Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Journey We Take Alone -- Part 22

By Alexander "Sandy" Prisant

More American than the New York Yankees,

More American the Red, White and Blue,

Oh Hail our Constitutional Right

To Choose Home Depot for a new Barbecue!

We’re not exactly DIY royalty. In our house, there’s a missing nail here and a broken wire there. Cleaning is an extra challenge because you never know what’s going to collapse. Or when. But sometimes you see Susan hurdling through the air like an All-American fullback, saving something irreplaceable left us by our grandmothers.

So it was with naïve optimism we saw a trim box less than two feet square loaded into our car. The whole grill was in there. How hard could assembly be?

A few hours later we began to find out. Talk about shock and awe. This must be what the Germans felt like when the dawn lifted and all those D-Day ships were pounding the beach. With a bottle of wine firmly in hand, Sandy was laying out dozens of parts on the terrace. It was starting to look like an auto parts store doing inventory. There were odd metal plates, round rings of rubber and lots of instructions.

With all this stuff spread as far as the eye could see we quickly got serious. Like a surgical team preparing for a marathon procedure. Sandy held out his right hand: “Left Cart Lower Brace. Part 30.”

Susan, on her knees, desperately scanned the floor for Part 30, a three-sided, two-holed piece of metal that looked just like a half-dozen other parts in the Assembly Instructions.

And then…jubilation. First piece found. Fitted. And forgotten. We were on the way. 

Cautiously we began rummaging for the second piece—a Wheel Axle Bolt (Part 36). After an hour and a half turning over every part laid out on the floor, we came to a profound conclusion: This Wheel Axle Bolt could not be found. And who needed it anyway?

So the clinical surgery approach was quickly replaced by a treasure hunt. We scanned the instructions and the array of nuts and bolts and parts. Why was everything so small? At one point we had to get tweezers just to pick one up,..

After four hours we needed another new strategy. We wound up with something between a market stall search and military reconnaissance. Out on the terrace, we groped through rows of unidentifiable bits and pieces. They began to look like bobby pins and hair slides at a garage sale.

After eight hours we wished we hadn’t seemingly cornered the market on everything in this “sale”. But it was too late to take it back. We soldiered on into the night, finally collapsing over a dinner of corn flakes.

We faced the morning with a fresh outlook. All we needed was new outfits—like military camouflage. Control panel support brackets, valve fixed plates and tank retention brackets were not going to beat us—the people who launched the Walkman in Europe.

We just needed a boost from new outfits—maybe military camouflage? Dressed to kill, we marched out back to the terrace and huddled amongst the rows of parts. There were one-hundred-and-eighteen to go. Risking DIY Disqualification we had choose between going AWOL and achieving our mission. It was daunting.

And then suddenly, we found one piece that matched a crude picture in the instructions. It was not a bobby pin! More jubilation, followed by a breakthrough. Parts 11, 49, 21, 84 and 66 all fit. Together!

Our basic training was serving us well. We looked at parts 51, 17 and 96. We looked at the half-built object and the three parts and decided: Who needs them? With military precision, they were drummed out of service.

On it went, through the second day. We couldn’t see a barbecue yet, but they swore that’s what we were building. We only got the baby barbecue with lots less pieces. Yet somehow we were heading into the weekend. Before we’d started, a friend said, “45 minutes and you’re done.” 

But we were now on Hour 23. It was daunting. Again.

And then we came to this mystifying instruction:

“Attach tank brace by inserting the carriage belt through the keyhole, slide down and then use the wing nut to secure.”


By Sunday night we could see the outline of something, which if you sat there squinting, you could jus-s-s-s-t about make out the beginnings of a cooking device. 

Was a hamburger really worth all this? 

It was 1:38 AM Monday when the instructions said this:

“Place cooking grate on support ribs directly above heath distribution plates.” (Why couldn’t they just say ‘put the grill on top and you’re done’ ?)

But it was true. We were done. The thing stood on four legs. It opened and closed. And it made fire. Wow. 

At American labor rates, we racked up assembly costs of $540 for a grill retailing at $99. Throw in the tongs, spatulas and basting thingies and we wound with costs equivalent to the annual GDP of a small village in Gabon.

When we talk about the American Dream, surely this it.

But what looks like a blow to efficient free enterprise can still be averted if we can somehow compile the outdoor cook’s answer to Julia Child. Before Labor Day.

Sandy Prisant and his wife, Susan, live and write in Florida. Sandy is writing a long series of pieces for MyStoryLives about his struggle with a life-threatening kidney disease. He is currently awaiting a kidney and heart transplant.

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