These simple words strike fear into the very souls of folks who have acquired the latest offering from China designed to make life either easier or more fun. Sharon and I often utter gentle oaths at the Chinese when we acknowledge their raucous laughter at Americans struggling to put one of their offerings together with a “few basic tools”. It is getting better, though, at least the directions of late are spelled out in a crude form of English, accompanied by little drawings that will send you to the coffee maker for a fresh cup of common sense. Before we hurl additional invectives at the folks over there bent on acquiring America a little at a time, let’s have a look at our own evolution.
My grandfather worked out of a tool chest about the size of an Army footlocker. In it were enough basic tools to keep an old John Deere tractor running smoothly as well as craft necessary wooden masterpieces for everyday farm use. He could work on the well pump, mend a mule harness or replace a porch rail with little exertion and his trusty tool box. An extension cord wasn’t required to operate the brace and bit and carefully sharpened hand saw used to work wood. A basic set of wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers and two hammers rounded out his equipment, a ball peen and claw hammer to be exact. His wizardry with a few hand tools is the stuff of legend. My own evolution was tempered by necessity. My first new bicycle was acquired after I was employed as a Highway Patrolman, thus necessitating the ability to keep a succession of used bikes running with those few precious tools that were lying about. My own father was not particularly mechanically inclined, however; could field strip and reassemble any small arm in the Army’s arsenal in a matter of minutes, blindfolded. In spite of his prowess with the weaponry of the day, I remember him baffled by the simple design of a closed face spinning reel. I did take the time to learn to set the points in a distributor, gap a spark plug and change the oil in my cars. These fine arts are of no use to me today as ignitions are well beyond points and condensers and Jiffy something or other can handle your oil change before you can polish off a bag of popcorn provided for your entertainment while you wait. We gladly pay for convenience these days and wonder why we need alcohol to settle our nerves when we crack open a box with a simple table needing assembly.
Recently we acquired a set of rock guards to keep rocks from beating the daylights out of our aluminum RV. They came in a box proudly proclaiming assembly was required. How difficult can this be? I cracked the box and had my answer immediately. The rubber guards had to be trimmed and a series of holes punched into them for mounting screws. There was the very real consideration of spacing on the stainless steel support poles and a bag or two of screws, washers and such that easily weighed a pound. The folks in Beijing were kind enough to provide a punch that was to be used to create the mounting holes. This punch was useless as the force needed to drive it through the industrial, reinforced rubber mats required inhuman force through a five pound hammer. I finally prevailed, and the guards look good. I am confident my readers understand this frustration. I suspect that all of us at one time our another have struggled with a wall mount for a television or the simple task of assembling a set of steel storage shelves for the garage. The Beijing engineers smile knowingly at each other as they adjust the presses that spit these shelves out to be just a skosh out of square presumably to offset the latest tariff on their products.
Recently, I decided to change the oil in the pads that line my motorcycle helmet. After a full season of riding in the midwestern heat, my full face helmet was acquiring the aura of Peppi LePew, and needed to be refreshed. The pads are designed to “pop” out, and after a few hours of soaking in Woolite and drying out, are ready to be “snapped” back in. There are 8 of these little pads that must be snapped in a specific order and are not interchangeable from left to right. Don’t do this at home, pitch the helmet and buy a new one…
I smiled knowingly at a photo sent to me by one of my sisters this past Christmas. Her husband is a construction manager who oversees huge construction projects. The picture was of him and his son-in-law both totally engaged in assembling the latest gizmo for the grandkids. They were totally engrossed in this project and laboring furiously as this device needed to be ready for action on a time table provided by the jolly man in a red suit, due any moment. Completing a multi million project on time and within budget is one thing but a race with Santa is something far more serious!
After retiring from the Patrol, it occurred to me that retired police officers were not particularly in demand as our skill sets were generally out of the mainstream of American commerce. I hired out, at 10 bucks an hour, to a general contractor, with the intent to learn to build a house from the dig-out to finish trim. It was a fascinating and instructive adventure. I then put these skills to use and contracted as well as participated in the build of our Truman Lake home. While I certainly wasn’t ready to begin contracting as a vocation, I took great satisfaction in knowing that I could do something with my hands besides cuffing a suspect or drafting an accident report. We have come a very long way from those days when my grandfather was the mechanic, carpenter and general handyman that we quickly google the services of today. I applaud those who can still function in today’s world without googling “the guy” to handle most of our tasks. I worry about the new generations who will never know the challenge of “some assembly required”. A week or so ago, while shopping for a new lawn mower, I watched a young couple negotiating the purchase of a mower for themselves. They wanted it “assembled” which in this case meant popping two bolts through the handle after extending it. The salesman told them that assembly was a flat 20.00 additional charge. That was okay and the deal was closed. This couple was not going to take the bait and opt for anything that required assembly.
They probably just finished assembling a set of steel shelves from Beijing, or Heaven forbid, a plastic garden box, some assembly required!