Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Third week of February, 2013
Note: the story that follows is fiction – I repeat – FICTION.
FOOLING THE TOOL FOOLS
A man I know was born with exceptional talent and inclination.
Since childhood he has been fascinated with taking things apart.
Anything put together with screws or bolts is a magnet for his skills.
He can locate the alpha-screw or basic nut that opens the innards of anything mechanical or electrical or electronic.
In his youth he operated on toys and bicycles and radios and clocks.
Now, he is drawn to lawn mowers, barbecue grills, and any electronic device that has ceased to function.
He thinks he is capable of disassembling anything.
Even more, he thinks he can repair it and put it back together.
He has a kind of mad confidence in his abilities.
He is delusional.
In truth, he has no ability to repair what he brings his brilliance to bear on.
Nor, does he have a talent for assembling or re-assembling.
Despite his confidence and self-esteem he has never actually managed to put anything back together in working condition after he has taken it apart.
Even when he thinks he has succeeded, there are always parts left over, or else parts missing.
His workshop is full of mechanical corpses as yet unhealed by his skills.
I must admiti tI must Ihere is a certain comic genius in play, even in his failures.
He suffers from the Fixit Syndrome.
Its mantra is: “I’m a guy, how hard can this be?”
His talent for disassembling is matched by his ability to assemble.
“Some assembly is required” on a box excites his genetic makeup.
“Why pay some guy to put it together when I can do it myself?”
This week he bought his wife a new chair for her home office.
At her request, his Valentine’s Day present was to be something useful or practical, but not edible or flowery.
I was there to help move the shipping box into my workshop.
As usual, he was fully prepared all contingencies.
He laid out the tools he had brought with him – screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, a hammer, a hacksaw, clamps, Super Glue and duct tape.
I started to say “You won’t need any of that,” but I kept my mouth shut.
I recalled some of his previous projects – especially the ones from Ikea.
A simple bookcase, a computer work table, a bunk-bed, a patio grill.
And I recall his attempts to fix a fax machine and a waffle iron.
And there was the legendary Sunday morning brunch, where, in front of guests, he used a fork to repair a mal-functioning toaster oven.
Without unplugging it first.
You can imagine . . .
He never reads or keeps the instruction booklets that come with products.
“They’re just full of legal stuff, disclaimers, and foreign languages,” he says.
But in the world of product design and marketing social psychologists are being employed in anticipation of people with the Fixit Syndrome.
They practice prophylactic packaging – to prevent long calls from irate customers to the Help Lines complaining about their own unacknowledged foibles.
That’s why there are pages of legal disclaimers in instruction booklets.
These experts have fools in mind when they package their products.
My friend slashed open the carton with his box cutter.
And there, on the top of everything else was a huge piece of paper.
Alongside a red Stop Sign was this message:
“STOP – do not go any further until you read the next five sentences.”
“The contents of this box have been inspected five times before shipping.
The assembly instructions have been field-tested for clarity.
Remove all component parts and lay them out by number on a table.
The instructions for assembly are illustrated as well as described in English.
The only tool you will need is included in this box.”
He tossed the page aside without reading it.
“Don’t need that – any fool can put a chair together.”
But I read it – to myself – and then out loud to him.
“What have you got to lose,” I asked him?
“Just once give it a try, and if you don’t, I’ll never help you again.”
“Well . . .”
But, grumbling, he complied with my demand.
I read him each step – and showed him the diagrams.
And there, in short order, stood the chair - methodically, quietly assembled.
No cuts, no bruises, no cursing or shouting or throwing of tools.
I sat down in the chair – and raised my arms in triumph.
“You did it!” I shouted.
He found it hard to share my pleasure.
“Look,” he said, “they aren’t perfect – there’s two screws left over.”
“No,” said I, “the instructions clearly say they’ve included two extra screws just in case one gets lost or the threads are damaged in assembly.”
“And not only that – look – they’ve included a diagram to be stuck to the bottom of the chair seat – it tells you how to take the chair apart in case of moving or storage.”
“Well I’ll be damned!”
He did seem pleased, but also a little sad.
He looked disappointed - an assembly crisis had for once eluded him.
Complete success was a little hard for him to handle.
I said that somewhere out there in the industrial world they were on to him – his cover was blown.
There must be a special department in the chair manufacturing company.
Called: Fooling the Tool Fools.
He had brought all his own tools – and all his technical genius at the ready.
There stood the chair – assembled by the book – with one little hex wrench.
Provided by the chair company.
But fools are hard to discourage.
He was going to throw the disassembling instructions away.
“Never need that,” he said.
I stuck it on the bottom of the chair myself.
And said, “If you do ever take this thing apart, call me to watch. I don’t want to miss the fun.”
His wife was really pleased with the chair.
And so, in his own perverse way, was he.
As I said at the beginning, this is fiction.
It never really happened.
And I don’t know anybody like this tool fool.