Shucking Oysters: It’s Complicated


I am not the most patient person nor do I have a special way with tools. Some would say that I’m mechanically challenged and tool illiterate. I blame it on all those so-called self-empowering manuals. And being a klutz all my life, I have only just learned that I have FIOS, Fear of Inanimate Objects Syndrome. It’s remarkable that there are terms to explain every quirky part of myself. And I’m sure with age, I’ll probably have a few more acronyms to explain my further eccentricities. 

My first challenged episode, as it were, that I can remember, was when I was six years old. I was trying to fix the flat on my bicycle and I couldn’t get the tire back on the wheel frame. After about six minutes of sheer brain torture and then hurting myself with the screwdriver, in frustration I threw the tool as hard as I could in no particular direction. Unfortunately, the direction was towards a small window in our basement. Unintended consequences. I hate that lesson. 

Fifty years later, I am still punishing inanimate objects for hurting me. Recently, the hammer hit my thumb with such psychotic bravado, that I threw the loathsome tool far enough that it took me 20 minutes to recover. The hammer physically and then me mentally. The thumb took a little longer.

And what about complicated fixes? Let’s start with my lawnmower which has been operating on only one self-propelling wheel for two years. With this handicap, mowing is real fun, especially the hills. I have to channel my inner Hulk to move the fucker up the inclines. This year, I’m quite proud of myself. I’ve been more Zen in my reactions and actions. I finally figured out that I need a gear pinion. After a month of waiting, the part came in, and miraculously I removed the rear wheel without incident. Except the pinion has to have some weird claspy thingie that I have to remove. Be chill. Relax. After watching a video on YouTube, I’m told I need to get a pair of snap ring pliers. OK, I can do that. But, really? Why can’t it be a simple bolt or washer? 

Snap ring pliers are not as implied as they sound. I picked up a set at our local hardware and was full of excitement and hope. The set has three ring pliers for different angles and a grip handle to attach. But how? There’s also this tiny metal bolt thingie with a swinging metal thingie in it, and a spring that is supposed to be attached to the handle. But where? I’ll look at the instructions on the back. No instructions, just two images that are exactly the same, one labelled “for external use” and the other “for internal use.” None of the pliers fitted the holes. After sharing some expletives with my neighbours, I gave up. Did I say that I spent 10 minutes trying to find the spring (the size of my thumb nail) in the grass as well? Life shouldn’t have to be this complicated, externally or internally.

And don’t get me started with weed whackers. I’ve gone through six over the past seven years. Feeding the line is the worst form of torture ever. Even operating them makes me tense and angry. It’s taken me a mere three years to figure out how to wind the line through the spool head on my current weed whacker. Now that I had it explained to me by a well-meaning service guy, I’m way more relaxed about it. (Feed 12 feet of line through hole on one side to the other evenly, then wind the head until there is 4 inches of line poking out each hole.) The current weed whacker and I are getting along for the most part. Be Stihl my beating heart.

And speaking of instructions, manuals these days are designed to aggravate, emancipate, and just plain fuck with you. I’m not an idiot, but I certainly am when it comes to reading, let alone understanding manuals. My Japanese SUV manual has more pages devoted to seat belts and the “supplemental restraint system” than the instrument panel. The other day, I wanted to know what fuse is for my low beam headlight and which fuse box. So, I look up “fuses” in the index and three pages tell me that type A fuses are in the engine compartment and type B fuses are in the passenger compartment; in the engine compartment replace old type A fuse with new fuse A; and in the passenger compartment replace old fuse B with new fuse B (with illustrations of the same fuse!). That’s good to know, thanks. Nowhere in the manual does it explain which fuse is for what part or function of the vehicle, let alone diagrams of the fuse boxes. It’s like Proust wrote the manual. There is no discernible or coherent plot. And was it really necessary to have those extended seat belt scenes, some of which lasted over 50 pages? Couldn’t the manual have been tightened up a little and cut down to 300 pages?

Some manuals have little words –  like Ikea’s. Many customers say that the wordless instructions make the furniture assembly easy, while others are confused by the company’s diagrams. I had issues with the Allen key, myself. No matter, Ikea’s instruction manuals have been internationally recognized, winning the prestigious Paul Mijksenaar Design for Function Award. As Paul Mijksenaar, the visual design expert behind the award, exuberantly put it: “Ikea has managed to create an almost unparalleled, consistent and beautifully executed oeuvre. An oeuvre that, rather than being merely recognizable, has proven to be effective for years.” We’re talking about a manual to build furniture, are we not?

Still confused? Flummoxed? Frustrated? You can always try customer service…it can’t be that complicated.