BY CANDY PARKER
If asked to describe myself, “handy” isn’t a term that I’d list among my Top 100 Attributes. While blessed with enough patience to allow me to teach seven-year-olds to hit a baseball (as a Little League coach, not randomly), I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to reading and following written directions. And while I think I have a good bit of common sense, when it comes to tasks involving spatial relations, you can color me ditzy.
Amazingly, my shortcomings in this area haven’t impacted me too much in my 50 years as I’ve managed to surround myself with mechanically inclined people throughout my life. When I was younger, my Dad was around to figure out how to get into the battery compartment of whatever darned electronic toy I’d received for Christmas. As a young woman, I always had a roommate with whom to barter skills (“You hook up my stereo and, sure, I’ll help you write your resume.”). In my mid-20s, I married a guy; a really handy guy who worked as an HVAC repairman, and later as a computer network engineer, so all my home repair and IT needs were met (though, uh, other areas were, shall we say, less than fulfilling…but I digress).
When I left him in my mid-30s, it wasn’t long before I went the U-Haul route with a Texas-raised, rough and tumble dyke who never met a tool belt she couldn’t strap on (mind out of the gutter, kids), so any needs in regard to Ikea furniture assembly were satisfied. And for the better part of the last dozen or so years, I was involved with the most attractive and elusive of creatures—a woman who could install a screen door or assemble a gas grill without messing up her Red Door Salon manicure. She was always fun around the holidays. Sure, she loved the jewelry and Ritz Carlton spa packages, but she positively beamed when tearing the gift wrap off a leaf blower or power drill kit. Sexy, huh?
In any event, I now find myself navigating the uncharted territory of life without someone who knows how to read directions. Even my 22-year-old son is away at college, hence my reluctance to purchase anything that requires assembly. Despite this obvious handicap, after weeks of getting a whiff of the smoked chicken and pork aromas wafting from a co-workers’ office everyday at lunch, I marched myself into a Home Depot a few days ago and purchased a Brinkman Gourmet Electric Smoker.
The box sat unopened in the hallway near my front door for a while, but as the sun rose recently on my Saturday, I decided there was no excuse for further delay in tackling the task at hand. I had all day to master this thing, an accomplishment that would both boost my self-confidence and reinforce my “I’m doin’ fine all by my self,” attitude—and allow me to smoke untold quantities of meat, fish, and poultry. How often do opportunities like that come along?
In order to mentally prepare myself, I watched the YouTube video of five-year-old Joshua Sacco’s reenactment of the “Miracle” speech given by Herb Brooks to inspire the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team. Great moments are born from great opportunities and I was sick and tired of hearing about how hard it was to read directions; this was my time!
Bolstered by these viral video words of encouragement, and after having removed my contact lenses so as to allow for reading of the fine print in which the directions would no doubt be printed, I opened the box. “Not too bad,” I thought. Some dome-looking thing I instantly recognized as the smoker lid was wrapped in plastic and perched on top. While it is said that familiarity breeds contempt, in this instance it bred confidence, enabling me to tentatively lift the dome from the box.
This was a big self-assurance-sinking mistake. Cleverly nestled beneath the shiny, fire-engine red dome were numerous manuals, bags of smoker parts and a large packet of something that resembled aquarium rocks. I started to put the lid back in the box and walk away, but knew a defining moment was at hand. Besides, the only task I loathe more than putting things together is returning things to the store, so I carried on.
Not one to welcome the unknown, my first task was to inventory the pieces provided, an effort which revealed that I was lacking a handle bracket for the aforementioned shiny dome lid. Apparently Brinkman plans for this type of ineptitude on their part, as the literature they provided included a flyer printed in bold, 36-point font instructing me to call an “800” number to request any missing parts and imploring me not to return the item to the retail store from which the purchase was made.
Initially, I saw this as yet another opportunity to give up. It’s not my fault I can’t put this thing together—all the damned parts aren’t even in it! But I persevered.
Almost an hour later, having shed my sweatshirt in favor of a t-shirt after breaking into a sweat while trying to secure the smoker door, fingertips rough from handling nuts and screws that only a three-year-old’s fingers are small enough to manipulate, and hands dirtied by something called “lava rocks”, the contraption was assembled. I was victorious! I had faced my fear of written directions and I had won!
The hard part behind me, I flipped through the manual from the Assembly Instructions to the much-anticipated Cooking Instructions, anxious to put my new smoker to work on a previously purchased pork tenderloin and whole chicken. I’d be envy of the Business Operations group at the office next week as the tang of mesquite drifted from office into the hallway. Mmm…
Imagine my disappointment as a perusal of the Owners’ Manual revealed that there was yet a further task which must be carried out before the smoker is ready for the introduction of food, that being a curing period in which the smoker, inside surfaces coated with oil or a cooking spray and sans water pan, is run for three hours. Ever impatient, I toyed with the idea of skipping this step, but decided that a pork tenderloin flavored by both mesquite and enamel paint wasn’t the delicacy to which I was so eagerly looking forward.
As I type, my mighty little smoker is curing on the deck, my Tundra fire extinguisher at the ready. I’m not quite ready to declare unequivocal victory – that won’t come until I’ve successfully smoked my first batch o’ proteins—but I am feeling a little more self-assured. Maybe, just maybe, Ikea won’t be such a scary place anymore.
Candy Parker is a mechanically inept lesbian whose tool-related skills are limited to successfully unclasping the toolbox latches and accurately distinguishing between flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers. She’s also a humor writer who enjoys sharing her most embarrassing moments and other tales which affirm her mere mortal status.