Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some assembly required? *Shudder*

I've stated in the sidebar here for years now my belief that the three most dreaded words in the English language are "Some Assembly Required." This is something I sincerely believe.

One of my favorite comic strips, Brewster Rockit, is having a little fun illustrating the concept this week:



I remember hearing the late Bill Veeck explain how he tried to assemble a rocking horse one year for his kids. (This was Veeck's second go-round as a father, and he was already a big time, big league baseball operator.) He consumed a number of barley pops during the course of the endeavor and, when he announced he was done, his wife, Mary Frances, pointed out that the head was where the tail should be and vice versa. "That's no problem," said Mr. Veeck. "We'll just call him Charlie O. Finley."

I'd forgotten the story over the years -- there are only so many synapses that can remain connected at any one time, even if one is not trying to dissolve as many as possible in an ocean of ethanol -- but the story came back to me vividly one Christmas Eve as I tried to assemble a rocking horse for my own kids. I did no better than Mr. Veeck -- and my wife, not surprisingly, didn't get the Charlie O. Finley reference.

Some people are blessed with hand-eye coordination. I am not. I tell people all the time that if I'd had better hand-eye coordination, I'd have been able to find honest work. My junior high shop teacher called me 'his little disaster.'

I didn't find out until much later that there are apparently a lot of lawyers who are lacking in the mechanical or craftsman department. I didn't know it as a kid. My father was a lawyer, but he was a craftsman too. He was the kind of guy who liked going to hardware stores and generally found something useful whenever he'd go. The old Sears store on State Street, the "World's Largest Store," was a favorite lunchtime haunt for my dad. Because he was also an educated, professional man, he'd explain his fascination with gizmos, gadgets and the latest power tools with the famous quote by Archimedes (give me the proper level and I will move the world).

My father tried to pass along his love of tinkering and building things to me. He'd buy me models. I'd glue my fingers together. The ball of plastic stuck to my sleeve would look nothing like the P-51 Mustang on the box. My father would invite me to assist him in his shop on one project or another -- but I'd get bored and difficult.

Years later, I worked for a guy whose father -- who was not a lawyer -- also failed to pass along his mechanical inclinations. My boss told the story about how his father completely lost his temper one day. My boss was in high school and his dad asked him to fetch a wrench. He brought a screwdriver instead, not knowing the difference.

This story helped me on two levels. I wasn't alone in my incompetence -- and I wasn't the most incompetent apprentice ever.

My wife is the fix-it person in our family. (My dad figured that out early on -- and was pleased as punch to have someone who could understand him when he explained to how to install this or take out that.) For my part, however, I have come to accept what I am, and what I'll never be able to do. But if I ever became King of the World, one of my first decrees would be to ban the sale of partially assembled toys.

And partially assembled furniture.

Don't even get me started on furniture....

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