Out There: ‘Lego for adults’

What you really need to master build-it-yourself-furniture is simply not to lose any of the parts.

March 24, 2012 22:35

Passover building cartoon 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

With the Passover cleaning frenzy already in full swing, I decided this year to buy a new shoe cabinet and small closet for my home study.

“Study” here is misnomer. “Study” conjures up a wood-paneled room with oak book cases, a leather chair, a computer sitting alone on a polished wooden desk. A compact disc on an uncluttered shelf plays Mozart. A sun roof lets in natural light. Plants are seen through the window.

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My study room is a bit different. It’s actually a storage room with a computer.

Most of my waking hours are spent in this room, my apartment’s bomb shelter, jam-packed with books, newspapers, files, mementos, cassette tapes, small broken electrical appliances, and about 150 of those name tags you get at various conferences. Can’t throw those out.

This room is the anti-Feng Shui, jammed with clutter and filled with stale air (as a bomb shelter, it has air portals like a submarine, not windows like a real room). Yellow wall-carpet is plastered over pocked concrete walls to give the room a sunny feel, but it is streaked with dirt so that the fake sun effect has been replaced with that of perpetual smog.

I’m not an obsessive collector, but I do like to keep the odd memento, not because I like to hold on to things, but rather because an old memento jars a memory that otherwise would be lost.

Recently, however, the clutter took a turn for the worse because The Wife – now self-employed and without a permanent office – moved some of her stuff in. Definitely not a recipe for marital harmony.

At first I thought we could make room by just tossing out books. But it’s tough throwing away books, even those never read, or those that will never be read again. There is something nice, familiar, about being surrounded by books that have been on the shelf forever. So I started tossing out The Wife’s books – also not a formula for wedded bliss.

Besides, it didn’t solve the problem. Something more was needed: new furniture to fill the tiny space – a shoe cupboard to replace one falling apart that was disturbing my mental equilibrium, and a small closet to hide The Wife’s new intrusive belongings.

I found salvation, of all places, at Ace Hardware. No sooner had I entered the store than there to greet me were a shoe cupboard and a closet standing side by side. They looked so wonderful and inviting on display: so sturdy, complete, and properly put together. So I bought them.

But it had been a while since I bought a new stick of furniture, and I forgot that what you see is not necessarily what you buy. Well, it actually is, but you have to put it together first, and therein lies the rub.

My heart sank when the Ace employee lugged out two heavy, thin, tall cartons containing my new purchases. Then he uttered those few words, long my bane: “Don’t worry, it’s like Lego for adults.” Yeh, Lego for really smart adults, like Einstein adults.

I’ve had overwhelmingly negative experiences assembling my own furniture in the past. I once spent half a day putting together a rocking chair, until I realized I put the rocking part on backwards, which explained why the chair didn’t rock, but plodded.

Another time I misassembled a plastic high chair, something that a few days later almost sent Yonkel crashing to the floor. “All you need,” the Ace man said, is “some time, patience, and a little common sense.”

“Well, there you go,” The Wife mumbled, giving me a sarcastic chuckle.

I viewed that chuckle as a challenge. This time it would be different. This time I would do it right. I was psyched.

To further get myself ready, I went home and did what all hired workmen do: put on low-hanging pants, made up excuses about why I’d be late, and sang “If I were a carpenter.”

This got me in the mood even more. But then I schlepped the cartons up three flights of stairs, ripped open the box and saw all the pieces – hundreds of them.
Screws and nails and shelves and doors and little tubes of glue all packed in –like a work of art in itself – neat and tight. The task looked daunting, and the mood began slipping away.

My momentum suffered an even greater setback when I looked for written instructions, and saw only diagrams. Thousands of pieces, and a lousy diagram. And the artist was no Van Gogh. Each screw in the diagram looked like the other, even though in real life they were all of different sizes and shapes, serving different purposes. I was lost before I even started.

But unlike previous occasions, when I had at least one small child running between my legs during the furniture assembly stage, this time I decided to tackle the job alone, with no one around. That solved two problems: First, when I screwed something in backwards, nobody saw; and, second, there would be nobody to touch – and lose – the pieces.

And therein lies the trick. Forget time, patience or common sense – what you really need to master build-it-yourself-furniture is simply not to lose any of the parts. Make sure the kids don’t rip open the little plastic bag holding all those screws and nails and nuts and bolts, sending them rolling underneath the refrigerator. That way, when you need a piece, you actually have it.

And with that rule as my compass, I plodded ahead. A mere 12 hours later, spread over two days, the job was done. Granted, a little wobbly, but done. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment and achievement. I had done it. I had conquered my own little Everest.

“Relax,” my daughter said, as she saw me proudly eyeing my handiwork.
“You didn’t make the closet, all you did was put it together.”

True, thought I, but considering my track record, that in itself is a triumph. Then I hiked up my pants and sat back down at the computer in the study that now was not only cluttered, but also more cramped. No matter, somehow it all felt better.

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