How did Tony Stark build anything ever, let alone in a cave? (Disney / Marvel Studios via Associated Press)

I finally understand hubris. I have been trying to assemble some furniture.

I know this presented problems for that guy in Fight Club, but if you had to stop doing things just because they presented problems for that guy in Fight Club you might never accomplish anything.

Some Assembly Required, it says.

This is one of those horrible euphemisms of modern life. Some Assembly Required is like Minor Side Effects Include: Drowsiness, Dizziness, Sudden Tendency To Start Sleep-Eating and Sleep-Operating Machinery and Sleep-Driving, Death. It’s not an oxymoron like Facebook Privacy or an outright lie like Fun Size, but it comes close. Some Assembly Required packs all the devious You Are Not Getting The Fun You Expected of “Baggage Carousel” into three devious words.

There was a time, I realize, when not only did we have to build all furniture ourselves, but we had to do so without any instructions. But usually you could get out of having to assemble any furniture by quietly dying of smallpox. That was a time when your furniture was assembled by a guy called a cabinetmaker, a guy whose entire trade was to assemble beautiful furniture. But then the stupid Industrial Revolution had to come along and ruin everything and lead, ineluctably, to Ikea. Somehow we have moved from Knowing How to Assemble Things Without Any Instruction to a place of Having Plenty of Instructions But No Idea How To Assemble Things.

I should note that I am not one of those withering violets who has been staying in a relationship for the past eight years solely so that he or she would not have to confront, alone, a flat-packed box of Things That Might Be A Dresser Soon But Definitely Aren’t Yet. One time, I assembled two chairs and a whole table by myself! Admittedly, the chairs slowly came apart over the course of the next two years, but then again, so do some marriages. And I did not assemble those single-handedly on the floor of my apartment, muttering dubiously to myself over an Allen wrench.

I find, in assembly, that things always go along pretty well until that one step. “Now screw the washers into the bolts as indicated in figure C — but not too tightly.” It might as well say “Coax a unicorn to nestle inside the cardboard packaging — but not too mellifluously!” for all the sense you are able to make of it.

Here, roughly, is how this process goes.*

A. Sit down and stare at the instructions.
B. Find a screwdriver. Stare at the instructions again.
C. Get all the pieces out of the box and spread them out on the floor and stare at them.
D. Try to identify which of the pieces on the floor are what the instructions assured you would be clearly labeled center slats.
E. All these dang pieces of wood look the same. Are these end slats or center slats?
F. Stare at the instructions again. Erroneously deduce from the instructional image that the center slats have strange indentations in the middle.
G. Isolate what you think are the center slats.
H. Realize they don’t have holes where the instructions said they would have holes.
I. Make holes.
J. Get yourself a beer – you’ve earned it!
K. Accidentally bend a metal rod out of shape by stepping on it.
L. Is this metal rod important?
M. Contemplate the metal rod. Finish the beer.
N. Post an optimistic Facebook status about how you are Oh You Know Just Sitting Here Assembling Some Furniture Like A Real Adult.
O. Glance furtively at the six pieces that you have decided to insist are the center slats, whether they are or not. Say, “You’re the center slats, right?”
P. Great, you’re talking to the slats. Get another beer.
Q. Stick the metal rods into the center slats.
R. Stare at the instructions again. The next step includes a diagram and urges you to form the center slat-metal rod complex into a complicated rhombus without offering any further guidance, as though this were the simplest thing in the world.
S. Attempt to do this. Fail.
T. Yell, “How on earth am I supposed to assemble these into a rhombus? I don’t even think these overlap! Who the [expletive] drew these diagrams? M. C. Escher?” to no one in particular.

Finish the beer. Discover the center slats in a separate flat box that you have not opened yet. Despair. Fling the deceitful Impostor Center Slats across the room, accidentally breaking a small table.

Leave the remaining parts in a formation that spells out SEND HELP when seen from above.

Some assembly required, indeed.

*I realize that this has been complained about before, by others more able, but that is because it is one of those universal instances of human misery that deserves all the complaints it can get. Dickens** did not shrug and say, “Meh, Victor Hugo already did plucky consumptive prostitutes to death.”
** I realize that in this analogy it sounds like I am calling myself Dickens, and that was not my intent.***
***Why are you still reading the footnotes?

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.