Friday, January 13, 2012

Some Assembly Required ...

I fancy myself as being handy with tools.  Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of my Dad (or, as Sidney will know him, Abuelo) and I working on something or other around the house.  Re-fitting a bathroom, tinkering with an engine, building a tool-shed in the back yard, rebuilding a chunk of the house after a fire … you know, the usual.  To this day there is little my Dad will not take a stab (usually successfully) at putting together or fixing.  It’s in the blood, if you will.  So, when my Wife started buying various baby furniture and peripherals for Sidney, it was only natural that I would carry on the family tradition of grabbing the tools and building the stuff.  I’ve built things before, I told myself.  Hell, I have a degree in physics in addition to my years of ersatz construction, how difficult could this be?  As with most rhetorical questions asked by a protagonist as Act I draws to a close, the answer came in the opening moments of Act II.  But more important than the “quite difficult”, writ large as the story unfolds, is the reason for the difficulty: the manufacturers of baby products are sadists that derive considerable joy from the screams of frustrated parents as they try, generally in vain, to decipher the method of constructing their wares.  No, seriously.
The first thing that arrived for me to build was the changing table.  As the name suggests, this table, generally with some drawers on the side to keep diapers and cleaning products on hand, provides a stable and designated surface on which to change your child’s soiled diapers.  No need to clear the kitchen table or risk getting poo or pee on the couch; very useful.  I open the box, I pull out the slats, screws, nuts, rods and other miscellany that will become the table.  So far, so good, right?  Then I pull out the instructions; cue ominous music.  Let me try to describe these for you: imagine a set of instructions written by the Cold-War era Soviet nuclear engineer that designed the safety protocols at Chernobyl, which are then translated into English by a Chinese assembly line QA inspector whom learned all of his English from watching episodes of Bob Villa.  Was that sentence confusing?  Well, good, because the instructions were worse and now you know how I felt.  I wish this were hyperbole; one panel showed 3 different slats, 2 of which had to be held perpendicular to the third, being secured by way of screws that had to be simultaneously tightened because if you tried to do them one at a time the weight of the 2 slats you weren’t securing at that moment would strip and crack the third slat right at the screw.  You needed either 2 people or an extra set of arms.  What’s more, this step created part of the support for the slab of wood on which the child is to be placed, you know, the thing that stops your child from falling to the floor as you change him.  So cracking or fraying of these supports would be … uh .. bad.  Ultimately I solved the issue by using a make-shift hobby-horse and a clamp, but none of this was suggested by the instructions.  Nope, all that had was the various materials suspended in mid-air.  Come to think of it, these instructions were perfect for a physicist: “ok, so this solution works so long as you ignore the effects of gravity and friction.”  Long story short, the table got built, but not without a good amount of “are you f*cking kidding me? how am I supposed to do that?
Next to be built was the bassinet.  Having learned my lesson on the changing table, I enlisted not one, but two extra sets of hands in case the instructions called for more gravity defying maneuvers.  So Uncle R (a systems engineer) and Aunt A (another lawyer)  got dragged in.  We were pleased to find the instructions reasonably intelligible and set about construction.  The problem this time?  A lot of the steps involved keeping fabric pulled taught, and by taught I don’t mean “military bed making” taught, I mean “pulled so tight the molecular structure of the fabric is re-aligned so as to create a super-solid”.  Two of us would pull as the third tried to thread a rod; someone would try to fasten a clamp and another would have to duck as the rod would pull free and launch itself on a ballistic trajectory.  Several hours and one rebuild later (we had an entire section on upside down … don’t ask), we were done and Sidney had a bassinet.
You can imagine my relief when the glider (fancy rocking chair; I swear, changing the name adds at least 30% to the price … ) arrived and it was 95% built.  “All” I had to do was secure the seat part to the gliding part via a slot and lock system (no tools needed) and then snap on the back and arm rest padding via already sewn in snaps on the fabric/padding and tabs attached to the wood frame (again, no tools).  Piece of cake, right?  Wrong.  Sure, the slot and lock went just as planned, and then 8 of the 10 snaps went easy as pie … but the last 2 snaps would not “click.”  It was the last snap on each of the arm rests and no manner of pulling and pushing would get them to go.  The more pressure I applied the more stubborn they got, and at one point I feared I was going to bend the damn things, so I start applying the pressure only in spurts.  After 5 minutes of cursing in every language I knew how to curse in and at least 3 instances where I was certain I had broken the damned thing, the first snap locked.  My euphoria was as short lived, however, because I realized I still had one to go.  Either because my hand had gone numb or because I had subconsciously learned some secret on that penultimate snap, this one went quietly and we were done.  Hands tired and cramping I could just about hear the cackle of the company.
Then the crib arrived, and as with most Act IIIs, the situation looked dire.  So how did it all end?  What did our protagonist learn?  How was the conflict resolved?  The answer to all 3 is sublime: you can pay the delivery company to build a crib.  Roll credits.


  1. Wait until you get to the roller skates or better still a bike. As the little bugger gets bigger the things he will want become more complicated which is why when we build him his tree house I will hire a contractor.