Please Follow Directions

Graphic 1 — grill assembly instructions, page 1

My big chore on Sunday was constructing a new grill, which, since last November, in its large box had been taking up space (that Janet now wanted reclaimed, as I told you yesterday). Nearly a year ago, I drove to Dubuque one day to have lunch with The Lovely One and to buy a new snowblower for use last winter (and we got a very nice one that worked really well, I hope even better and more often on the new concrete). While I was entering Loweʼs I noticed that their barbecue grills had been placed on deep discount to drop the inventory for winter. I walked out of the place with two huge boxes for my pickup bed (considerably poorer, too) — snowblower and grill. But somehow our old grill just kept going throughout the winter, spring and summer. Iʼd assembled grills before, and I think in the invisible but potent back of my mind I knew I didnʼt want to face those nearly nonsensical directions…

Graphic 2 (just click on any of these images to see the instructions full size)

However, as emptying the garage of all distractions was topmost on lifeʼs list of importances Sunday, I hauled the not-so-new grill in its box off its waterlegs (stubby stilts to prevent moisture damage to the bottom of the box — two limb pieces now usable for firewood again) onto the driveway and got to work. And thanks to my own ineptitude or the directionsʼ vagueness, I proceeded to do just about everything wrong.

Although I do realize that many consumers prefer directions short and simple, I like mine clear and complete. The instructions that came with our grill turned out to be satisfying to… no one (perhaps of utility to those men who never refer to such information; personally, for me, on assemble-yourself projects I have to use the directions if only to know what the various prefabricated elements are supposed to be). These instructions were too brief to be useful and periodically read like only moderately ept translation from foreign language. For me, the real problems lay in the supposedly helpful diagrams (and they did help me — usually too late to avoid mistakes).

Believe me? Let me demonstrate.

Even though I struggled with the first step (Graphic 1, above), figuring top from bottom on the “front” of the grill and determining where to locate it along the “sides” as well as feeling confused about which side was the exterior, I did get the panel in place correctly in about ten minutes, only knocking over both of my sides a single time each in the process. Then I put on the bottom, feeling cocky, and neglected to notice the need for locking washers at this stage (see Graphic 1, the relevant instructions; and go ahead, click the pictures to appreciate each full size). I would not catch this problem until after I had installed the wheels and moved on to the side tables, at which step I observed the need for locking washers and used a dietyʼs name in vain, wishing the contraption to the infernal regions. And then got to work undoing my bottom and reapplying the screws with locking washers in place. Graphic 2, in other words, went smoothly until “Step 5” that continues onto the next page (Graphic 3 for us reading todayʼs post), at which point I had to redo Step 3, with wheels already attached…

Graphic 3

So I proceeded to angrily put on the wings, sorry: “side tables,” muttering incoherently about my inability to tell from their graphics which wing was which (a fateful insight as events would prove, although my own temper was probably more at fault for the mistake I was then making). The Lovely One had assisted with step 1, once I had knocked over either the left or right side, and I called for her assistance again to lift and put in place the grill housing assembly (not really heavy, but not a job for one, especially one with a lipoma-excision wound on his left scapular region). From here on out, her other efforts went by the wayside. Attaching the grill assembly wasnʼt easy until this idiot realized I could just raise the lid and install the necessary screws, lock washers and washers from above rather than the nearly impossible reach from below. Duh.

Graphic 4

And then I reached the bottom illustration in Graphic 3. I could not figure out how or what it wanted me to do (nor could The Lovely One herself) until eventually the light dawned that I had, in my haste and frustration and turning the object upside rightside inside down earlier to install locking washers on the bottom, reversed right and left on the side tables. Double duh. (Of course, generations of directing plays where Stage Right and Stage Left are exactly opposite the point of view of the director sitting in the audience — or in my case, gymnasium — have left me decidedly dyslexic on right and left, too.) More cursing, mostly directed at my deserving self (but disturbing to Janet nonetheless, out in public there on the driveway), and I removed the grill assembly to place the tables on their correct sides, at which point that bottom diagram still didnʼt make much sense, but I did install a screw in a hole that connected the aluminum flap to the control panel.

Even before moving on to step 6, Graphic 4, I began to sense a problem. I am not sure now, later, why the impression of having made a hugely silly misstep arose. But I had a bad sensation that I had misinterpreted the diagram of the bottom installation from Graphic 1 and placed (and replaced with locking washers in place) the bottom upside down. This piece of stupidity elicited cuss words only in my mind, as I really rather reasonably asked Janet what she thought the picture showed versus what our misassembled grill looked like. She tried to believe that I had gotten it right, but the hole for the LP tank was clearly upside down. Sigh. I got to work and removed the bottom and replaced it correctly without having to remove any other parts (by laying the whole thing in the bed of my truck).

Graphic 5 (just to be thorough and completist)

With that ten-minute corrective procedure, we arrived at Step 6 (Graphic 4): “Install the electrode wire to the side burner valve by plugging the end of the wire into the socket as shown.” Unfortunately the image does not reflect the actual state of the “side burner valve”, which actually concealed the connection point beneath a useful rubber protective housing. Both of us were stymied for a while until a new light dawned on me, and I got that job done, only to become wholly baffled by instruction 2 under step 6: “Install the knob bezel (P) onto the right side control panel (L) and side burner valve using two M4x10mm screws (CC), making sure to keep the side with the red line of the knob bezel upward as shown.” We had two problems — one, I could not understand what that direction said, and two, as we groped to figure it out, the procedure was really, really, really difficult. Aligning the two tiny screw holes on the mind-and-life-of-its-own side burner valve (preconnected to a gas hose that really could and should have been one inch longer) was a feat of physical contortionism, agility and focused care that superseded my abilities, intellectual and manipulative, for about ten minutes. As Janet stood by confused and uncertain, I gradually, piecemeal, grew to comprehend that what the drawing(s) should have shown (and what the worded directions concealed) was someone heroically holding the recalcitrant hose assembly against the control panel plate with one hand while with superhuman accuracy aligning with his other hand the plastic disk (bezel) against the other two wandering objects and with his other three hands holding a tiny screw in place against a hole that refused to remain stationary in the burner valve behind another hole in the panel and carefully, ambidextrously screwing said screw in place, as the rigid and too-short hoses made the valve shift and misalign over and over and over and over and over and over…

I did get it done, although I think one of the two screws is actually screwed into empty space rather than its true hole in the valve (it never did successfully tighten, even on the third through fifth efforts). Most frustrating was the fact that the bezel hid whatever you had accomplished with the other two items, so once it was held over the control plate, you couldnʼt tell if the valve assembly had shifted again. The remaining steps (our Graphic 5, mostly) were actually accomplished without difficulty, even wrenching the assembled control panel with burner valve into the mixing tube and alignment with the table and the control panel for the grill itself (that only took about five minutes and thirty attempts). Thus a project that the instructions said would take from twenty to forty minutes wound up chewing up over three hours of my/our busy afternoon.

Once I lit the thing to burn off the chemical coatings (and melted some of the plastic wrappings, that I was holding to throw away, against the back of the grill), we gratefully dressed ourselves, extinguishing the gas flames after about fifteen minutes, to hurry off to Preston for pizza at Genoʼs.

…To think I once had the hubris to imagine I could become a technical writer (devising instructions like those I handled so poorly in this activity).

Realizing I began this little narrative by criticizing the instructions, we may have learned that the actual problem, with The Lovely One remaining innocent altogether, lay elsewhere… Right?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

One thought on “Please Follow Directions

  1. Red Green says “The instructions are just a suggestion of one of the many ways to assemble the thing.” You did pretty good. At least it didn’t blow up when you lit it up.

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