Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Handy Annie

I am not what you’d call “handy”. When I was in the 5th grade I took part in a citywide model boat competition. For weeks I built my wooden sailboat – sawing and sanding and hammering and varnishing. It looked awful. Lopsided, nails every which way, jagged instead of rounded curves. If they gave the same exercise to monkeys they could build better boats.

I took my funky vessel to Rancho Park for the competition. There must’ve been over 300 kids who participated in these boat races. Much to my embarrassment, the next day the Herald Examiner published the results. Out of 300+ entries I finished second to dead last. I beat one other boat and a third sunk.

Shop classes in Junior High were a disaster. My sugar scooper looked like an IUD insertion device. I can’t build things.

I always used to joke that if I ever killed someone and there was an All-Points-Bulletin out on me and I was looking for somewhere to hide, somewhere where I know no one would ever think to look for me – I would hide out at an Ikea.

So it was with much trepidation that I agreed to help my daughter construct some furniture she purchased recently at Ikea’s. Annie just moved into a new apartment and bought a desk, night table, and dresser. The night before I tried to talk myself into this. Hey, it’s not rocket science. You’re a grown adult. How hard can it be to read a set of instructions and just follow them? The instructions can’t be that complicated otherwise no one would buy the items. And hey, my boat didn’t sink. It just kept going in circles but didn’t sink. I could do this thing.

On Friday morning I arrived at her place, pumped. This was going to be my chance to prove that I wasn’t totally helpless.

First up was the desk, least complicated of the three.  I took the pieces out of the box. So far, so good. There was a set of instructions that looked very doable and weren't in Japanese. Every step was carefully explained. Also included was a little sealed plastic bag filled with the screws and pegs needed to do the job. Right away I was in trouble. There were no instructions on how to open the little plastic bag. I had to improvise and use the scissors. What if I didn’t have scissors, Ikea? Then what?

Step two (step one being the baggie) was to attach four long double-sided screws into the corners of the desktop. They didn’t fit. And since they were double-sided, you couldn’t use a screwdriver to twist them into the wood tabletop. And trying to twist them without a tool just ripped up your hands. Ten minutes of that and we said, “Okay, that’s enough of that.” We put the desk aside and moved onto the nightstand.

So I'm helpless?  So what?  I have other talents.  I can live with that.  I have before.

Having successfully rationalized my uselessness, we proceeded to the nightstand. 

The finished product would look like this: A little square with two sliding drawers. The dresser was larger with many drawers. To me that was like building the bridge on the River Kwai. Not a chance. So we set out to conquer the nightstand, although if we didn’t get past step two in the more simple designed desk, what chance would we have with this bad boy?

The nightstand came in a bigger box with all kinds of pieces and a much bigger bag of screws, nails, pegs, plastic doo-hickeys, and round gym-gicks. We emptied the contents onto the floor, I got one look at them and said, “Let's go see a movie.” But Annie, God bless her, said, “No. We can do this one.”

And she was right.

Except – that by “we” she meant “she” could do it.

You’d think raising a daughter you’d know her strengths and weaknesses. I had no idea. Annie laid out that instruction booklet and just dove in.  I stayed off to the side silently saying, "Who is this child?"  I watched in awe as my little princess built this pesky cabinet with the ease and assurance of a highly-trained contractor who charges two hundred an hour and then never shows. I was relegated to inserting wooden pegs and handing her the appropriate tool, and on more than one occasion was told, “No, not that screwdriver, daddy, the other one.” There are different screwdrivers it seems.

Within no time she had this nightstand built. The drawers fit! They were on rollers and when you pulled them out, they actually rolled! Now I know what it must be like to see your child win an Olympic event.

(Forget genetics.  I have two kids.  One can build furniture, the other is an engineer. If they didn't look like me I'd be getting tests right now.)

We were going to tackle the dresser but it was lunchtime (11:25 is lunchtime, right?). She had things to do in the afternoon and couldn’t get to the dresser till later. I was a little disappointed. It was fun watching her work.

Experiences like these are great for daddy-daughter bonding, although usually it’s the dad who builds doll houses or constructs cabinets for the kitchen. It’s not the daughter who does the work while dad inserts eight wooden pegs. But we’re a strange little family anyway.

The thing is – like I said – I never knew. My daughter surprises and delights me everyday with new things she can do, or new funny things that she says. I may not be a handy man but I’m a lucky man.

Today is Annie’s birthday. Have a happy and joyous one. I love you, sweetheart. Sorry to say I can’t bake a cake. But I know you can.

Tomorrow: a look at some of those funny things.


Roger Owen Green said...

I sure hope my daughter will grow up to be handier than I am!

Mike Barer said...

Great post and a very Happy Birthday to Annie!!

I'm looking forward to an article on the mess that Dancing With The Stars has become. Hey, where are Richard Hatch and LeToya Jackson? Oh yea,seriously, it's become a race on who can hit the bottom of the barrel.

SkippyMom said...

Happy Birthday to Annie and nice job on the furniture. :)

BobMastro said...

The problem is clearly in the tools. How can you be expected to know how to use pink tools anyway?

John said...

Hey your daughter was able to navagate the maze at Ikea and get out alive. That by itself shows mechanical aptitude. People have roamed their oldest stores in the U.S. for a decade or more without finding the exit.

Matt said...

I had a similar experience with my wife. We bought a bunch of furniture, I ushered her away to make room to work. Three hours later I had turned the air blue, and was mopping sweat of my forehead with my throbbing red fingers. She just suggested she "take a look". And what followed was a half an hour long assembley which recalled Full Metal Jacket. Then she casually strolled into the kitchen and made an amazing dinner. I have two girls. They seem way smart. They dodged my genetic bullet!

Todd W. said...

Thanks for today's wonderful blog. You see today's blog is very timely for me. We sent our youngest child Monica off for her freshman year at Cal Lutheran this past weekend. Daddy sure misses his little girl.Today's blog touched my heart.....and I will share it with Monica.
Todd W

Beth Ciotta said...

Aww. Loved this. And go, Annie! I can never make sense out of those instructions that come with furniture and shelves and such. Same as with sewing patterns... I usually end up using the picture of the 'finished product' as my guide and put it together in my own way. Usually works. Usually.
Happy Birthday, Annie!

Ray said...

That's a Malm, isn't it? They are really simple to do. But then, I always approach Ikea furniture as if they were a really big Kinder Surprise. I find that that helps a lot. (You probably have to be Canadian or European to get the reference.)

Janet T said...

My husband and I have tackled everything from building boxed furniture to doing the brakes on our cars, to installing kitchen cabinets and much more. We both know that SOMEONE (me) has to read the instructions while the other one (him) does most of the labor. We are actually both pretty happy with this arrangement, and also use it for new recipes, but we do switch up with who is doing the cooking. Married over 27 years, must be doing something right, but I don't know if either of our kids could use a allen wrench to get out of a paper bag though.

Happy Birthday Annie!

Tom Quigley said...

I always remember the joke Johnny Carson told about the three words that strike terror into the heart of every parent on Christmas Eve: "Some assembly required"...

Happy Birthday, Annie!

D. McEwan said...

My father was an expert carpenter. Both of my grandfathers were professional carpenters. (One at MGM, the other built his own house, and was on the construction crew that built the Los Angles Colosium.)

Therefore, the fact that I can not drive in a nail straight, nor saw straight, and would rather undergo dentistry than have to do carpentry work, has always made my dad wonder if our family milkman back in 1950 was a lousy carpenter too. (Sadly for Dad, the presence of his nose in the middle of my face means he's stuck with the paternity.)

In high school, in the first school play my freshman year, I was required to work on the set construction crew. I built what was supposed to be the doorway into a common room in a British boy's school. When I was done, all came and looked at it. One person accurately described it as looking "like the entrance to the 7 dwarfs' mine." I was never again required to work on set construction.

But to me the hard part of construction work isn't the nailing or the sawing or the measuring; it's the BOREDOM!

On the other hand, I read the only thing my dad ever wrote that got published, well, some of it. It was a technical essay on methods of electroplating written for the American Electroplater's Association. (My dad was a past-president of the AEA. Try not to be too jealous.) I never made it to page 2. I may not be able to build a bookcase, but I can write a book to go on that shelf that people actually enjoy reading, which was far, far beyond my dad's abilities.

MikeN said...

You didnt have any pliers to install the screws?

Chris said...

Here's a friday question: What do you think about Cougar Town changing its name from the third season? Is that a little too much to worry about and do you know other shows that have done it?

They wanna win viewers who ignore it because of the title but can you lose some people who will think the show is off the air and/or will be confused?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

You guys all need to see this: http://dornob.com/ikea-henj-8-step-diy-instruction-manual-for-stonehenge/


Cap'n Bob said...

Happy birthday, Annie.

I've had to assemble a coffee table, dining room set, entertainment center, several computer desks, countless bookshelves, bed frames, a TV table, chandelier/celing fan, and the roof over the deck. I swore like a sailor the whole time, but got them done. Without a power screwdriver I'd have gone insane. It is the best tool ever invented.

Mary Stella said...

Happy birthday, Annie.

Ken, the words "how hard can it be" have gotten me into trouble more times than I can count. I totally suck at assembling furniture. Allen keys are not my friends. I've caused myself bodily harm. To my credit, I have managed to mostly assemble a computer desk with hutch from Ikea and a wooden recycling/storage piece. I just throw out the few parts that I couldn't place, bandage my wounds and wipe up the blood.

I now only buy furniture that comes already assembled or is delivered by people who assemble it as part of their white glove service. I do, however, have a small bookcase that needs to be refinished. God help me, I'm going to borrow someone's handsander and tackle the job.

Mental Lint said...

Happy birthday to Annie! It's great to have talented & intelligent kids. Sounds like you don't have to talk to someone in Bangalore, India, or Gothenburg, Sweden, for tech support. The Handy Andy reference is a bit like referring to Korvettes or Two Guys.

Richard Y said...

I hate the baggies of things that look like that they fit better on an alien space ship, complete with the instructions that make no sense. Plus I either have missing pieces or some left over that can not be used on another similar project as they have updated the connector pieces.

Johnny Walker said...


Happy birthday, Annie!

Chet Swanson said...

Happy Birthday!! Your dad is a kick, looks like you take after him.

tb said...

And then after two hours you realize you weren't supposed to do THAT step until AFTER THIS step, and have to dismantel the whole thing and start again. Yeah. Oh, good times.

J S Swanson said...

Happy Birthday, Annie.
And a lovely, self-deprecating tale from you, Ken.

DogsOnDrugs.com said...

So I take it you're not ready to tackle the IKEA house?


Jeffrey Leonard said...

Happy Birthday Annie. I know your dad demeans himself. If you are half as talented as he is...you will do quite well with your life.

RockGolf said...

That is a Malm. Which means, Ken, you can tell Annie that Malm always liked you best.

WV: Mismsisp - the longest dyslexic river in America.

Cap'n Bob said...

I forgot the best ones--trying to put together a little red wagon and a hobby horse in the wee hours of Xmas morning before the kid woke up. Had to curse under my breath that time.

WV: Grail. Why in the name of all that's holy can't I think of a joke?