Some Assembly Required

Everybody has their limits, but the proper tools go a long way.

Part of getting on in years, I often tell myself, is knowing just how much to take on.

“I’m sure I can assemble it,” I told the salesman at Office Depot as we eyeballed the computer workstation. “But there’s no way I could get something that size out of my car and up to my apartment.”

I was proud of myself when he told me how reasonable the delivery charge was—and even prouder when it arrived three days later, hoisted upstairs on a handcart by two guys who looked like high draft choices for the Eagles.

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“I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a problem. Kind of like IKEA—you know, just a bunch of arrows, no words. A little more complicated, but not much,” I told a “lady friend.” “The manual says that all you need is a Phillips-head screwdriver and a hammer. I’ll call you later this afternoon when it’s done.”

Part of getting on in years, I often tell myself, is being able to admit your limitations—and not just when you flash your Medicare card for the discount on the R5.
In that spirit, let me admit that I’m just not that handy. Hanging a picture, perhaps; certainly screwing in a light bulb. And, yes, I’ve done a few IKEA assemblies over the years that look OK. But that’s about it.

Three hours later, my friend and I spoke again by phone. I was not the one who initiated the conversation.

“You done?” she asked.

“Not exactly. It’s harder than it looks.”

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That was an understatement. With all the parts spread out, the thing covered the entire living room. There were at least two-dozen bags of nails, screws and other fasteners. I’d managed to attach the slider pieces to the pullout drawer and drop a few pegs into holes. Period.

I’d also torn a small crater along the edge of one panel, and numerous screws were sticking their heads above the flat surfaces like groundhogs looking for their shadows—none of which meant that things couldn’t get worse.

By the next afternoon, the larger parts had metastasized into the bedroom, and several fasteners were embedded in the carpet. The few assembled sections were a maze of odd angles and strange protrusions, looking like something off the set of Young Frankenstein.

“Why don’t you call Office Depot and have them send someone over to assemble it?” asked the friend.

“I didn’t know they did that,” I said.

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“I’m sure they do,” she said. “You can’t be the only one who has trouble assembling something.”

But I’m a guy, and I’m supposed to be able to do this—or at least have the common sense to call for help.

“At least find out what they charge,” she said.

“I think I can get it done in another day.”

The silence on her end of the line didn’t just speak volumes—it spoke entire libraries.

The next morning, I called Office Depot. Yes, they could do it. And the price actually was reasonable.

Mr. Reasonable arrived two days later, carrying a toolkit and an air of confidence.

“It’ll just be a couple of hours,” he said. “Listen, it’s a really hard piece. Even I don’t like to do it.”

Then I heard the whirring sound, looked over, and saw he was using a power screwdriver.

“I don’t have one of those,” I said.

“Really? I don’t think anyone could just do it by hand.”

That’s when I realized the man was overqualified for his job. He should’ve been a high-priced psychotherapist—or maybe CEO of Office Depot.

And then he was gone, leaving behind a perfectly assembled workstation.

“Well, it’s done,” I told my friend. “Thanks for the suggestion.”

“No problem,” she said. “But you know what this proves?”


“That you need power tools.”

This time, the silence was on my end of the line, not hers.

Part of getting on in years, I often tell myself, is learning when to take advice and when to ignore it.

Paul Jablow is a freelance writer living in Bryn Mawr. Admittedly, he’s not always the sharpest screw in the box.

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