SOMEDAY I'M GOING TO READ the directions for my new office phone and find out how the thing works. The directions, about three or four pages, I recollect, will tell me what all those buttons are for -- "program," "display" and "conference," among others. "Ring," a button I just noticed, fascinates me. Does it make the phone ring? If so, why? It seems to ring pretty well on its own.
Someday I'm going to read the directions for my VCR and find out how the thing works. I've had it for several years now, and not once in all that time have I managed to tape anything. Well, at the request of a friend, I once taped a tennis match, but that was easy. I waited for the match to begin, pressed the "record" button and left the house. Hours later, when I came home, I merely turned the thing off. I felt awfully proud of myself.
Someday I'm going to read the directions for my printer. It goes with my computer, and I use it a lot. But all I do, really, is press a single key and what I want gets printed. More than that I cannot do, although it's clear that the machine can do much more. The instruction book is mighty thick, with chapters and chapters, none of which I have read. (It is, however, a mere USA Today of manuals when compared with the book for the computer itself.) The guy in the store showed me which key to hit, and I have been doing nothing more than that ever since.
I thought last summer was going to be my "someday." I actually took the printer manual with me on vacation. I was going to read the whole thing, acquaint myself with all the wonderful things my printer can do besides, I suppose, just print. (Make toast?) I know it can do envelopes and letters and that I can change the typeface and do what I think is called desk-top publishing, but all that is in the manual and I never read it. Even on vacation, I never read it. Maybe next year.
Someday I'm going to read the directions for my office computer. The nice people in what The Post calls "Systems" have provided me with a manual, but I never seem to read it. I intend to, really, folks, and I know it contains the answers to all my questions because whenever I call Systems and ask them how to do something, they tell me it's in the manual. So because I won't read the manual, I know only one way to delete. I realize that there are functions that will delete a word, a sentence, a paragraph or everything to the bottom of the story, but I have only mastered the one that deletes a line. If I want to delete 30 lines, I repeat the function 29 times. This is because I will not read the manual.
Manualphobia, from which I suffer, should be a recognized disease, a handicap that would give me and people like me special tags so we could park closer to the door at Safeway. I have manuals for almost everything imaginable scattered all over my house and office. I have not -- nay, CANNOT -- read any of them. The only time I even attempted to read the manual for my computer printer I gave up after a couple of pages. Something was wrong with the machine -- I forget what -- but even so, I could not read the manual and went back to the store instead. As he fixed the printer, the man said the answer to my problem was in the manual where, I daresay, it remains to this day.
I have had this affliction since childhood. Given a toy, anything that had to be put together, the first thing I did was discard the directions and plunge right in. You might conclude that I was merely impatient and, yes, I was guilty of that. But there was something more as well, an aversion to directions so profound that even after I had concluded that the thing, whatever it was, would never be put together, that it was in bits and pieces, wrongly connected and upside-down assembled, I still could only glance at the directions and, even if forced to read them, comprehend almost nothing. I would read and read, read strenuously and with great effort, and still I could gain next to nothing from my labors.
This handicap, this phobia held for almost everything. Given a board game as a child, I could not learn it from the directions. I would take the little pamphlet out of the box as if it were a joker in a deck of cards, extraneous to the game at hand. For some reason, I thought I could learn a game without reading the instructions and, if I couldn't, so be it. The hell with the game. The games I did learn, I learned from other people. This, I think, is what is meant by the oral tradition.
Someday I'm going to read the manual for my FM tuner. It has rows of buttons that can be preset for the stations I want. I want the stations, all right, but I do not want to find out how they are set. So I tune by hand and it works just fine. This is also the way I tune my Walkman, which can also be programmed, but not by me. I would have to read the directions, and while I have attempted doing that, the effort has been a failure. I cannot understand or remember what I read.
Of course, I know that all these "somedays" will never come. They exist in some sort of mythical future, that time when I will not only read manuals but learn to play the piano and read Ulysses (yes, yes, I will) and re-read the Bible, this time in English. In that distant time, I will be master of my house and office (not to mention car), in absolute control of the machines I've bought and, in some cases, paid for. I will know what the "ring" button is for and whether it is true, as I have been told, that my new phone will call a busy number over and over again. There's probably something about that in the manual -- wherever I put it.