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In my next lifetime: Some handyman skills

I was somewhere else when the handyman genes were being passed out. I'm the guy who needs an instruction manual to operate a screwdriver.

How many editors does it take to change a light bulb? Three: One to compose an irate letter to the manufacturer for making an inferior product that didn't last forever, one to look up “Electricians” in the Yellow Pages, and one to write a scathing column on the sorry state of light bulbs and how they were probably made in a Far East sweatshop by child labor.

Had everyone from the dawn of time been as mechanically/construction-challenged as I, we'd still be cowering in caves.

One of my boyhood friends, a red-headed, freckled farm kid, got more than his share of tradesman abilities. There was nothing he couldn't do. Take apart an engine and put it back together? Piece of cake. Build his own house from the ground up? No sweat. Wiring, plumbing, appliance repair, if it could be done, he could do it, naturally, effortlessly.

I hated him.

My modus operandi with repairpersons — household, automotive, whatever — is somewhat akin to that of buying a postcard or souvenir in France or Spain or anyplace I don't speak the language: just hold out a handful of money and say, “Take what you want.”

The most dreaded phrase when I'm buying a product is, “Some assembly required.” I'd as soon suffer the tortures of a Russian gulag as to attempt “some assembly.”

A couple of years ago, my children gave me a new grill for Father's Day. You know, one of those square-type cookers, with a couple of wheels, an adjustable charcoal tray, a couple of slatted wood “sideplanks” to hold stuff — the utilitarian, nothing-fancy grill you see in backyards everywhere.

With one diversion or another, it sat in the unopened carton until the morning of the July 4th holiday, when the notion occurred, “Hey, I'll unbox my new grill and cook some burgers and dogs for lunch.” Hardy, har.

I could not believe the mélange of parts, screws, washers, bolts, and rods dumped higgledy-piggledy into that carton. There must have been, conservatively, 200 pieces, no two of which were conjoined.

The assembly instructions (hardy, har), complete with a schematic diagram that would not have been legible with the most powerful electron microscope, had apparently been loosely translated from the original Sanskrit by an engineer whose first language was not English. Some arcane Malay dialect, perhaps. Or Swahili.

I began in the cool of the morning, and as the hours scampered by, trials and errors proliferated, fingers/knuckles were scraped, sweat poured, non-Sunday School words rent the air with great abandon, and it became abundantly clear that lunch would not be burgers and dogs.

Fortunately, Pizza Hut was delivering on a holiday.

The world continues to be a marvel to me, from the mystery of Stonehenge's construction, to all the wondrous cathedrals and palaces that dot the Old World, built with primitive tools and construction methods, to today's skyscraper buildings and jet airplanes.

But in my next lifetime, could I pretty please have some car-fixing, plumbing, and handyman talents?

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