Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Much Assembly Required - weekly column

Mack Hall, HSG

Much Assembly Required

A member of the household purchased a leaf rake last week, which is a harmless enough object that doesn’t require registration or surrendering one’s credit card for a monthly fee. The label says “MADE IN USA,” and it must be true because manufacturers and distributors never tell lies. The handle is molded of that cream-colored goop that quickly warps into dysfunction.

The business end of the rake is plastic, which is good because when the old metal tines resigned from the business of raking leaves they were dragged out of retirement by the lawn mower and recycled as projectiles.

However, this purportedly made in the USA product was not finished. On the socket a sticker pointed to a hole in the socket and said “Install screw in handle socket hole.” The screw for the purpose was provided, but, really, isn’t the point of a manufactured product that it is manufactured?

Was there no one in the MADE IN USA factory who could drill a MADE IN USA hole and fit the MADE IN USA screw into MADE IN USA place?

One imagines buying a new car with a sticker on it that says “Install tires at the ends of the axles,” or a book with “Glue the pages together yourself.” Maybe grocery stores will offer to sell the customer a quart of milk as a cow and a bucket.

Anyone who has bought a vacuum cleaner well understands that the thesis is Much Assembly Required. To open the box containing THE AMAZING REVOLUTIONARY YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME EL DORADO AMERICAN-DESIGNED CIMMARON FABRIQUE EN CHINE ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOMBRE DUST DEVOURER DACHSHUND CHASING L’TORNADO MONSTER XTREEM is to be presented with a garage-sale clutter of plastic odds and ends, envelopes containing various sizes of screws, bolts, nuts, washers, and curious metal thingies, a booklet of instructions in seven languages, and enough packaging filler to exhaust the week’s garbage quota.

Some stores offer to assemble the product for you, but for an extra fee. “Yes, sir, eggs, sausage, toast, and coffee. Now cooking, plates, and flatware will be extra. And for a quarter you can have a napkin.”

For Christmas the spouse-person gave me a new fountain pen with the name of a fine old American company on it. How sad that this was only a Chinese-made pen with the old name on it, of poor quality, and without an ink reservoir. Shabby. I suppose I shouldn’t mention the brand name, only that I was Cross about it.

In a sense we humans assemble ourselves all our lives through the adventures we choose for ourselves and sometimes by those adventures given to us, whether or not we want them. We may choose to practice archery or welding or hiking or plumbing, but then find that we must also practice ill health or unemployment or loss or suffering. As our parents taught us, we sometimes aren’t given choices in life, but we can always choose how we respond to those challenges. We needn’t make shabby choices.

One does regret, however, responding to the challenge of assembling that vacuum cleaner with some shabby choices of language.


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