by Bill Monson

There are two words in the English language which always give me pause. ''Assembly required.''

I simply cannot see them or their synonyms ''Construction necessary'' or ''Comes unassembled'' without wincing.

Too many painful memories like the countless Christmas Eves when I stayed up until 3am trying to puzzle out instructions for tricycles and pedal cars made in Japan -- trying to wade through paragraphs of hilarious broken English which would've been a lot funnier if it wasn't so vital to figure out how the framizot went into the marminringer. And the growing horror at the realization that proper assembly required METRIC tools which I didn't own and couldn't get since all the stores closed two hours ago.

I have a whole generation of memories of groggy Christmas mornings when I sat on the sofa, sucking skinned knuckles and praying my children's rocking horses and trikes would not collapse under them because I'd failed to tighten a vital nut.

Add to that 40 years of trying to save money by buying bookcases with ''some assembly required'' which required three hands to construct. My wife, Polly, usually provided the third hand, and she usually provided it grudgingly since she hated to see more books crowded into more bookcases in her beautiful (until I messed it up) home. Thus, any help provided was more than overmatched by the sarcasm and unwanted advice supplied. Sometimes we didn't speak for hours after a construction project.

Thank god Craftsman and Black and

Decker eventually came up with do-it-all power tools which could handle any nut and bolt. By then, unfortunately, the knuckles on my right hand were permanently scarred; and my wrist is so bad I can barely open a pickle jar.

When I retired, I thought I'd never have to worry about such hassles again. Wrong!

We moved into a smaller place -- actually a double-wide mobile home; and despite giving away two-thirds of my books and the bookcases which held them, I needed space to hold the ones which wouldn't fit into the coach. My crafty solution: a storage shed on the breezeway. Well, I could buy a shed which came with a worker to assemble it; and so I did. The man put up a 6x8x7-foot shed in 45 minutes -- (he challenged me to time him) -- and it was then and there I decided I was probably just assembly-challenged; and no amount of tools would ever overcome that.

But at least I had a storage shed and no aching back. However, my wife would not hear of merely stacking boxes of books and her sheet music on the concrete where dampness could attack them. (She hates mildew even more than excess books.)

So we had to buy shelf units -- which came unassembled.

Somehow our marriage survived the assembly, and it remained fairly happy until two weeks ago when she wanted an L-shaped computer desk for her new laptop. Now I know you're wondering why a LAPtop needs a desk --a nd I don't want any nasty questions about maybe my wife lacks a lap. She needed a desk because her Powerbook G4 has all kinds of ''neat'' accessories she had to have -- like a printer, a scanner and a CD burner. Try fitting all that on your lap!

Her first choice was a lovely oakwood workspace which was about 40 inches on a side and had all sorts of shelves. Her problem was she couldn't figure out any way to fit it into our double wide. It also cost $2,800 -- but she saw that as MY problem.

Fortunately, she could be reasoned with -- especially after she saw the color my face turned when I saw the price tag.

The compromise was a smaller pinewood outfit with oakwood laminate for $99. But -- ASSEMBLY REQUIRED!

The sucker came in a box which was six feet long and so heavy the two of us couldn't even lift it. The OfficeMax guy trundled it out to my Ford Focus on a dolly! Polly was just sure it wouldn't fit in the trunk -- her golf clubs barely do -- but she was happily surprised to rediscover the Focus is a hatchback. We folded down the back seats and Young O. Max grunted and groaned the box into the trunk.

How did we get it in the house? We unloaded it piece by piece until we filled a room with computer desk parts up to our clavicles.

I powered up both my power screwdrivers and we set to work. I'm happy to report that we finished inside three hours and we actually made it fun -- the first project of this kind we could laugh about and enjoy working on together.

I'm not so happy to report that construction required positions even a contortionist would blanch at. Even as I write these lines, I'm on a Tylenol diet for sciatica and wincing at twinges where my lower back meets my gluteus maximus.

''Assembly required'' has struck again!

Uploaded to The Zephyr website May 1, 2002

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