Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Long Path to Glory

So a few weeks ago, My Fair Lady and I purchased a large wooden play structure from Costco for Max. The idea was to put it together the weekend of Halloween because of two factors: a) That’s when it was supposed to arrive; b) That’s also when Brother G would have a free weekend to swing by and help out.

Considering the magnitude of this project, I wanted (and MFL agreed) to keep this a family affair. No friends, no offshoot relatives—strictly immediate family. It meant something special to me that my brother and I (along with my wife and possibly my dad) would build a play fort for my son. The thought just warmed my heart. So we placed the order in early October, and kicked back to wait. Here’s what happened:

1) The order shipped later that same week and was delivered the following Monday, which resulted in us having 500lbs. of play equipment and wood beams sitting on a palette in our garage. As such, the garage would be rendered useless to us until we got the structure built. Not to worry though because the forecast for the coming weekend was perfect.

2) That Wednesday, I got hit with a massive sinus infection. Massive. I’ve a veteran of these, regrettably, so I know when I’m going to be good and thoroughly worked over and when I’m going to just complain for a few days before getting over it. This was the former, big time. Woke up Saturday morning and promptly threw up. A lot. While MFL was downtown at the Komen Walk For The Cure, naturally. I’d told her the night before that I’d be fine the next day and would be able to handle Max with no issues. Whoops. Called my parents whispering for help since I could barely function. I managed to hold on until my dad showed up, at which point I went back to bed until MFL showed up. No work was done this entire weekend.

3) The next week, MFL and I actually opened the boxes and investigated our purchase. To say that I’ve put together a large number of items ranging from computers to furniture to everything else is putting it gently. I was immediately grateful that despite the intimidating 40+ pages of instructions, everything was neatly organized as it should be. The parts were clearly labeled, and the nuts and bolts were efficiently categorized. May a thousand blessings fall onto the house of the people who make this product. Buy something from IKEA and follow those instructions. Go on, I dare you.

4) That following weekend saw an extensive rain delay. So I got to look my two-year-old in the eyes and say, “No play structure for you.” At which point he climbed all over the boxes and acted like he was king of the mountain before filling his diaper with pure awesome and taking a nap.

5) The next weekend, Brother G was available… which was Halloween weekend as originally planned. The details of which are below:

Question: “How many adults does it take to put together a child’s play structure?”

Answer: “As many as you can find.”

We busted out the play structure once Brother G arrived on site, and began the assembly. Were I to list the sheer volume of wood beams, planks, parts, and screws for this beast, you’d laugh and shake your head in wonder. Yes, there really were that many parts. I spent the better part of the day fondly recalling how I grew up with nothing more than a stick.

Brother G lent a hand for the majority of the day and it made all the difference. Having someone hold up the beams while I worked on assembly was time-consuming enough. Then throw in an excited two-year-old running around and playing with daddy’s power tools and you’ll begin to realize why it took three adults to put the base frame together.

Things were wobbly at first. It was not uncommon to hear some variation of “Holy crap, is the whole thing gonna lean like that?” followed shortly after by “Max put that down!” The only thing this circus was missing was a clown car.

I’m mostly kidding about this. The whole enterprise went relatively smooth. Despite the beams leaning this way and that through much of the morning, primarily because they weren’t attached to one another, we managed to get the core assembly done post haste. As we connected the beams to one another, the overall stability increased. Shocking! But the real pain came due to the hex bolts that attached the beams to one another and the wood screws for the flooring. The bolts were huge and while we lacked a hex head for my power drill, we figured out that by screwing them in by hand followed by hammering them the rest of the way through, they held steady.

The same could not be said for the wood screws, which took on the form of Nemesis before the day was out. Only one drill bit was provided which by itself wasn’t much of an issue. But when the drill could only push the screw in about a quarter of an inch into the beams/planks/etc., then we had to improvise to get them the rest of the way in. This involved me putting the drill bit into the head of the wood screw, then using a wrench to twist it all the way in. It was highly aggravating and something that slowed us down considerably.

I looked at the planks for the floor of the fort, all of which required four screws per board, and started crying in anticipation of it. I wisely opted to leave that for another day. Ditto the rock wall which had 10 planks that each required four wood screws.

It bears repeating that the manual for the structure clocks in at north of 40 pages. By the time Brother G left at 3 p.m., I think we were on step 14. It may not sound like a heck of a lot was accomplished, but that’s untrue. It isn’t a complicated project on the whole, but it is a tedious one with a lot of little parts that have to be mixed and matched in just the correct order to ensure the structure doesn’t collapse while a bunch of kiddos are jumping on top of it.

Once we had the frame up and relatively stable on the deck, Brother G and I carried it to the yard and set it down where My Fair Lady and I reasoned would be the safest place.

MFL: “It doesn’t look level.”

Yours Truly: "Of course it doesn’t. That’s because our house sits near the top of a slight hill so the southwest corner of the yard slopes at an angle more so than the rest of the yard. Duh. Why the heck would it look level there?"

But the entire back half of the yard, frankly, slopes down at an angle so we weren’t going to be much better off anywhere else. So we did what any normal person would do under these circumstances: We stood around and speculated on ways to level the thing.

“Can we elevate it with shims?”

“How about we dig a hole and put it in there?”

“Should we start over? It’s still leaning.”

I love armchair quarterbacking. LOVE. IT.

Around that time, Brother G had to make like a banana and split, thus leaving My Fair Lady and I to race the sun by ourselves. During Max’s nap, we sifted through the dozens of boards to find the floor for the fort as well as the parts for the rock wall. Apparently kiddie forts come with small rock walls these days. Again, I had a stick. Max will grow up with a rock wall and touch screen technology.

Damn you, Star Trek!!! Why couldn’t your tech have been available when I was a young ‘un?!?!

Around the time Max woke up, we hit the instructions for building and attaching the ladder. We laid it out, drilled the holes properly, and hooked it onto the structure with nary a hitch. But My Fair Lady made the excellent call to swap the location of the ladder and the slide. In the manual, the slide was on the left and the ladder on the right. She correctly pointed out that these could be flipped without any problem, and then Max would be able to use the slide without ending up in the fire pit.

This is what’s known as a good thing.

Once the slide was set up and Max was able to climb the stairs and slide back down again, all while shouting “weeeee” mind you, we looked at the ebbing sunlight and called it a day.

The next day was effectively shot due to a request for our presence at another kid’s birthday party. Lots of food and cake were consumed, but there’s no need for further details. Why? Because this picture pretty much sums it up:

The following Saturday, my dad came over bright and early. We were determined to finish this beast by the end of the day. He brought tools with him as well so we were set. Max, My Fair Lady, and Yours Truly set out to put that sucker together. Since I’d skipped a few steps (such as the rock wall boards) we opted to look at those once we’d figured out how to level the beast.

YT: Dad, what do you think?

Dad: Well, how ‘bout we use some of that slate over there and some of those brinks and level it out that way?

YT: /facepalm

One of the things none of us had tried up to that point was sitting right there – rows of thick slate that we pulled out of our firepit. So we lugged several of those over to the base, lined them up, and voila! The fort was mostly level. Then it was on to work. But first I brought dad up to speed on what we’d accomplished thus far. He did, however, have a few questions.

Dad: So these wood screws are the real killer?

YT: Yup.

Dad: How’d you get ‘em in?

YT: Hand screwed them in with this wrench.

Dad: There’s gotta be an easier way. We’ll get to that.

Then we set out putting things up. Actually, we started pulling beams and planks and such out and getting things lined up. Dad’s drill wasn’t strong enough so he took off for a bit to go pick up a new one along with a hex head tool. While he was gone, My Fair Lady and I collected wood like good little gatherers and figured out what piece went where and what the next few steps would be.

Once Dad showed back up he pulled out the new drill, slapped in a battery, and picked up one of the wood screws. He fiddled with his drill for a second then lined it up against the wood. ZZZZZZZZZ! The screw went in all the way on the first try.

YT: What the hell did you do?

Dad: Cranked up the torque on the drill.

YT: How did you do that?

Dad: See these numbers on the drill? Just shift the arrow until it matches the torque you want.

I immediately picked up my drill and saw the arrow pointing at 1. I flew into a Hulk rage, stomping my feet in impotent fury. I’ve had this drill for three years and performed dozens of home repair/construction projects. Never once did it occur to me that torque was a factor. I naively believed that the drill simply drilled screws into objects and that it would just work. Any encountered problems would be on the part of the object being screwed (snicker). Imagine my shock that I could have saved myself a hell of a lot of time previously by twisting a dial on the drill I’ve owned FOR THREE FREAKING YEARS!!! The arrow was staring at me THE WHOLE TIME!!!

I didn’t just blow a fuse. I took out the entire grid. It was so complete that Nakatomi Tower went down again.

After I recovered and could see again, it was time to get back to work. After our discovery, slapping the boards on the rock wall and the flooring on the base of the fort took, like, 20 minutes total.


Sorry. Better now. Once the flooring was done, we started prep work for the swing beam, better known as “that heavy sumbitch in the corner.” We dragged that out along with the legs and the assorted parts. But then, good news hit—lunchtime! We set our tools down, slapped Max in the car seat, and headed out. By this point, it was down to the three men-folk as My Fair Lady had to abscond to a wedding luncheon for Diva. She dined at The Mansion. We ate at Snuffers.

For the record, we won.

After setting Max up, we placed our order and talked while watching college football on the fore and aft TVs. Max flirted with all the waitresses (I swear this kid is going to be a player when he grows up) and we waited for our food. When it finally arrived, the three of us dug in. Dad was surprised that Max was munching away on his hot dog (which is a heck of a lot of food for a regular person, by the way) and being as content as can be. Max never wanted to get down and run around, nor did he squeal too loudly or anything of the sort. He was there to hang out and eat a hot dog with his peeps.

That’s my boy.

Once we finished lunch, we headed over to Home Depot to swap out Dad’s new drill. In short, it wouldn’t close around the head of any drill bit. Weird, I know. The torque wheel twisted just fine but the interior locking mechanism refused to budge. While Dad consulted with a guy who knew a guy, I showed Max a forklift that was in the process of moving numerous palettes around. I love the light in my son’s eyes when he watches how things work. It doesn’t matter if it’s large or small things—it thrills me that he wants to know how the world works.

The guy who knew a guy ultimately concluded that yup, the drill wasn’t working. He pulled out a second one, slapped in the freshly charged batteries from dad’s original drill, then tried the locking mechanism which worked exactly as it should. We buttoned up and headed out. On the way out the door, I saw a second guy who knew a guy examine the original drill for a moment before proceeding to repeatedly slam it on the counter. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! Keep after it fella, that’ll make it work.

On the way home (and this is a five minute drive, by the way) Max cratered in the back. He was snoring by the time we pulled up, so I carried him inside and laid him in his crib. It’s tough work for a little man and he needed his sleep. Back to work for the menfolk!

Our next assignment was properly laying out the swing beam legs for assembly. Again, this is where torque came in handy because there were no pre-drilled holes and a lot of large hex screws that needed to go into the legs. These were thick beams, too, only slightly more so than “that heavy sumbitch in the corner.” We knocked in the holes, got everything drilled, and properly aligned the beams. Right around the time this assembly was complete, My Fair Lady returned to bear witness to our handiwork.

We set it aside for a moment before tackling the mounting on the fort itself. At that point, it was simply a matter of putting the right screws in the correct place then setting the primary beam on the fort. Once that was hook to the fort, we maneuvered the legs into position, attached them, and had a standing fort that only required a few more bells and whistles. In short, the hard part was done. To wrap things up, I quickly threw together the top portion of the fort. Once that was done (little more than a board here and there) we installed the protective canopy and called it a day.

Max came out around this point, and appraised the situation. “Wow! What’s this?” That’s his favorite line when it comes to expressing shock and amazement. He says it at the funniest times too, but more often than not it’s reserved for moments that truly grab his attention. Hearing him say that always puts a smile on my face, and that afternoon it was ear-to-ear, baby.

It was the best day I’ve had in a long time. We’re talking years. My Fair Lady and I have been through a hell of a ringer the past few years and every time it seems like we have a chance to get ahead, we’re beaten down despite our best efforts. The stress surrounding our lives since 2008 alone has been enough to give me white hairs (oh yes, they have come) but days like this make it all go away. My dad and I have a pretty strong bond despite such disparate interests in life. That’s normal to me. But it felt great to have him and Brother G help put together the fort for my son. Three generations joined together to build a play structure for the newest member of the family, and such an event is one I’ll cherish to the end of my days.

I hope when I’ve traded places with my father, that I get to help do something similar for my grandson/daughter. Thank you to my dad and brother for helping out on this. I means the world to me and will someday to little Max. In the meantime, he’s wanting to go back out and ride the slide again.

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