Somewhere along the line, I have been designated as the neighborhood’s official “old guy who knows how to do stuff”. I have been known to consult on landscaping projects, electrical repairs, car malfunctions, and balky water heaters. I am an old guy. I do know how to do stuff. My life is an ongoing series of “Red Green” episodes.

She called me up and asked if I could please help her out. She had looked over the instructions that came with the ottoman and was totally overwhelmed. I would have had to turn in my old guy badge if I had turned her down. I went over and picked up the pile of parts that was supposed to be an ottoman and brought it back to my workshop. (All “old guys who know how to do stuff” have workshops. It is like Batman’s Bat Cave without the fire pole.)

It was indeed a very large pile of pieces. I counted. There were one hundred and seventeen parts! This was supposed to be an ottoman, for heaven’s sakes. You know, a box with a cushion on top that you put your feet on! True, it did have casters and a storage drawer, but still, one hundred and seventeen parts seemed excessive. I think you could design a full-scale model of the space shuttle done in Lego blocks with fewer parts.

I looked over the instructions. Earlier in my life, I would have allowed testosterone to rule my brain and would have ignored the instructions until I was hopelessly lost. I have outgrown that particular male stereotype just as I am no longer reticent to ask directions when I am lost. Marriage has indeed ruined me. I still firmly believe that most assembly instructions are terribly written and about as useful as politicians. However, like politicians they can sometimes provide examples of what not to do. These instructions were particularly awful. I think that they may have been translated or written during a hallucinatory episode. I quote, “Insert 4 Cam Locks (b) into Left side (sic) Panel (B) and Right Side Panel (C) while making sure the + points up and ^ arrow points toward the opposing perpendicular outside edges.” (Isn't "opposing perpendicular" a contradiction in terms?) These written instructions were accompanied by a series of confusing line drawings done in a form of orthographic projection that most closely resembled the MC Escher work that once graced my college dorm room. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

But wait.

On the last page was a note that stated, “For more detailed Online Assembly Instructions go to their website at HelpForOldGuyWhoKnowHowToDoStuffWhenHeIsAssemblingHisNeighbor's"

I went to the site. I was greeted by a note that said, “We are in the process on putting our assembly instructions on this website, please be patient.” I was not patient. I was disgusted. I had been led on. I had been teased. How unfair can one ottoman be?

Resigned to my fate, I began the painstaking process of laying out and assembling the one hundred and seventeen parts into an ottoman. It was a slow and often, frustrating process. Not only were the instructions confusing, but they were wrong (something that they also share with most politicians). Although the instructions said that all I would need was a Phillips screwdriver, I soon had a huge pile of tools gathered around me as I toiled and cursed. Even more outrageous than the one hundred and seventeen parts was the fact that several other parts were missing! Luckily, I am an "old guy who knows how to do stuff." One of the characteristics of this disorder is in the fact that I have multitudes of little plastic drawers filled with "leftover" part and fasteners from other projects. I think that medical science should consider using that tendency along with an unhealthy obsession with duct tape as a predictor for the onset of dementia. By the time a man has filled at least one hundred little plastic storage drawers, baby food jars, and coffee cans with arcane hardware, he is well on his way to not being able to feed or dress himself. I, of course, had suitable replacement hardware in my one hundred and tenth little plastic storage drawer.

Finally, I stood back and looked at my creation. To my annoyance, the storage drawer was crooked and didn't close properly. My "old guy who knows how to do stuff" sensibilities were offended. I looked back through the instructions. No, there was no way to adjust the drawer. The drawer glides had come preinstalled. It figured. The only parts on the entire ottoman that were preinstalled and they were wrong. I removed the drawer and discovered that some poor half-blind political prisoner in China had put the hardware in crooked. There was no easy way to adjust them. With a sigh, I went through the process of removing, re-drilling, and re-installing the drawer glides. It closed squarely. I was done, at last.

I took the ottoman over to my neighbor. She was delighted. I was sure that in my own small way, I had ensured the continued success of their marriage. I went home feeling pride in another successful "old guy who knows how to do stuff" mission. While putting away the tools, I was wondering if I might actually be able to fit that fire pole into the back corner.


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