Thursday, 21 June 2007

Takes all Kinds

With his dumpy figure, low forehead, and grunted monosyllabic replies to all my questions, the used furniture store's delivery man did not inspire confidence. His swarthy, unhandsome face wore a perpetual scowl, and moreover I had frequently seen him around town looking as though he didn't have a clue about what to do next. The day he showed up at our door with the baby bed we had ordered, I knew he would be no help at all in getting it set up, but I decided to ask him anyway. Maybe he'd have an idea where to start, and I could take it from there.

"Um, I don't know how to set it up," I hazarded. He screwed up his face and glanced despairingly at his watch.

"Are there any instructions?" I asked him next. He grunted what I took to be a yes affirmative reply and pulled several mimeographed sheets written in Japanese out of his back pocket. My heart sank: I can follow most Japanese manuals pretty well, but these were not in normal Japanese; they were in engineer's gobbledegook. There were diagrams with cogs and arrows and parts labeled with numbers and letters of the alphabet; there were twirly lines, broken lines and solid lines, and I could have no more have used this to assemble the bed than I could have flown to the moon. I had a sudden nasty recollection of the bizarre 35% I'd once scored in a mechanical reasoning test, even though I'd answered each and every question to the best of my ability.

"I really hate to have to ask you this, but do you think you could give me a hand putting it together?" I asked him in my politest Japanese, my fingers crossed.

Taking the papers back, he managed to stifle a sigh, furrowing his brow as he read. Then he reached into a pocket and pulled out a screw driver. In less than ten minutes, he had assembled the entire bed. He never once made a wrong move.

I have a master's degree from a reasonable university. I can speak, read and write Japanese, and I have read -- and even understood -- most of Dostoyevsky. And I give you my solemn word that if I'd had to assemble that baby bed, I'd still be at it now.

Watching that man do his job was sheer pleasure. He would glance at the instruction sheet, then extract the right screw, bolt or whatever, and attach one bit to the next with amazing dexterity. He didn't swear, sweat, or scratch his head once, and he kept on working until he had turned a pile of junk into a sturdy, useful piece of furniture. I felt like applauding and putting a wreath around his neck, but I didn't. I offered him a tip instead, but he shook his head and grunted. Then he got into his truck and went off on another delivery. And I stood there, disgusted with myself for having prejudged this man and marveling at the wonderful diversity of human talent.


Eryl Shields said...

I once saw a lad I would previously have described as an 'oik' plaster a wall. It took him about half an hour to render a surface smooth and perfect enough for Leonardo da Vinci to paint a fresco onto. I was totally amazed at his skill and dexterity.

I'm always enthralled by people who can work with their hands like that.

We make judgements based on our experiences. What else are we to do?

Carole said...

I so admire people who can read assemby instructions. Luckily I have people in my life who can do that.

I have learned that the unlikeliest people surprise the tunket out of me. It would seem the old adage, "You can't judge a book by it's cover." is so very true.

Brian said...

I had a practical family background , but there are times when I look at assemblages with despair . IKEA !!!!!

Nevertheless , I usually make the RTFM error of leaving the instructions till after I have made the first dozen mistakes

Synchronously at the moment -- there are people moving in and out in the units on the third and second floors of our block -- lots of grunting and shoving of furniture pieces up and down stairs .

Now there is a task I am happy to believe that I have done for the last time .


Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- You are right that all we can do is make judgements based on our experiences. We do this even when we learn that our assessments are not always right.

I too am always impressed with people who are skilled with their hands, or who can follow manuals and put things together. The used furniture shop man with his speech impediment and knuckle-dragger appearance suddenly went from 0 to 100 in my eyes. I was humbled by how I had underestimated a man who could so easily perform a task I couldn't have managed with a gun to my head.

Carole -- My husband is better than I am with instructions, but that still doesn't make him good at this. But you are right: the unlikeliest people can do amazing things and I always enjoy having my own prejudices shattered. Which is a good thing, because it happens all the time, and honestly, you think I would learn...

Brian -- After reading what you wrote about moving, which I too want to believe I have done for the last time, I started wondering how many times I've moved, (excluding moves made in childhood). So I counted them up and came up with (drum-roll!!): 34 times. Moving is a lot like having a baby: while it is going on, you cannot believe that it will ever end and you tell yourself that once it does end you will never do it again. But then you forget, and you do it again -- and again. And each time you could kick yourself, but the reasons for doing it seem so compelling. I have heard of easy moving experiences, but like easy births, these really stretch the imagination.

Kanani said...

I put together all of the furniture in our office, as well as in my house.

Not because I wanted to, but because no one else would do it.

So I did.

Though my goal in life is never ever to buy anymore furnishings from IKEA!

Kim Ayres said...

I know Kanani doesn't like Ikea, but at least I an always follow the assembley instructions

Mary Witzl said...

Kanani -- I am filled with respect for people who can put together Ikea furniture. I once assembled an Ikea kitchen table and four chairs, plus one or two other bits, and after it was over, you can bet I punched the air and told all the neighbors. Several times.

Kim -- If you start getting desperate e-mails from everyone who reads this blog, don't blame me! My husband can and does put together Ikea furniture, but as an experienced and talented teacher with a passion for explaining things clearly and simply, he finds their manuals frustratingly hard to follow. He claims that they leave out small details that they assume the assembler will not need explained, such as the fact that two identical pieces cannot be switched around.

Katie Alender said...

I love finding skill in unexpected places.

I forget what store it was, but probably six months ago I dealt with a clerk in his late teens who was the warmest, most welcoming but not overbearing person. I can't explain it. He just exuded some quality that made it seem like not only was he good at his job, but he enjoyed it enough to have good will toward the world... Strange that something like that should be so unusual, but I was kind of in awe.

Eryl Shields said...

I've built quite a lot of Ikea stuff too including my kitchen which I did one day when Stevie was at work. You can tell I did it though as it looks pretty rubbish and one of the doors doesn't hang properly.

Due to poverty and being the only person in the house who, because I really want the thing built, doesn't get violently frustrated I have become quite good at putting Ikea furniture together.

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- I know exactly what you mean. Whenever I meet people like that, I find it so reassuring. And I go straight to their supervisors and sing their praises. I am more inclined to do this than I am to complain about people who are rude and incompetent. It is such a pleasure to meet sales clerks, etc. who seem to enjoy being kind and helpful.

Eryl -- Necessity is the mother of invention, and that is why I martyred myself by putting together that table and chair set. God, was it hard. And then later a friend came over and tittered at everything I'd done wrong, and I was absolutely gutted. All that effort, only to be mocked!

muncher said...

I'm really good at that prefab-instructions included kind of work. It makes me look handy to the unknowing- which I am not.