Shop for This Label: "No Assembly Required" | People & Places | Smithsonian

Shop for This Label: "No Assembly Required"

Shop for This Label: "No Assembly Required"

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Recently my wife and I purchased a new outdoor gas grill. It was delivered to our house in a big cardboard box. The label on the outside of the box said an average person ought to be able to put the thing together in three hours. I am not now and never have been an average person. When it comes to fixing things, I always figure if it has to be done right, it had better be done by someone else. So I kept the box in the living room and contemplated it for days.

In our house, any unoccupied surface soon becomes a reef of domestic sediment. If the ironing board stays up for an hour, somebody will start using it as a kitchen counter. In no time at all, our boxed grill had been converted into a coffee table. I found it a convenient perch for beverages, books and what have you. But my wife, who has never cared much for corrugated furniture, eventually insisted that I empty the box of its contents and do what had to be done.

Reluctantly, I opened the top and removed the directions, which featured an exploded diagram of some 100 parts. Exploded diagrams give me the creeps. The pieces, drawn as if they are flying apart, resemble a blueprint for some kind of terrorist bomb. These particular directions also reminded me that my grill would run on propane. I imagined myself in a burst of blue flame, my head (Part A) at some distance from my limbs (Parts B through E).

The language employed in the directions might best be described as English in the larval stage. Certain arrangements of words suggested the mother tongue, but for the most part the syntax was impenetrable. Finally, one day I decided to ask a couple of friends over to give me a hand. They picked up the directions, squinted and sighed.

We tried reading passages aloud, hoping for divine guidance. When it was not forthcoming, things took a political turn for the worse. One friend, a conservative, insisted on a literal interpretation of the text, cautioning against flights of fancy. His liberal opponent was all in favor of improvisation, and let the fine print be damned. I tried to broker a compromise. When my wife peeked in around midnight, each of us was ranting in a different corner of the room. A scattering of metal lay at our feet. We looked like dazed survivors of an airplane crash surrounded by the wreckage.

Over the next several evenings, we forced rods into sockets, threaded nuts onto bolts and clipped aluminum to steel. A gas grill began to take shape before our disbelieving eyes. Now complete, it actually works. During pleasant evenings outside, my wife and I slap a steak on the range top (Part D-1), slather it with sauce (See Section IV-A on Meal Preperations), then watch it sizzle (Ideal Cooking Temperatures, Section IV-B).

The whole experience has taught me a valuable lesson. The three most important words in a marriage may be "I love you," but there's definitely something to be said for "No assembly required."

By Danny Heitman

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