John Greenleaf Whittier, the Civil War poet who inspired too many parents to give children inexplicable middle names, also wrote these timeless verses:
“For all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these,
Some assembly required.”*
(*Revised Paraphrased Version)
Like all poets, “Greeny” (as his boyhood friends probably taunted him) knew how to capture in rhyme-y words the bitter dregs of life in a way that would force children to memorize them for decades afterward. While the original ending—“It might have been”—was amply poignant, I think we relate better to the updated close.
Yes, for every child barely able to get to sleep on Christmas Eve in eager anticipation of the One Indispensable Present, there are hundreds of parents, grandparents, neighbors and total strangers recruited from the street who are muttering into the wee hours of Dec. 25, “There is no way the left reinforcing strut will snap into the lower crossmember while keeping subassembly D and the right ventricle at a 30˚ angle.”
As farmers labor over 2016 cash flow spreadsheets to find cost reductions and offset income shortfalls, the temptation to substitute our own two hands and low cunning for skilled labor will be irresistible. Never mind those “bundles of savings” proved completely illusory in the past. One of these shiny objects is the elimination of setup costs by self-assembly. Listen for these fatal words from the dark side of self-delusion: “How hard could it be?”
Like women after childbirth, the memories of the past are suppressed. Besides, you probably have already spent the money you imagine you are just about to make. We are energized by something akin to the pioneer spirit of our ancestors whose self-reliance has baffled us for decades. I mean, how crazy would you have to be to lumber across a vast wilderness in a covered wagon WITH your kids?
Like them, we can create something imperishable from nothing, with only our marginal skills, boundless optimism and precut materials. I salute your plucky self-reliant spirit and offer these hints to aid your brave effort:
- Use the buddy system. Talk a friend into buying an identical product and insist on assembling his first as a “favor.” If you’ve already used this tactic, you’ll need to find a new friend. Like children, the second is way easier.
- Read the instructions all the way through first. Tape them together as needed because of collateral damage from the opening incision.
- Seriously, read the instructions.
- I mean it.
- You didn’t read them, did you? My conscience is now clear.
- If indoors, do not work on shag carpet. Also the ’70s called and want it back anyway.
- Before any assembly, gather all the pliers on the farm (even the ones in your secret places) and give them to a responsible adult to hide until the task is finished. The dryer is a good place—few farmers even know what one looks like. Nothing good comes from using pliers on new stuff.
- If the instructions do not have words (I’m looking at you, IKEA) don’t waste time making jokes about the little guy in the diagrams. They have all been made, trust me.
- Calling in an expert, such as a machinery set-up mechanic, will be awkward. While he will struggle to keep a straight face, the actions that seem so obvious just after he executes them will devastate your self-esteem for hours. And despite his promises not to share your blunders with his colleagues, who are we kidding?
This advice might seem like I’m not on the DIY bandwagon. On the contrary, I know a true practitioner takes even repeated setbacks in stride. After all, if only one in 20 efforts is successful, think how overdue you are for a win!