Some Assembly Required

at 11:43 PM

I like to think I can figure modern things out. After all, I can change a car oil filter and know my way around a phone app. But a recent experience left me feeling a little inadequate -- an assembly required bookcase.

Almost everyone has shopped at that Scandinavian furniture mega-store, famous for meatballs in the cafeteria and huge warehouses of products with unpronounceable names. The stores are a maze of fake rooms styled with cool Euro-design items ranging from stemware to sofas. Browsing one afternoon, I noticed the bookcases -- hip and modern, all sleek teak wood, tastefully displayed with slick Swedish vases. I could hardly wait to buy one.

So it was a little surprising when my hip, modern teak bookshelf arrived in a flat cardboard box, overflowing with boards, screws, bolts and a frighteningly complex set of directions. After dumping out what looked like hundreds of pieces, I sat on the floor, paralyzed. I'd purchased a bookcase, but received a jigsaw puzzle. If pronouncing the name of the bookcase was difficult, assembling it seemed impossible.

But, impossible or not, I found the Allen wrench. And many hours later, I had a bookcase. And, though it didn't look exactly like the one I admired in the showroom, at least it was assembled and standing, even if it was sagging slightly and several screws were mysteriously left over on the floor.

My hours of work had brought me more than affordable Scandinavian design. I learned something about life, too. I discovered something which seems impossible at first often isn't, if you just get started. I learned nothing is as easy as it looks, and that having a screw loose can make things more entertaining, in both people and in furniture.
 
I learned 'read the directions first', that do-it-yourself results don't really look like that picture in the catalog, and that assembling furniture together can destroy a marriage. One item at this store is actually nicknamed "The Divorce Maker" due to its 32-page instructions and 169 screws. In fact, a marriage counselor recently made the news for assigning couples to work together assembling furniture as problem-solving therapy.
 
I learned a lot from my new bookshelf without reading a single book. Like life, assembly required furniture will present inevitable frustrations. But finding solutions is what makes it all interesting.
 
And trust me, no one will notice you put a part on backwards.
 
With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.
 
Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.

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