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no assembly desired
zen and the art of apartment maintenance
by mike julianelle
4.7.08
general

I just carried a large, awkward box up three flights of stairs to my little Brooklyn apartment. For the next two to twelve hours, I will be sitting on the floor in my living room with an unintelligible instruction packet, a variety of tools, a pile of seemingly random but presumably connected fragments of wood and metal, and a long, wide-ranging lexicon of profanities. It's not gonna be fun, especially once my growler of Six Point Bengali Tiger IPA runs dry.

The ultimate goal of this project is a sturdy kitchen table. The reality will more likely be a punched wall, a bleeding fist and a divorce. When it comes to home improvement projects I'm not exactly Ty Pennington. I'm not even Willy Loman, by which I mean I'm both a horrible salesman AND a horrible carpenter. But I am at least aware of it.

If I were asked to describe myself in three hundred thousand words, "handy" would not make a single appearance. Unfortunately, over the past several years, as I've made a home with my girlfriend/fiancee/wife, I've had to call upon what little mechanical "skill" I may have. Which, as I mentioned, is not much.

Since I've moved to New York, my wife has been waging a daily battle with the lack of storage space in our apartment. And she is under the impression that the tiny apartment we'll be living in for another year and a half at most won't feel like a true home until we buy lots of stuff that I have to put together so we can stack a bunch of other stuff we bought on top of it in such a way that it doesn't look like our apartment is as small as it is. I am of the mind that if we are potentially moving out in as few as six months, why bother buying or assembling anything at all? The last thing I want is more crap to pack and carry and stuff into a moving van. Especially since I am the one charged with putting all the crap together. Which I find neither fun nor easy.

It's not that I don't like manual labor. I mean, I don't, not at all, but I'll do it when I have to. And there aren't too many situations in which I feel I have to. And mindless physical exertion is one thing, measuring and drilling and the like are another. And even more unfortunately, I just don't have a knack for it.

Yet I've managed. I've installed curtains and shelves. I've put up a hanging pot rack not once but twice, and it hasn't collapsed in a clanging iron storm of pots and pans a single time. I've assembled a large wine cabinet not once, not twice, but three times, because the first two times I didn't get it quite right. That was a fun afternoon.

I won't pretend there isn't something satisfying about accomplishing such tasks, but -- with apologies to Lionel Hutz and the greatest "Simpsons" line of all time -- if you replace the words "satisfying" with "frustrating" and "accomplishing" with "being ordered to do" that sentence would be a lot closer to the truth.

So when I finish writing this column I will walk into the other room, put on my iPod, pour myself a beer and proceed to be totally and repetitively stymied by a relatively simple table-assembly project. I'll likely miss a step or put something together incorrectly and have to disassemble it and start over, which is always a good time, and even better when your wife is angry that you have to eat dinner on the coffee table again.

I fear the day when I own a house and must surrender the convenience of a landlord, sacrificing my weekend freedom in order to paint the shed and build a fence and wax the floor, all without the benefit of learning karate. But I have come to terms with my inadequacies as a handy-man. I just wish my wife would do the same.

Maybe after I accidentally bump into and shatter her framed painting of a rich couple dancing in the rain with their servants holding umbrellas over them so they'll stay dry, she'll let me off the hook. Just replace "accidentally bump into and shatter" with "purposefully take down, take out of its frame, rip into pieces that I burn one by one." God I hate that painting. Those servants are gonna get pneumonia. Fucking snobs.


ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE

Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".

more about mike julianelle

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COMMENTS

sandra thompson
4.7.08 @ 9:18a

Mike, don't despair! Lots of guys are not handy, but I'll be happy to have a little talk with your wife on the subject. My elder daughter is the handiest "guy" I've ever known, so it's not a matter of gender all the time. The fact that she used to be a union carpenter before she finished her degree and became a big geek at a big mortgage company are facts which will prolly enlighten you about the origins of her handiness, unless you completely ignore the fact that it's prolly also genetic from her father's side of the family. Her sister, the lawyer, is also handier than the average girl. They both put me to shame in that department. I'm with you. I hate that stuff.

daniel castro
4.7.08 @ 10:41a

I fear the day when I own a house and must surrender the convenience of a landlord, sacrificing my weekend freedom in order to paint the shed and build a fence and wax the floor, all without the benefit of learning karate.

Heh.

lucy lediaev
4.7.08 @ 1:38p

I will never, ever again buy an unassembled gas barbecue. Even with my dad coaching (when he was physically unable to help much), it was a major assembly job. When it was done, I observed that we had just assembled a complete gas stove.

Surprisingly, the barbecue was used many times without exploding, so I guess the coaching helped me (a known klutz) assemble it without flaws. It has since been replaced with a ready to use unit. All I had to do when I brought it home was to slide in the drip pan, put the grill on the top, and hook up the propane.

[edited]

adam kraemer
4.7.08 @ 1:40p

I hung a lamp in one of my rooms. Single-handedly. Now I know why professional electricians don't do it that way.

russ carr
4.7.08 @ 1:44p

Yep. They use both hands.

robert melos
4.8.08 @ 12:14a

I actually like to do all that house stuff. I also love interior house painting. I'm not great at either of these things, but they are fun. The whole owning the house and having all the responsibility sucks.

dan gonzalez
4.8.08 @ 12:23a

It's a good thing you're not in charge of Project Mayhem, Mike.

I mean, what would Tyler Durden say? I am Jack's thorough incompetence with something as basic as a cordless screwdriver.

My grandpappy, an original Brooklyn Dodger fan, who amongst other things was on the Holland tunnel tile-crew, is rolling over in his practically unmarked grave somewhere upstate around Valhalla, trying, in his supposedly peaceful afterlife, to grasp the fact that his beloved borough has been turned over to a bunch of people who have no fucking sense of personal industry whatsoever.

Brooklyn, or at least the Russians that now actually control it, should deport you back to South Boston where you belong.

mike julianelle
4.8.08 @ 9:49a

Tyler Durden is not a role model, in case the actual point of the movie escaped you.



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