Yesterday, while assembling some Ikea furniture, I came dangerously close to having a total mental breakdown. It’s funny how major life changes can unnerve me only slightly, but putting small wooden dowels into holes that are clearly made for something smaller can bring me to a heap of sobs on the floor.
I first sat with the disturbingly large cardboard boxes set out on the floor and thought to myself, “Well, these things have been tricky in the past, but I have a brain—a good one—there’s no reason why I can’t just follow the directions and set up this bastard properly.” I laid out all the pieces first and checked to make sure that I had every little screw and allen wrench. So far so good. But a mere 20 minutes into the process, I was convinced that I’d bought the one faulty TV stand in the store, and would need to drag everything back to the customer service department in order to prove to them that I am in fact not an idiot, and that it is the TV stand’s fault for being a lemon.
I kept saying things aloud in frustration–things like, “Why would they put a hole here if there’s nothing to go in it?” and “Well now this picture is horseshit—I have nothing in this box that matches that image!” All the while, I kept wondering why the whole scene felt so familiar (besides, of course, that this happens every time I buy something from Ikea that isn’t already put together).
Just when I really thought I was going to lose my mind, I got a text message from my literary agent, Gordon, updating me on some recent developments in the status of my currently-being-pitched-manuscript. I thanked him for keeping me posted and told him about my Ikea-induced aggravations when he asked how I was. When he texted back, “The apple doesn’t fall far, does it :),” I remembered why there was such a sense of familiarity around the event.
When my father brought me to Tacoma for my freshman year of college, he was already well into his cancer treatments at that time, and had only enough energy to sit on my dorm room floor and assemble Ikea furniture. I now remember him saying things like, “Damn these Swedes and their bullshit instructions!” and “Well, why the hell would they put a screw here if it doesn’t screw into anything?”
Of course Gordon knows this because it’s written in my memoir, which he has studied and revised almost as much as I have. In fact, at this point my literary agents probably know my book better than I do, having the necessary distance one must possess in order to see something like that with clear and unbiased judgment. Gordon reminded me that I apparently inherited from my father this lack of patience for cute, inexpensive furniture assembly. This was all I needed to make me stop and laugh, and take a break from the whole mess in order to ask for some help with it. Thinking of my father bent over a pile of wood and laminate on the floor, swearing and sweating over tiny wooden dowels forced me to stop and laugh at myself, doing the very same thing.
It’s a true and wonderful thing; I am a lot like my father, for better or for worse, and am happy to accept this lack of patience and aptitude for furniture assembly if it means that I get the good stuff as well.
I’d like to give this story a happy ending and write that the TV stand came together beautifully and works perfectly. But alas, there are still a few confounding pieces that leave me puzzled as to their function. They lie in a pile in the other room, and I’m afraid that they’ll hear me talking shit about them and be angry, and will come together even less properly. Shhhhhh…