After the Fact: Trial and many, many errors


Buying anything that’s not manufactured in the USA requires knowledge of a foreign language or two, or three. My new cell phone came with an instruction booklet that covers less than half of the necessary information, but it’s repeated in Spanish, French and some ancient Sumerian scribble. Fortunately, I have a couple of resident tech specialists, though the one who helps the most is in fourth grade. “Touch here, Grandma,” she tells me. Or, “Slide this there.” So far, I have a voice mail set up, but have yet to figure out how to retrieve messages. But our lessons are restricted to after school and after homework.

Over time, I’ve purchased several “pre-fabricated” pieces of furniture from WalMart or K Mart or Home Depot. The first obstacle is getting the product from store to your car, sometimes with help but more frequently without; the second chore is opening the box in which it’s been shipped to the store. You never get the store model that’s already assembled but, even if you did, it wouldn’t fit into the car. Unless you’re driving an F-450 truck. My sister, probably with good reason, won’t let me borrow hers.

I’ve wondered what they do with those in-store samples when the product is no longer available. Is there someone who disassembles whatever it is for shipping back to the warehouse? Is it sold to an employee at a “used furniture” price? I’ve been told at the WalMart check-out register that I cannot buy “the last of” some article of clothing, so I’m guessing they also don’t sell a display piece to a “regular” customer.

I can follow a complicated recipe for almost anything from the divinity I make at Christmas (never make divinity on a cloudy day) to s’mores (best toasted over an open fire); I am a whiz at knitting and made those Scandinavian ski sweaters for everyone in my family, and I figured out how to sew most things without buying a pattern, but it took a week and two helpers to put together a computer desk.

“This table comes complete with all nuts, bolts, screws, washers and other whizzies and whoopsies necessary for construction.” Yes, there are 127 nuts and 112 screws; there are 36 bolts, 33 matching nuts and 22 washers. I’ve had one or two of each “extra” but, more often, I’m missing 4 or 6 of something. And, unfailingly, something is not the right size for the pre-drilled hole or no hole has been drilled where something should be inserted. The only thing more complicated, other than electronics, is the bicycle, tricycle or wagon. And the more people there are to give you advice, the longer it takes to see a finished product.

Don’t be fooled by the misleading advertisement that tells you, “Some assembly required.” This is just a “come on” for the purchase of new tools, such as a chain saw for cutting down the tree to planes and sanders and hammers and a full set of screw drivers, standard and metric.

If we had to go to similar lengths to put together our new SUV or Dodge Ram, we’d all be riding horses. As a friend commented, “At one time, only the rich had automobiles and the rest of us had horses; now, the rich have horses and the rest of us drive cars.”

On the other hand, if we put our vehicles together, we’d know how to fix them when they start to fall apart. That generally occurs 2-4 months after the warranty has expired, and you have to take the sputtering remains to someone who has a specific “computer” that will “read” the problem before it can be fixed. At great expense. It’s a good idea to stay on amicable terms with your mechanic. And give him or her an extravagant Christmas present. Preferably something that’s already put together.

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