Some Assembly Required: Take This Flap And Shove It
by Marjorie Dorfman
He who is not good with his hands may find solace with his feet. The Dorfman Archives
Do you get into trouble every time you try to drive a nail into the wall? Are you one of those poor souls who never buys anything that isnt fully intact? If so, join my club and read on. Maybe youll feel better and maybe you wont. One things for sure. You wont be able to drive that nail into the wall any better than you did before.
Some smarty pants once defined mechanical aptitude as the ability to learn about mechanical objects and principles both formally and through experience. Mr. Know-it-all went on to say that such talent is reflected and measured by the degree of familiarity with everyday physical objects, tools and devices, especially their function, repair, size, shape, weight and appearance. Do you understand what I just said and could you pass a test like this? I certainly couldnt. To say I am all thumbs would be an insult to my other fingers. Who gets to decide whos mechanically adept anyway? (Is it the one who is quickest to pull the straw out of that big hat in the gene pool or is it the one whose parents simply sat by the pool?) Why do some people have a lot of it and others none at all? Whatever the reason, it doesnt sound very fair to me. I dont have to agree with anyone elses definition, for I am the poster child for the lack of mechanical aptitude, and no test can tell me any different!
A person who possesses mechanical aptitude is a natural tinkerer. Such a soul has an easy time when it comes to tools, physics and monkey wrenches. I once read that the great auto magnate, Henry Ford, when he was but a mere lad, pilfered the pocket watches of his familys dinner guests and before their horrified eyes, took them apart and then put them back together again. This is certainly more polite than taking the guests themselves apart and is as apt an example of raw mechanical aptitude as I have ever come across. The sad truth is that when The Grand Mechanic in the Sky was giving out mechanical ability to the Ford family, somewhere along the way he missed my familys house.
It is quite amazing to consider that no one in my family has ever possessed even one shred of mechanical aptitude, going as far back as our family history will permit, except for one cousin twice removed who married another cousin three times removed. They had twin girls who became gangster molls and then they were simply removed. My father could not screw in a light bulb or close a drawer correctly and yet he was brilliant in his field. My mother was a fine artist, but she could not hammer a nail without misplacing it. Their two daughters did not fall far from the non-mechanical tree. (I have the added helpful inheritance of lack of spatial concepts as well. This is tantamount to granting an ugly adolescent his or her very own set of pimples in an attempt to remedy current conditions.)
S.J. Perlmans classic short story, Insert Flap A and Throw Away, has always been a kind of Bible story in my family. Even as an adult, whenever I read it I feel I should salute or stand up or do something to show my solidarity. Instead of Noah and The Ark, annoying revelations or Jonah in the Whale, my sister and I were told the tale of an innocuous mothproof closet (the Jif-Cloz) and a 10-inch scale model delivery truck construction kit. Both cause much consternation and hilarity when the head of the household (poor Mr. Perlman) cannot figure out how to put them together and his pride wont let anyone else try. Of course both projects came with instructions, but we all know about how helpful those can be to the mechanically challenged like me, I mean.
My family has its own short story, fully equipped with flaps, screws, instructions and dreams of assembly as well. Ours centers on the fate of a rockinghorse my father ordered for his children a long time ago. But alas, my sister and I never saw it. Only the discarded carton and my fathers maniacal screams for help reverberating down the corridor do I recall. It seems the purchase was one that he could not refuse. (It came with 500 free envelopes and non-matching stationery.) When the bulky carton arrived at the house accompanied by two masked men, my father was eager to open it and give it to us, or at least thats what my mother always claimed. His smile however changed into a grim horizon when he noticed the words written in black capital letters across the cartons top that would prove poisonous to his non-mechanical ego: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.
Initial chagrin turned into something much more serious when after removing the pieces to assemble, my father found the instruction sheet. Any hopes he might have had for a complete toy were dashed right then because all of the writing was in Japanese. My mother said he tried and he tried. He borrowed a saw from someone and glue from someone else and spent the afternoon inserting here, detaching there and cursing whenever he could in between. But alas and alack, it was not meant to be and we grew up without a rockinghorse. There are worse things, I know, but still I feel a bit cheated. I also feel bad on rainy days when tinkering seems the proper thing to do, but I do try to look on the positive side. I find courage from the examples all the famous people and civilizations throughout history who have never had any mechanical aptitude and made it anyway.
The list is quite long and growing every day. Consider the Romans, for example. Had their civilization possessed any mechanical aptitude en masse, they surely would have built stronger gates to keep the barbarians out! (Perhaps the barbarians within the empire let in the others! No one will ever know.) Marie Antoinette certainly didnt have any of the stuff either. Otherwise, wouldnt she have found a way to rig that guillotine so that she could have saved her head (or her cake or whatever it was that she lost in the first place)? Napoleon Bonaparte only possessed manual dexterity in one hand. He always kept the other one hidden inside his jacket because he was ashamed of that fact. Dont forget Albert Einstein either. The poor man resorted to figures because he couldnt work with his hands. Thats why he invented the theory of relativity instead of the theory of mechanicalativity. Need I go on?
And so my friends, there is hope at the end of the tunnel (if you can find the tunnel, that is). The next time you attempt to use that screwdriver or hammer, just close your eyes and think of all the others who came before you and couldnt do it. Dont leave your eyes closed too long however, or you might have a nasty accident. Face that nail in the wall as if it were an enemy bridge to cross. Close your eyes and pound it into the wall before it can get away. Should you drill a hole in the wall first? Well, I hadnt thought of that. Its not my job and besides, I am the poster child for not being able to do these things. Remember?
Good night, goodbye, happy nails and good luck.
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