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.

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