As I strolled through the downstairs in near-total darkness, checking the door locks one last time before heading to bed, a voice from the living room shattered the stillness, letting me know that I wasn’t alone, and sending my heart ricocheting off of various lesser organs.
“Elmo will be there soon!” the intruder announced.
My son’s Sesame Street jack-in-the-box sat in the center of the floor, speaking of it own volition. Nobody had asked it to say anything, but like a congressman, it went on anyway.
I breathed a sigh of relief and continued across the kitchen, where the remains of my Great Shame sat spread across the counter. My wife Kara had ordered a bookshelf from Pottery Barn Kids, and after I’d removed all the pieces from the box, a quick skim of the assembly instructions had seemed sufficient for throwing the thing together. As I tightened each shelf onto the frame with the supplied Allen wrench, the bolts made a satisfying wooden snapping noise, letting me know that I’d put them in nice and tight.
I turned the half-completed bookshelf upright to see that it was actually half-destroyed. The outer side panel looked like Frankenstein’s neck, with three bolts shooting through the splintered wooden veneer. At least the mystery of “How Come I Still Have All These Parts Left Over?” was solved. Some of those parts were apparently of some importance.
“Oh, I understand the problem, but we don’t sell replacement parts,” the customer service representative explained.
“I just need Part C from the assembly instructions. Can you put me in touch with the manufacturer?” I asked.
“They don’t sell them, either,” she said.
“And also, you’re the first person in the entire universe to mess this thing up,” she continued in the ensuing silence.
“So the only way to get a new side panel is to buy a whole new bookshelf?” I asked.
“Or you could call a carpenter,” she advised. “They do really nice work.”
That’s exactly what I wanted to do, call a master craftsman, someone who could mold wood to his will, and show him the bookshelf I destroyed with an Allen wrench.
In my defense, it does take a special kind of talent to destroy something with an Allen wrench, but it’s the kind of talent you’d only share in certain company, like making biological noises with your armpits.
I passed the wreckage of the bookshelf on my way to the thermostat, to see if Kara had punched the down arrow enough times for our house to reach equilibrium with the fridge. If a CSI came to our house and dusted the air conditioner’s thermostat for prints, they would find no record of Kara’s existence on the up arrow.
“I don’t understand. You’re always turning the AC warmer in the summer, but then you turn the boiler colder in winter,” Kara said to me recently, after we’d completed our millionth discussion about the temperature in the house, causing balloons and confetti to fall from the ceiling.
That’s when I came to realize something about myself: I don’t like it colder or warmer. I like it cheaper.
After quietly punching the AC up a degree, I headed towards the stairs, my nighttime checklist complete.
“Elmo will be there soon!” the jack-in-the-box called into the darkness, and it began to sound less like a promise and more like a threat. What does Elmo want, and why is he coming here?
You can punch Mike Todd down a degree at firstname.lastname@example.org.