October 5, 2010

Tales by Triplett – The Three Worst Words

Triplett,-Pat-colorBy Patrick Triplett

I have a confession to make. I’ve known this for quite some time, but being an adult male, my ego makes it something
difficult for me to openly admit. It’s about time I came clean.

I am mechanically challenged. Yes, it’s true. I am handyman handicapped. I cannot fix a leaky faucet, rewire a light fixture, construct anything or perform even the simplest of repairs without messing something up. Which is the reason why whenever I walk into a store to purchase a product the three words I fear the most are “Some assembly required.”

The key word in this phrase is the first one. To me “some” means opening the back of a small device and inserting batteries. But to open up a box and have a plastic bag filled with hundreds of nuts, bolts and screws fall out, along with a set of directions the size of Webster’s dictionary makes “Some assembly required” totally misleading and should be replaced instead by a warning label stating, “Do not try this at home unless you are Bob Vila or have a degree in engineering.”

I will cringe when I pick out an item in a store such as a stereo cabinet or computer desk only to have the sales person go to the back room and wheel out a box the size of a picnic basket.

At that point I begin begging the person to let me purchase the pre-assembled model. The typical response is that they are not allowed to sell the floor model since it is used for display, but that I could have someone assemble one for me for an additional $50. Tempting as it is, I refuse to pay it, and take home my box of nuts, bolts, screws, wood and metal, determined to do it myself.

I can appreciate the fact that partially assembled items save the manufacturers money and are easier to ship and store. But come on. Can’t they at least put the basic portion of the product together so that all we need to do is screw in a few bolts?

Over the years I have attempted to assemble many things, from kids’ toys to book shelves to gas grills, most of which have ended in disaster. One I remember in particular was the day my wife came home and told me she had purchased a picnic table that she got a really good deal on. I asked her if they were going to deliver it, since there was no way a picnic table could fit inside her car.

“No, it’s in the trunk,” she said.

“Please tell me it’s a toy picnic table for the kids,” I replied, fearing the worst.

“No, it’s a regulation size table. It came in a box”.

I spent the rest of that summer and the better part of fall putting it together. By the time I was finished, it was too late in the year to use, which was just as well, since it leaned to the left and wobbled whenever anyone sat on it. We ended up using it for fire wood that winter.

There is one thing I can always count on when assembling a product. Either there will be one piece missing, or one left over. Both are equally bad. It makes me wonder if it was the manufacturer’s fault or mine, and whether I should start all over. This is especially important if it involves a potential safety hazard such as a kid’s bicycle. It usually never gets to that point however, since one of the pedals or handlebar will fall off before it even gets out of the house.

In addition to my natural-born lack of talent, there are two things which further hinder my ability to assemble things. One is that I read the directions only as a last resort. That is because most of them read like a textbook on Calculus. “Insert slot B into hole 12 after securing bottom left side of mounting brackets G and H at a 45 degree angle using a number 4 Allen Wrench (not included) as shown on page 247.”

Which brings me to my other problem. Not only do I not own an Allen Wrench, I had no idea what an Allen Wrench was until I had to buy one at the hardware store in order to assemble the product. My tool set is limited to a pair of pliers, a pipe wrench, the two kinds of screwdrivers, a hammer and a rusty saw that couldn’t cut through butter.

Normally after spending the better part of the day sweating, swearing and scraping my knuckles assembling something, someone will invariably enter the room and ask, “What is that supposed to be? And why is your hand bleeding?”

At that point I will resort to plan B, which is to bandage my hand, stuff the product back in the box as best I can and return it to the store, paying the $50 fee for them to re-assemble it correctly, and an extra $20 to make them stop laughing.