Wednesday, August 30, 2023

'Some assembly required'

DATELINE: HOMESTEAD, IOWA—Woman constructs shelving unit, no one injured

            I admit, I’ve spent the better part of my marriage avoiding tasks that involve assembling anything more complicated than a hamburger with help from my husband. I love the man but we have two very separate approaches when it comes to “Assembly required.”

            He opens the box, looks at the pieces, ignores the instructions, then proceeds to put the item together as if he possessed a Ph.D. in structural engineering. Which he does not.

            I open the box (usually involves a struggle), look at the pieces (express doubt they will actually create the item pictured on the box), try to interpret the instructions (fail), try to read them in the additional languages provided since the English version wasn’t helpful (also fail), then proceed to put the item together as if I possessed a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Which I do.

            We both get the job done with a usable product at the end. 

            However, these two different mindsets should never, ever work together unless one is willing to keep his/her mouth clamped shut for the duration of the project. “For better, for worse” and “in sickness and health” are null and void when it comes to free-standing storage units and computer desks. 

            When I recently bought a very large set of utility shelves (post on living in a house with virtually zero closets will come later), I decided before I ever handed my credit card to the store clerk that I would ask the Farmer to put them together for me. Without me. I even had a day picked out for him to do it. A day when I would not be home. A day when I would not even be in the same county. I could do my thing and he could do his thing and I would come home to my shelves, assembled and ready for use.

                So of course I ended up doing it myself because I couldn’t wait.

            The hardest part, as it turned out, was getting the unassembled pieces out of the box.  The shelves, poles and all the accompanying hardware were jammed in that box so tightly they might as well have been welded together and the cardboard shrink-wrapped around them. Think “10 pounds of sausage in a 5 pound casing.” 

           I tipped the box up on end, hoping things would slide out. They did not. I bounced the box. Nothing. Picture a 5’ 4” woman grappling with a 5’ tall box. My initial goal was to get things out of the box without breaking anything—either on me or in the house. I finally got a pair of scissors and with surgical precision, opened the box and carefully extracted the pieces.

            Not carefully enough. 

When the pressure was released, little black rubber discs went flying. Dismayed, I figured a parts bag had gotten torn in spite of my caution. I gathered up all the pieces and set them aside, then laid out the shelves, uprights and accompanying hardware, all sealed safely in plastic bags.

I read the directions. I should just shut up at this point and be glad there WERE directions. So many things these days come with instructions to visit for directions. I nearly lost my shit several years ago when, while installing a new router for our internet service, the package instructions directed me to an online site for help. I guess they overlooked the likelihood if you were installing a new internet router, maybe it is because you DO NOT HAVE INTERNET ACCESS.

Ahem. Sorry.

 My delight in printed directions was short lived. I swear, companies hire technical writers who excel in obfuscation. And the diagrams were a microscopic blur, even with my glasses on. So I decided to wing it, since the Unhelpful Directions seemed to suggest a free spirited, adventuresome approach. Worst case scenario, the shelves would end up looking like a Pablo Picasso painting and I would have to go slinking back to the Farmer for help.

The instructions assured me no tools were required. They immediately contradicted themselves by suggesting a rubber mallet could be helpful. The directions did not specify exactly HOW the rubber mallet was to be implemented. I suspect it was the manufacturer’s way of covering their butt in the event a couple should tackle the project together. A rubber mallet causes a lot less damage than a regular hammer. Do not ask me how I know this. You are talking to the woman who went into a local farm store earlier this summer and purchased duct tape, zip ties, a large tarp and a shovel. The cashier didn’t even blink.

            In any event, I assembled the shelves with help from Raider and Banner, who were slightly more help than the printed instructions and a lot cuter. The finished product was sturdy and level and I didn’t have any pieces left over.

            No. Wait. 

            Oh, holy hell.

            Remember those little disc thingies that went flying when I finally convinced the box to yield its contents? Yeah. Those. There they sat, looking at me. I counted them. There were 16. That seemed important. I re-read the Unhelpful Directions. There was no mention of disc thingies.

            I studied the shelves but could not fathom where they should have fit in. After much angst, I decided since they’d burst from the box with joyous abandon, not having been confined to a baggie like the Important Pieces, they must have been used as spacers to keep the shelves from rubbing.

            That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Life is what happens while you're busy making plans

 The Gypsy is mildly repentant at how long she’s neglected these pages and thanks her stalwart readers (all three of them) for encouraging her to take pen in hand again.

To sum things up, it’s been a helluva year. Highlights included showing the Red Chaos Goblin. Yeah, he’s still really young and green but I was desperate for something fun amidst many weekends spent doing not-fun things, one of which was cleaning out my childhood home (zero stars, do not recommend). I’ve also been settling my mom’s estate (do not ask about the missing will, just don’t, okay I’ll tell you all about it but not now). And I quit my job (a long overdue decision that came with no regrets).


 New owners bought my newspapers in the summer of 2022. I thought things would get better, mostly because they couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. I still panicked on a weekly basis about filling four papers as the only editor/reporter/photographer/columnist/chief bottle washer on staff. Wait. There was no staff. There was me. Then the new owners bought a fifth local paper and guess who got to be in charge of that one, too? 


 This one-editorial-employee-for-five-newspapers plan was not a sustainable business model. I said as much but it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. That was not a hill I was prepared to die on. Yet. So I kept my mouth shut and worked nights, weekends and holidays and put out five papers a week. Life went on. Subtle clues kept popping up to indicate perhaps after 35 years, it was time to get out.


Life made a lot of decisions without consulting me first. Mom died in October of 2022. I took a long look at my own mental health and decided there was no way in actual hell I was doing this job for any longer than I had to. I quit. Or stepped down. Or walked away. Or retired. Call it whatever you want.


It took about a year of dealing with mom’s estate and getting my financial ducks in a row before I could confidently put my day job in the rearview mirror. Geez. You have to have money for everything. So annoying.


During that time, I emptied mom’s house. If you’ve done this, you know the process of cleaning and sorting and disposing could be a full-time job. I developed questionable (but satisfactory) coping mechanisms involving Mt. Dew, Sterzings potato chips (southeast Iowans, if you know, you know) and setting things on fire. Burning big piles of stuff is very cathartic. Going to the landfill with a hydraulic-lift dump trailer and getting stupidly excited over the scale ticket showing how many pounds of junk I'd hauled out was almost as good. 


Yeah. It was like the above cartoon. Only worse. Not just the garage. The entire house. Basement to attic. Three-stall attached garage. Two-stall unattached garage. Barn. Outbuildings. The experience is a post in itself. Or five. Or ten. I laughed. I cried. I used a lot of four-letter words in creative combinations. Usually “Holy . . .” followed by another four-letter word of my choosing.


In the middle of it, I started showing Raider (aka, the Chaos Goblin) in several different venues. No one got hurt and he was a very good goblin. He grew up kinda pretty, dontcha think? And he has been the absolute Elixir Of Life when it came to getting me through this last year. Him and the Farmer, who is hands down Husband Of The Year for helping with The House.



See you next time. Writers gotta write and the Gypsy is happy to once again have pen in hand.