When I moved, the old and often-painted wood desk I’d owned and worked on since the mid-80s fell apart. It had never been designed for anything heavier than a pen-wielding hand on a piece of paper, and when the moving people lifted it, the legs fell off and the bottom of the main drawer disintegrated. It was a sad sight.
For the first three weeks in The New Place, my desk was a folding table that, days earlier, had hosted various yard-sale goods and stood outside in the rain, warping the top surface.
I needed a new area to work on. I searched online, went through the IKEA catalog, and finally settled on a glass and metal corner desk from Jacques Penney, JC Penney to you Americans. It was on sale at half price, always an important factor, and when I measured the space available, it looked as if it would exactly fit. I bought it.
It arrived a week later in a battered sixty-pound cardboard box that, when opened, released a hurricane of Styrofoam bits that quickly nested in my sparse carpeting.
There is no vacuum cleaner capable of sucking up Styrofoam bits.
There were (I counted) 114 separate parts, not counting hex screws of assorted lengths, wooden dowels, very tiny wood screws, clasps, staply things, and that nemesis of all do-it-yourselfer, the cam-loc. There were 28 cam locs. Twenty-eight cam locs.
Anyone building this desk should do so with an intimate partner. The positions you will find yourself in border on the lewd and indescribable. At one point, I found myself on my back beneath three metal shelves shaped like guillotine blades. My left hand was holding two components of the desk together with a vise grip. My right hand attempted to use the provided hex wrench to drive a bolt through a two-small aperture, and my right leg was hooked around the desk’s wobbly armature to hold it steady. It was very exciting.
The desk came together slowly over two days. I memorized the pictogram instructions, double-checked every directive (I was a carpenter for a couple of summers. I learned to measure twice, cut once.) For an hour or so I was thwarted by a piece that claimed to exist but did not. I finally figured out it had not been packed with its brethren, but was not, in the end, necessary. At two in the morning of the second day, I cursed loudly in both French and English when I realized I had spent several hours assembling components incorrectly. The illustration I had relied upon was a mirror image of what it was supposed to be.
I whispered endearments to non-aligning bolt-holes, manhandled hinges and threatened cam locs. And then it was done.
It’s a handsome piece of modern furniture that bears traces of my blood. I spent an hour tightening everything with the provided tool that, I believe, channeled Uri Geller. It bent itself into uselessness after encountering the second hex bolt, forcing a quick trip to Home Depot.
When the desk was fully assembled and not lopsided, I spent 90 minutes vacuuming the unvacuumable Styrofoam bits. I unpeeled the dozen safety stickers telling me not to drop any sharp parts of the desk on any parts of my anatomy. I leveled everything. I reassembled my computer system. Amazingly, everything appears to work.
Today, I am a proud man. Me and Jacques, we built something good.