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Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Come in Pieces

With one year of fatherhood under my belt, my thoughts turn to the future. Specifically, how to stop it from happening. While I know that's impossible I do keep a thought in my head that keeps me up nights worrying. "I'm going to have to put a lot of things together over the next few years." That single idea of "some assembly required" is enough to rattle any one's cage. I don't care how skilled a craftsman you are.

I make jokes about it but the truth is I really hate putting things together. It's not that I have no skills in inserting tab A into slot B, it's just that I hate instructions. My last jigsaw puzzle contraption was a brand new grill that got tested out at my kid's first birthday. My previous one finally proved ineffective a couple of years ago and lack of money and space kept me from getting a new one. I resorted to charcoal grilling on a rinky dink grill that I can toss across the street and believe me there has been days. I'll say one thing about grilling and then back to the topic at hand. Never by cheap charcoal. If you are serious about grilling on charcoal then by quality, no fluid needed, briquettes. Also, a good rule of thumb is to have one of those chimneys around. Those are cool.

Ok, back to my cobbling prowess. Over the years of living on my own, I have had to assemble a lot of furniture. Once, I actually considered getting a job where all I would do is go to different stores and assemble display models. It was a whim when a coworker told me all about it. I could work my own hours, set my own pace, and pretty much just sit alone in a room with a bunch of pieces of veneered particle board and an allen wrench and make some magic. What is it with the allen wrench? Ready to assemble furniture relies on the hex bolt to hold everything together and now I've got fifteen allen keys sitting in my garage that I'll never use again.

My first project was an entertainment center in my first apartment. I had no money but wanted to build the perfect beast to house my television, DVD player, stereo and VCR. I ended up going to a local defunct chain called Ames. They were a casualty of the Wal-Mart takeover at the turn of the century. For $99.00 it was, in my mind, a great buy. It was walnut veneer with a huge opening for all my A/V equipment. It had those magnetic glass doors so you could see all of my DVDs and games. I was quite proud when I put it together. It even had the veneered cardboard with several perforated punch out areas depending on the size of my television and cabling structure. It was a monster. Then I moved and it had to come with me. I disassembled it and put into storage. Alas, it never held a good shape after that and I decided to get a new one. I gave it to a stoner neighbor and went off to Wal-Mart for a better one.

What I found was another good deal on my previous model's bigger brother. This one was nearly floor to ceiling with flanked shelving areas and cabinets underneath. It had molding around the top and bottom that made it appear more expensive. A night with an allen wrench and I had the Mt. Everest of Entertainment Centers ready for action. Then I moved and it had to come with me. Unfortunately, this model had a little more intricate design. Perhaps someone at the Sauder/O'Sullivan/Ovation factory took some designs from M.C. Escher and Frank Lloyd Wright because this thing didn't break down into modular pieces.

Once in my new residence I found that I did not have the space to erect the monstrosity. My wife, then girlfriend, could not fathom having furniture that went beyond the slanted opening of a stairwell. Neither my entertainment center, nor my couch, sit squarely in the middle of a wall without breaching into open space. Insistent that I would not get rid of what I now called the S.S. Enterprise, I moved it to a spare bedroom and it pretty much became nick knack storage. Again, I bought a new one. In a move I can only describe as getting away from an SUV in favor of a fuel efficient vehicle, I opted to buy a more compact and lightweight model considering my pattern of moving once I bought furniture. I went with a model that had side shelves and cabinet space beneath but allowed me some room to eventually expand my television screen towards 32". Something, I hoped to do once the price of Plasmas came down. Then I moved.

At this point the exercise in taking an older entertainment center with me became futile as I was more suited for building a ship in a bottle. I was going to have to call Maury Povich to bring a crew over to my house and take out a wall in order to get the Enterprise out of the spare bedroom. Instead of scrapping it, I offered it to the movers who helped me vacate my premises on the contingency that they were responsible for it.

In the house I have now, I still have the smaller entertainment center upstairs and a newer, even smaller model downstairs in my family room. Again, the space I had did not allow me to be too elaborate. I did however take advantage of the manual's policy of calling the manufacturer instead of the store for replacement of missing or broken items. These things are so cheap that they are willing to just ship you pieces of wood and hardware at no cost because they know how badly they are constructed and packaged. In fact, my old coworker, who nearly convinced me of a career in display construction, passed a manual around to family members who in turn rounded up enough pieces to construct two new stands.

Since then I've learned a few things about ready to assemble items.
  1. The better the quality, the less there is to build.
  2. Some idiot is in charge of writing the manuals because they make no sense and the diagrams are ridiculously horrible or do not match the model you have.
  3. From now on, chose living accommodations based on current furniture ownership.
  4. Hope and pray my daughter doesn't move as much as I did.
  5. Find a purpose for three walnut shelves and a futon bolt.

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