The Christmas Bicycle by Bruce Baker
Christmas Eve was special in our house. We would all gather around the tree after Mass to open our gifts from each other. It was a tradition of sorts. My parents had celebrated this way, as had my wife’s family. After the gifts were opened and the assorted snacks devoured, my wife and I sent the kids packing off to bed, where they anticipated the arrival of Santa Claus. I sat alone in my chair, cradling an 18-year-old bottle of Glenlivet that was begging to be opened.
Once the children were all in bed, my wife and I assembled and staged the “big” Santa gifts. She took care of the younger two while I retreated to the garage, where a large box awaited me. My eldest had requested a bicycle, and I was not going to disappoint him.
Before starting my labors, I felt the need to christen the evening with a wee dollop of the scotch I had been given. I sipped it gently, savoring every drop as it coursed down my throat. That mission accomplished; I opened the box.
I glanced at the manual. Most of the time, I found manuals to be confusing at best and useless at worst. I stopped reading at the point where it said: “Assembling your brand-new bicycle will take approximately thirty minutes.” Thirty minutes! No one should need a manual for a thirty-minute project. I had promised my wife that I would follow instructions, so I continued reading to see what tools were required. I know I should have done this before Christmas Eve, but, in my defense, what special tools would be needed for a thirty-minute project?
The six tools required for the job appeared simple enough. I would need a tire pump, several different sizes of Alan wrenches, a Phillips head screwdriver, some scissors, a 5/8 inch wrench, and a 14mm wrench. I casually sipped another shot of scotch as I wondered, “Alan’s?” “Phillip’s? “”What kind of idiot names his tools?” No matter, I was positive that my tools were every bit as useful as Alan’s and Phillip’s any day! Thus, armed with my tools, I boldly set forth, expecting to be done long before visions of sugarplums stopped dancing in my child’s head.
I took another shot of scotch.
My suspicions concerning the intelligence of the manual writer were justified in the first step of the process. The instructions clearly read: “Place the front wheel on the bike. Loosen the bolts enough to allow the fork to slide on to the wheel.” Right off the bat, and they use a tool they didn’t indicate I needed upfront. Maybe they felt that kitchen utensils didn’t count. Nonetheless, I made a quick trip to the kitchen and returned with a fork in hand and…
I took a shot – no sipping this time. I just pumped that baby right on back.
OK, this was totally unacceptable. No matter how I held this darn fork, it would not slide on that wheel or anywhere else. I completely removed the bolts, and there was still no way to make it work. I flung the fork across the garage where it stuck in the corkboard – vibrating furiously. These instructions were more than useless. The guy who wrote this trash had to be a complete moron. He had probably never actually assembled anything before in his miserable life! In a fit of rage, and despite the promise I had made to my wife, I shredded them with my bare hands and put them in the trash where they belonged.
To calm my nerves, I took another shot.
Whether it was the liberation of my technical skills from the paper leash or the liberation of my psyche under the influence of alcohol, the bicycle’s assembly proceeded more quickly than before. However, there were still problems to overcome. The screws had plus signs instead of slots, a significant design flaw that I fixed using screws from the lawnmower instead.
Only a few of the bolts they gave me had the right head on them; the others had a silly star-shaped hole. What idiots! I uncovered some proper bolts leftover from some project or other and continued. I never threw anything away.
Next, I discovered that it was impossible to tighten the handlebars. Still, it was stable enough provided the boy paid attention. Of course, the wheels were a bit wobbly as well, undoubtedly a result of bad engineering. I resolved that first thing on the 26th, the company would get a nasty letter from me.
At last, the bicycle stood completed in front of me. I picked up the half-empty bottle and took a good hard hit as I glanced around the work area. There seemed to be a lot of spare parts. I was always amazed at how wasteful companies were. Almost all my projects had a lot of spare parts. I looked over toward a large bucket that sat against the wall. That was my spare part bucket. I put all of the new “spares” in my hand and, using my best free-throw pitch, managed to get most of the parts into the bucket on the first go.
I felt really pleased with myself. So delighted, in fact, I drained the last of the scotch in one long pull as a congratulatory toast before shuffling off to bed.