Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience. — Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
I gave a rundown of my day, as I do every morning for David’s benefit. As our social secretary, it’s my duty to inform him of any obligations before he sets off going about his business. “I’m having breakfast with Jen, then I have a meeting in Little Italy — that should last a few hours, and after that...huh. I’ve got nothing else planned until we leave tonight to check out Fred’s show at Jett Gallery.”
“Oh, yeah?” David’s dimples appeared, those mischievous pits. I raised a brow, an invitation for whatever quip was coming. “I’ve got an idea for something you could do,” David said. The indentations in his cheeks deepened. “You could assemble the grill.”
He said it to be funny, of course, to propose something absurd so I would scoff, so he could say, “Just kidding,” so we both could laugh at the silliness of the suggestion. But before I could recite my lines, something in my mind misfired. I was just about to gasp — a theatrical sound we both knew would trigger David’s giggles — when it struck me that what he’d said wasn’t so preposterous. I felt the surprise I saw on my man’s face when I responded, “Sure, I could do that.”
Stunned, but doing his best to pretend he wasn’t, David’s smile took on a peculiar quality. “Cool,” he said.
The beast had been delivered the day before. One hundred pounds of box, dropped by hand-truck onto the slate tiles in our vestibule, less than a foot away from the bottom of the 19-step staircase that leads to our rooftop terrace. I enlisted my friend Jen as an assistant. After a glass of wine to prepare us for what I imagined to be quite the undertaking, we were ready to go to work under David’s watchful eye, for he didn’t want to miss the show.
Despite my decent strength (I’ve carried David up those stairs), I allowed Jen and David to tote the box to the balcony. It was breezy up there, but the sun kept me warm as I helped unpack the box and spread out the components. According to the owner’s guide, the 37 parts would go together in 21 steps.
“You know,” I said, while examining the illustrated exploded view of the grill and flipping to the first-step page, “I think this is the first time I’ve ever assembled anything.”
“How can that be?” David asked. Jen looked at me expectantly, waiting for the punch line. There wasn’t one.
In my traditional nuclear family of two parents and four girls, the responsibility of putting shit together most often befell my father. Bicycles, dollhouses, dressers, art desks — you name it, Dad assembled it, narrating the process with muttered obscenities when the instructions were counterintuitive. On a few occasions, when the Navy whisked my father to Hawaii, Iceland, or Germany, Mom was left to pick up the pieces. It was the Barbie Dream House that was her undoing. When we were old enough to not take it the wrong way, Mom shared the misery that was the six hours it took her to construct the three-foot-tall toy mansion.
When I lived alone, it seemed there was always a friend around who was happy to do the grunt work for me. Stephanie put together my IKEA bed frame, and Zim installed my new showerhead. I mentally catalogued my old apartment, checking off one decorative or functional object after another, labeling each “no assembly required.” Aside from the few necessary items friends assembled for me, I avoided the purchase of incomplete products for the same reason I never liked the Turf Supper Club, where the patrons cook their own food on a communal grill: I believe if I’m paying for it, it should arrive finished.
“Think,” David said. “There must be something.” But there wasn’t, at least not that I could remember. I shook my head and shrugged. “Wow,” he said.
“Come on, you can’t be that surprised,” I said, smiling. “There were lots of things I’d never done before I met you.” I left David to wonder how I’d gotten this far and turned to Jen. “Okay, let’s do this. Please pass me that big plastic thingamajig with the curve in it.”
It soon became clear that all I had to do was match a plastic or metal piece with its illustrated twin in the booklet. A moron could do this, I thought. Then, poking fun at myself in a way no other person could get away with, I smiled inwardly and thought, a moron IS doing this.
As I worked through the illiterate-friendly steps, studying the pictures on the page and literally putting two and two together, David eyed me. Earlier, he had said that because he’s a guy, he has been tasked to assemble an incalculable number of items. I suggested it probably had more to do with his attending school for engineering, but I conceded the point. My handy girlfriends (Stephanie, Jen, and Janet) were more exceptions than rule. I thought of the men in my family — Simon building a hothouse in which to grow his chili peppers, Brad tiling the bathroom, Sean erecting the gazebo and his son Liam constructing complicated Lego contraptions, Roger drilling equidistant holes in the concrete around the pool for a fence; all the guys I know are drawn to building, so I could see why so many people seem to think a mechanical...ahem...erection gene is located in the penis.
David was waiting for a reason to be amused. He almost got one when Jen and I scrambled to find a block of wood, one of the “tools” the booklet said we needed. But the picture of a wheel resting on the block beat David to the punch in explaining its function — we didn’t really need a block of wood so much as something to protect the side of the wheel from getting scraped while we hammered on the other side.