Snap-together furniture gives nobody a break

November 09, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

"It just snaps together?" I asked the salesman, pointing at the floor model of a simple plastic desk, just big enough to hold a computer and keyboard, a cup of coffee, a sweet roll, some note paper and a telephone -- the tools of my trade.

"Right," the salesman said. "Just snap it together or unsnap it to take it apart."

"It doesn't have bolts, screws or anything like that?"

"Nope. All it has are grooves and tongues. Just slip one part into another and, pop, it fits into place. See, here? Got a nice tray for the keyboard that slides in and out."

"Something that slides? A moving part and it isn't too difficult?"

"Oh, no, it's real easy the way they make these things nowadays. Sell lots of them."

Real easy. When he said that, something in a dark corner of my brain told me that I should run.

I have dealt with real easy pop-it-together furniture before.

In the corner of my home office, there is a wood file cabinet that leans like a drunk at 2 a.m. I spent an entire Saturday twisting screws into that one. When I finished, I realized that the only way I might make it stand straight would be to take it apart and try again.

Even then, it might wind up standing like a drunk at only 1 a.m.

Next to it is a wood desk. Another hellish Saturday, full of screws, bolts, washers and other tiny things that fall down and roll under chairs and TV stands. And it ended up with a 20-degree tilt. But I adjust it with the old Christmas-tree-stand trick -- jamming a paperback book under one leg.

This is all part of the curse of the home office. And it is something that the experts on home offices don't tell you about, when they chirp happily away in their advice columns and magazine articles about how easily you can create a friendly, comfortable and soothing work environment just the way you want it.

Yes, you create it by spending hours kneeling on the floor, looking at baffling diagrams and instructions written by some deranged America-hater in an Asian furniture sweatshop.

But there are few choices. If you buy something that is already put together in one neat piece, it won't fit in the back seat or trunk of the car.

You can rent a trailer or a small truck, but then you have to get someone to help you haul the object up the stairs, twisting and nudging it through doorways, and running the risk of scarred hands, a damaged spine or cardiac arrest, all of which detract from the comfort and productivity of a home office.

However, this desk was made of plastic. And I could not see one screw, washer, bolt or other object of pain on it.

"Real simple?" I asked again. "Just snaps together?"

"You got it," the grinning salesman said.

We hauled the cardboard box to the car, shoved it in the back seat, and 30 minutes later I was unpacking the pieces.

And as he had said, it looked simple enough.

But then I noticed something odd. There was not the usual sheet of instructions -- pieces A, B, C, D, with arrows saying where they connect.

I shook the packing box and ran my hand inside. Could it be so simple that it didn't require instructions? It appeared so, and why not? We approach the 21st century and the promise of a high-tech age of never sweating or thinking hard.

Then I noticed that there was some printing on the box. A few simple pictures and brief set of instructions. None of it made any sense. It might as well have been written in Chinese or Korean. But if it was really simple, who needed instructions?

Four hours later, it was time for the inevitable scream of rage, which is also part of the home office process.

It brought the blond up the stairs, with the rebuke, "Don't shout those filthy words. The neighbors can hear you."

"Let them hear. That's what they get for not moving into a better neighborhood."

"It isn't going too well?"

"No. It is the sliding keyboard tray. I should have known that if it had a moving part . . ."

But she was out the door and down the stairs. Some people cannot handle their share of a crisis.

Moving parts. That should have set off an alarm bell back at the store. Never buy anything with moving parts. Little white plastic roller things that have to fit into grooves, then slide along. Why should a desk have moving parts anyway, even drawers? You just put things in there and never see them again.

So there it sprawls in a corner -- half a desk and some of its scattered limbs, like a battlefield casualty.

And there it will remain forever, because I can't take it back. If I do, some slack-jawed, glassy-eyed youth will shuffle out of the back room and pop it together like a Tinker Toy, making me feel stupid. I'd rather be furious than stupid.

Tomorrow, I'll go to the grocery or poultry store and get a couple of empty wood crates. Then from the lumberyard, I'll buy a piece of plywood and put it on top of the crates, and I'll have a functional desk.

Put that in the House Beautiful section of the paper.

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