This is the time of year where my wife and I, being parents and grandparents, are going to be required to assemble things. Large or small, there will invariably be something that comes disassembled and will need to be put together before it makes an appearance under the Christmas tree.
Most of us parents have had to deal with this. Those of you who have purchased a bicycle that is already assembled will never know the joy of having someone not terribly mechanically inclined assemble the bike and hope to God it doesn’t fall apart on Christmas morning. Somehow, all those bikes stayed together and were strong as anything against the abuse we kids put them through before we were told we had to go through life being careful. The dangers of my childhood compared to those of today is fodder for another week’s column. This week is all about instructions.
Almost everything has instructions. A can of soup has instructions. The most difficult canned soup is one you have to add milk or water to and even then, it’s one can of soup and one can of milk or water. Nowadays, it’s even simpler and you don’t have to add anything to the soup. Put it in a pan and heat it up. It’s that simple, but someone saw to it that there is a little place on the label that tells you, basically, to put it in a pan and heat it up. It’s an unwritten instruction as to what temperature you heat the soup to. My wife likes hers lukewarm and I like mine like lava. The instructions for what to do are on the can. When it comes to hotness, your mileage may vary. I don’t think the Campbell’s or Progresso people really care at what temperature your soup is eaten. I think if you purchase a can of their product, they don’t care if you eat it ice cold. However, if you want to heat it, there are instructions on the can.
I think the dumbest thing I ever saw instructions on was a package of fireworks. “Light the fuse and get away” it says on the side of the package. In the words of my teenaged nieces and nephews: Well, duh. I can’t imagine someone thinking that lighting the fuse on explosives and standing adjacent to them is a good idea. A guy I went to high school with once dropped a firecracker into a can of Mello Yello and held onto the can. There was a loud crack and what Mello Yello was left in the can blasted from the top and in every direction. The can did not blow open, but he got his proverbial bell rung pretty well from dropping explosives into a lemon-lime drink. All he had to do was light the fuse and get away. Those were the instructions and, as you see, they are quite simple. Bear in mind, this guy also thought it was a good idea to try to ride a cow only to find out the cow in question was a boy and did not take to someone sitting on his back. I assure you, that tale is no, well, bull.
There is a well-known Swedish furniture store that is legendary for its instructions. Included with each product is a foldout sheet with absolutely no words on it. The instructions are pictures of stick figures putting the furniture together by following carefully numbered steps. My wife and I thought this would be foolproof and we bought a china hutch from there thinking it would be a breeze to put it together using the instructions provided. We got the hutch together — after a lengthy process peppered with profanity and threats of divorce. The hutch looks great, even though one door has been slightly off kilter for 20 years. I don’t mind though. I thought it was nice that the company provided 11 extra screws that went absolutely nowhere in the hutch. They now live in a box with extra screws and bolts from the rest of our furniture … on the bottom shelf. Of the hutch.
On Christmas morning, when you are struggling with the assembly of the Barbie Dream House or that new Huffy bicycle and you are cursing the day you promised your children the coolest gift of all, remember this bit of advice our parents gave us long ago: You’re just going to have to figure it out. After all, life doesn’t come with instructions.
Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.