The most dreaded words on the planet are “some assembly required.” And “all the tools you need are included.”
But every challenge offers an opportunity to learn something, even if it is that you should never have started this, so with that as my war chant I engaged in the battle of constructing the new porch furniture.
I do these things occasionally because I feel it is my duty as an American, which I suspect is the most do-it-yourself minded country in the world. I think that without any evidence whatsoever, and having little education, and I don’t feel like taking the time for solid research, which obviously qualifies me for the job of a local newspaper columnist.
Not that I have not done some due diligence. I watch both “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House,” and I look at the ads for daddy tools in the Sunday papers. I would own the appropriate collection of do-it-yourselfer tools if I had possessed the foresight to marry a reasonable woman who can see the beauty of a pegboard and shelving display of manly tools in the living room, and a combination dining room/table saw.
Anyway, I am not alone. If you are not prepared to assemble anything less than a new Tesla, you will never smother the neighborhood with a malfunctioning smoker grill, create ruts through the yard with a collapsing backyard swimming pool, or regale the community with stories of your deck thrill ride when 60 casual guests went for the record after four kegs of beer. Who needs permissions from permits and inspections bureaucrats, anyway?
We got this. Take your credit card to your big home box built-it-yourself complex and find the patio furniture you picture in your backyard. They will tell you that they don’t have that in stock, even though it is sitting right there. You will be nice and point it out that it is sitting right there, and they will be patient and explain that it is a display unit, and if they sell you that one, other customers will not see the sample and want to buy it.
Just before the police are called to settle the negotiations, you leave to visit another store, and eventually you go home and get online and order it to be delivered in the near future, perhaps even this year. My experience is that they will deliver it shortly after you leave for vacation.
This time, my two porch chairs were waiting on my porch — in a carton about the size of two sofa cushions. Assembly required.
When you take on a chore like this, you almost never learn anything close to what you expected. This time, the revelations were about the connection between ineptitude of one American consumer and the global trade issues that pit the United States of American against China.
If you can read, you can do anything. Instructions in Chinese American, a little different than American English, which is different from English English and even Chinese Chinese.
If you have only two hands for a job that needs three (God’s first attempt at showing a sense of humor, back in the Garden of Eden Days), or two thumbs on each hand, you’re outta luck.
But I will say this for the Chinese: For the first time in memory, I received a complete and accurate number of nuts, bolts, and other thingamajigs required for successful assembly. They were grouped by size — big washers and little washers, big bolts and little bolts — separated and lined up on a card, properly labeled in large print, and plastic shrink-wrapped for easy identification and handling. Well-constructed steel frames had the holes drilled in the right places. Wow!
And there was one extra piece of each part, to allow for loss or stripped threads. Smart, these Chinese. I suspect they have been spying on us through TikTok and have learned that there are more American nuts doing home projects than there are nuts in the parts bags of most products.
Dean Minnich is a recovering journalist and politician with 10 thumbs. He writes from Westminster and his column appears Thursdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.