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Mysteries Of The Universe

Posted by acdtest on January 21, 2003

Mysteries Of The Universe, Part I

don’t think it inordinately immodest of me when I say I’m a fairly bright guy. So how come on those rare occasions when I’m forced to deal with things involving physical labor I transform into a moron? And not your regular old garden variety moron either, but one prone to any number of multiple wounding accidents.

My new bookcase arrived yesterday. It of course has to be assembled (what else is new?). I look at the instructions, which, mercifully, are clear and straightforward, and see immediately that the design of the bookcase is so clever that anyone with the IQ of a rabbit could put the thing together in less than half an hour, and without more than a moment’s thought. There is, however, one thing those clever designers of this cleverly designed bookcase haven’t anticipated.


I start by preparing the various pieces for assembly, and note they’re really heavy. Six three-foot by one-foot by one-inch thick particle board shelves with woodgrained veneer both sides and front. Ditto the two six-foot by one-foot by one-inch thick side panels. I don’t like the weight of them. Not while I have to work with them, that is.

Putting this misgiving aside, I next begin screwing the 12 so-named cam bolts into the 12 thoughtfully pre-drilled holes in the side panels. Piece of cake. When I finish, I proudly survey my handiwork. The work part is just dandy. The hand part, however, isn’t. In wielding that lethal weapon that cunningly goes by the benign name of Phillips screwdriver, I’ve managed to tear a round, quarter-sized strip of skin right off the palm of my hand in the process of applying pressure to the instrument’s handle.

This is a less than salutary omen.

After surveying the damage, I wash and bandage my wound. Hurts like hell, but John Wayne-like, I courageously soldier on.

Next, I go about inserting the 12 cams into their 12 pre-drilled holes in the three fixed shelves (bottom, middle, and top). This requires no tools except, at times, a light tap with the butt of the aforementioned lethal weapon. I complete the operation, and escape unscathed and proud as punch at how neatly I accomplished the job.

Now comes the fitting of the cam bolts into the cams. I position all the pieces — the three fixed shelves and two side panels — in their proper alignment by the slick expedient of balancing them on their edges against various pieces of furniture which I’ve moved, and pressed into service for the duration. I then proceed to go about inserting the cam bolts of the side panels into the cams of the shelves, a maneuver vaguely akin to the aloft refueling of a fighter jet by a flying tanker.

Instant catastrophe. All the nicely edge-balanced pieces clatter hard and noisily to the floor, one of the side panels smashing down on my stockinged foot, right on that top part the name for which at present eludes me, but the pain of which when struck is all too vivid.

Nursing my wounded and fast-swelling foot, I commence hurling manifold curses at the offending piece and all its brethren, and continue the litany of curses until it strikes me I’m hurling curses at inanimate objects, at which point I decide it’s time for a break.

A cigarette and two scotches later, I’m stoked for battle. I reposition all the pieces, confident now I’ve got their number, and know just how to deal with them. And — mirabile dictu! — all the cam bolts slide into their respective cams neat as can be, and without so much as a whimper. I give each cam the required half-turn necessary to lock it, and, Voila!, a structure resembling a bookcase emerges. Only something about it doesn’t look quite right. Seems one of the side panels has managed to turn its rear, unfinished edge forward.

Bloody side panel! Not only did it get me again, but there it sits, mocking me.

I, however, remain perfectly cool. I’m not going to give it the satisfaction. I patiently unlock all the cams on that side, flip the side panel, reinsert the cam bolts, and relock the cams.

Now everything looks right.

Well, almost.

I check the picture of the finished bookcase. The kick panel, the bloody kick panel! I forgot to fit in the bloody kick panel at the bloody bottom of the bloody bookcase! And, no, it can’t just be sort of slid in. The whole bloody bookcase has to come apart, the bloody kick panel inserted with its bloody dowels positioned to fit into the bloody pre-drilled holes in the bloody side panels, and the whole bloody thing again put together.

I begin to get the sinking feeling it’s not merely the battle I’m losing, but the whole damn war. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, however, I refuse to admit defeat. With a stoicism that would have done Zeno proud, I patiently and methodically unlock all the cams, pull apart all the pieces, insert the kick panel with its dowels in place, reassemble the whole thing, and again lock all the cams.

Now I’ve surely got it right.

Not in this life, Bunky. Now that the kick panel is in place, I can see at a glance which end is the bottom of the bookcase. It would have been better had I seen that before I positioned the shelves. As it is, I’ve positioned them with the cam side facing up, and the cams plainly visible in all their not-intended-to-be-seen glory.

You of course know what that means, right? That’s right. Everything has to come apart again, the shelves flipped, and the whole bloody thing again reassembled.

About this time I’m thinking some yogic breathing exercises would be just the ticket.

No help. Should have paid more attention back in the ’60s. All I can manage now is a bout of seriously involuntary hyperventilation, and make a dash for the kitchen to locate a paper bag to breath into. Five minutes later I’m again breathing normally, and again set about doing the dance I’ve by now learned so well, and after another ten minutes I’m done, and the bookcase completed.

Except for the back.

This, it turns out, is a thin sheet of black Masonite, finished on one side, the side intended to face in, with a woodgrain pattern to match the rest of the bookcase. The sheet gets nailed to the rear edges of the side panels and fixed shelves with about ten gazillion little nails. Nails, of course, require a hammer, another lethal weapon. But I’m determined and obdurate. I will use the hammer, and I will make it submit docilely to my purpose.

Uh-huh. You guessed it.

What’s that? Which digit was it? The crucial one, of course. The ol’ opposable thumb. It, too, now hurts like hell, but I think the thumbnail will eventually grow back good as new. Or so I’ve been told.

And so, at the end of the day (you should pardon the expression), I stand bruised and broken but not beaten. For there proudly stands my new bookcase in its assigned place against my living room wall, doing precisely what respectable bookcases have done for ages. So what if the back panel facing me is black instead of woodgrained. No-one would notice anything amiss except you and I, and I, for one, am not telling.


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