Three Little Words that Translate Into ‘You’re Screwed’Jan 17th, 2013 | By Chris Bateman | Category: Bateman's Blog
“Some assembly required.”
The words get my blood running cold. Add that an Allen wrench, a screwdriver, and a pair of pliers are necessary to transform dozens of parts into a useful appliance or piece of furniture, and I’m tempted to send the darn thing back.
If I’m in a store, I’ll take a beat-up floor model over a brand-new, boxed-up, assembly-required product every time. Or I’ll pay a shameful sum to have someone else put it together.
A few years ago I bought an exercise bike for my wife. To my great dismay, the Christmas present showed up in a box that was only two feet tall. Inside was the Life Fitness company’s idea of a practical joke: a mélange of bars, struts, bolts, screws, handles, columns and stabilizers, along with a fold-out, tablecloth-sized instruction pamphlet that may as well have said “good luck.”
I hauled the mess over to my brother-in-law Mark, who once built a car from scratch. He put the bike together, I think, in about 20 minutes and was very gracious about helping me out.
Now, however, Mark rarely lets a visit go by without asking me if I need any help screwing in a few light bulbs. But I do have some pride left, so I don’t answer him – and wait until later to ask my wife for help with the bulbs.
My most recent challenge arrived more than a month ago. It was a drafting table that my daughter Hallie, a professional illustrator, wanted for Christmas. It came in a long, flat box that weighed about 300 pounds. I suspected there were about 1,000 parts inside and thus treated the carton like it was radioactive. So did my wife, who normally doesn’t shy from assembly challenges.
“I looked at the instructions online,” she explained as Christmas approached. “We don’t have time.”
So we plastered the box with wrapping paper and tape and propped it up next to the tree. “I love it,” said Hallie as we opened presents. “But there’s no way I can put it together.”
Hallie returned to her Bay Area job after Christmas, amid our vague promises to put the thing together and then drive it to her studio. Then one year left us and another arrived. Congress flirted with, but ultimately dodged, the fiscal cliff. I took down the tree and lights, then watched two weeks of college bowl games.
Meanwhile, the box sat untouched in a corner. My bluff finally called by this inanimate, obstinate object, I gritted my teeth and, on a mid-January Saturday, sliced it open.
The good news was that there were only 53 parts. The bad news: These included tubes, frames, braces, brackets, levelers, knobs, supports, nuts, small screws, short screws, medium screws, long screws and sheet metal screws.
It appeared I was screwed.
My eyes glazed as I scanned the diagram, a maze of lines, letters, numbers and arrows. Each step was in three languages. “Alignez une marque avec le dessus du collier, puis inheres le bouton,” read the French version of Step 6, which even in English was Greek to me.
I nevertheless set off on Step 1, “apretar las tuercas” – tighten the nuts. But I reversed the support tubes those nuts were supposed to go into, and had to loosen them, change them around and tighten them again. My ETC (estimated time of completion) was about seven hours. On the plus side, I could watch two entire NFL playoff games during the process.
Then, amazingly, I hit stride and, after an hour, something vaguely resembling a table began rising from the floor.
Still, I worried that on completion several screws would remain unused and I’d have to go back five steps to put them in (translation, three hours of disassembly). Or, that a crucial piece of hardware would be missing when I came to the final step and, without it, the table’s wooden surface would wobble crazily with even the stroke of a pencil. Or, worst of all, that I’d have to admit failure and call Mark for help.
But I soldiered on and somehow finished the job before halftime of the Niner-Packer game. Its legs are firm, its surface tilts as advertised and even the pencil ledge is where it should be. Because I firmly believe Hallie will accomplish great things on this table, I’m happy to have at least temporarily overcome my phobias to put it together.
Chris Bateman, 66, is a longtime journalist based in Sonora, California, where over the past 40 years he has covered everything under the Sierra Nevada sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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