My husband is a very smart man. According to his I.Q., he’s in genius territory. When I was a girl, women were just beginning to assert that they could do any job a man could do, and many of us still looked to a man to take care of them, to guide them through life’s thickets. I was no different. I sought out men who could teach me something. If they were good-looking and possessed of a degree of charm, all the better, but what I looked for was smarts. When I met Stephen, handsome, brilliant, accomplished, and with a certain odd panache, I hit the motherlode.
“This guy is better than an encyclopedia,” I’d tell my girlfriends. “You can ask him anything – I swear to God, anything – and he’ll give you chapter, verse, and exegisis!”
Honestly, before Google, there was nothing sweeter for a writer than to be able to ask from across the room: “Hey, honey! What’s the capital of Kafiristan again?” And to hear the reply: “Ancient or modern?”
Over forty years of Q&A, however, I learned the downside of life with a mastermind. He’s hardly ever wrong. When occasions of domestic discord arise, it’s a misery to always be on the losing side over matters of recorded fact. So I confess when we were standing in the Outdoor section of Home Depot that day and Stephen gravitated to the big stand-up grill with some assembly required rather than grabbing the cook ready little Smokey Joe, I felt a cheap, petty thrill.
He’s got an Achilles heel, you see. The man’s a bit challenged when it comes to mechanical perception. When he had his induction physical during the Vietnam era, he took the Army intelligence test. The test consisted of a drawing of an engine with its parts spread out and labeled by letter. The chore was to decide where the parts fit. Stephen flunked. The grunt next to him who needed help figuring out where to put his name got a 98%. It was a transformative moment for a proud young man unaccustomed to failure and the beginning of a life-long respect for the mechanically inclined.
Not that his deficiency stops him from taking on home projects. I appreciate his courage in this regard, but what I hate is being drafted into the role of assistant when I know the enterprise is going to be a long, drawn-out exercise in frustration for both of us. So before we went to Home-Depot’s check out line, I said: “You buy that monster and I am not helping you put it together. Just remember that. You’re on your own.” Himself, balancing his oversized box over the top of his shopping cart with loving care: “Gotcha.”
Box sat in the garage for about four weeks before he decided to tackle assembly. Then last Tuesday, the hour had arrived. I was upstairs at my desk trying to get some work done. I hear the box ripped open. I hear the removal of items, the trashing of wrappers, and the soft, low cry, “Oh no.”
I’m a bad woman sometimes. I start to laugh quietly. Then: “Mary! There’s at least a hundred pieces in here!”
“That’s ok,” I say. “I didn’t want to use that ‘til Saturday. You’ve got time.”
Poor guy’s down there working furiously. There’s a lot of clatter and bang, a few curse words, and once or twice: “Ouch!” Over the next four hours, more clatter, bang, curse, “Ouch!” End of Day One and he’s got the hood assembled.
Day Two. “Where the hell is the ash receiver slide? What the hell is an ash receiver slide?” Then: “Mary! I have to go to the hardware store! They didn’t give me enough wingnuts! I need six more!”
Day Three. I hear the words I’ve been waiting for. “Mary! You have to help me!” I don’t bother reminding him he promised not to enlist me in this project from Home Depot hell. I discover I am, after all, more compassionate than vindictive. In a flash, I’m at his side. Poor darling looks miserable. He hands me the 12-page assembly guide. “I can’t figure out where the charcoal grid support rods go.” I study the diagrams. “Well, honey, that’s because you’ve got the side shelf fastened where the control panel goes. That’s why the side shelf wobbles. The rods are supposed to go through those holes you’ve put screws in.”
A couple of hours later, we’ve each done some swearing. I think a couple of times I stamped my foot. We had to get the magnifying glass out to be able to follow the little dotted lines on the diagram that tells you where to stick what. But the job is done. And I hear the words that are sweetest to my ear, signifying a rare triumph over forty years of always being wrong:
“Thanks, Mary. I couldn’t have done it if you hadn’t told me how.”
In the end, a blessed occasion. Only the side shelf still wobbles. And we’ve got six left over wingnuts.