Routine Assembly

Thursday evening came around and I headed to my assembly job. 6 months into this gig gave me the knowledge and confidence to handle any type of task thrown at me. Rex had contacted me from out of state to assemble his girlfriend’s bed.

When I arrived at the scene, I organized my work space. I cleared the area to allow enough room for me to work. I unpacked the boxes and stacked like pieces together to help visualize the final product. Like the many times before, I picked up the instructions and got to work. 40 minutes into the job, I made a critical error causing me to strip a screw. Unable to correct the mistake, I had to explain to the client that I needed to come back tomorrow.

Disappointed, embarrassed, and a little panicked, I called the handiest person I knew, my dad. He suggested I research the problem on YouTube. Once home, I jumped on the computer and started my search to ‘remove a stripped hex bolt.’ The videos were plenty and I found a solution that just might work. Relieved, I shut my laptop and headed to bed.

The next morning, I re-watched the video and noted the parts that I would need from the hardware store. With my new knowledge and accompanying tools and parts, I headed back to the client.

I returned to my workspace with the half-assembled bed and various parts and pieces scattered across the room. My client slept on the couch the previous night; she was counting on me to make this work. I pulled out my hammer and, newly purchased, torx bit steel socket. Using some force, I lodged the torx bit into the stripped screw and then carefully extracted it using my drill. The screw slowly made its way out; the procedure was a success. I replaced the damaged screw with a new one and completed the job within an hour. This job humbled me and served as a reminder that I still had plenty to learn.

We will Rebuild

The GPS directed me to the abandoned suburban school. Along the perimeter of the property, signs and banners covered the chain-link fence. Passerby’s stopped to take pictures of the collateral to capture where “it” took place. I found the entrance and parked my car.

The school shooting, a few months prior, rocked this affluent community. Lives were lost, the school year disrupted, and media attention distracted teachers, administrators, students, and parents. In spite of this, the chatter among the teens remained consistent with what I remember when I was their age. Mrs. Dee commanded the room and her students had her respect. This felt like a normal classroom, but in the back of my mind, I knew something happened here.

I opened my tool bag and took out my drill, level, pencil, and anchors. A local business had donated classroom items to the school. On this weekend morning, our team assembled cabinets, hung shelves, and mounted magnetic boards. After the shooting, sections of the school were closed off and existing spaces were re-purposed to handle more classes and activities. We gave Mrs. Dee’s Student Government room a facelift: fresh paint, new storage, and plenty of space to remember the good times.

It felt good to give back. While school shootings are becoming almost ubiquitous with America, this one hit close to home. On my way out, I shook Mrs. Dee’s hand and thanked her for all that she has done.

Jack & Kate + 7

Recently widowed, Jack and Kate found each other on an online bereavement group. After months of courtship, they decided to take the plunge and unite their two families. Jack moved himself and his two young children across the country to be with his new wife. Kate, a local gal, brought 5 of her own to the new family. Together, they bought a new home to start their next chapter of life.

I arrived at the job at 10am. The house whirled with activity: painters putting the final touches on the walls, the cleaning crew mopping the floors, and handymen installing appliances and toilets. Together with another tasker, our job was to assemble all of the new furniture for the family. Stacks of boxes containing the parts for bunk beds, regular-sized beds, dressers, nightstands, and cabinets filled the garage.

Kate’s kids did not shy away from hard work. Home-schooled and trained to help around the house, the kids pitched in whenever they could. The 3 eldest grabbed their tool-kits and came ready to help us. Over a 2-day period, our team assembled the bunk beds and dressers for the boy’s room; the beds, dressers, desks, and nightstands for the 3 eldest; and a few other pieces.

With the moving deadline quickly approaching, plenty of work still remained. For now, the kids were taken care of; Jack and Kate were content to sleep on their mattress for a few days. In the years leading up to this moment, they overcame plenty of obstacles, but together, everything would be okay.


Haley and her father plopped down on the couch and watched me get to work. Throughout the first hour I got questions about my technique and how much longer it would take. After a tense 60 minutes, I completed the first drawer. I needed to do the same thing 5 more times.

In researching this job, I came across several resources to fix a sagging drawer bottom. The problem lies with placing too much weight in the drawer causing the bottom to get pushed out of the groove. In my furniture assembly experience, I knew I was searching for a how-to guide on building a brace for the bottom of the drawer. With my new knowledge and parts from the hardware store, I set out for the job.

Back at the client’s home, I showed Haley the newly repaired drawer; she was impressed. I explained that handyman work requires tinkering and most of the time the solution isn’t straightforward. I proposed capping my billable time at 4 hours: 1 hour for the first drawer, 30 minutes for each subsequent drawer, and 30 minutes for research. She agreed to my proposal and we shook hands to seal the deal.

Haley relaxed and told me a little bit more about herself. She flew down days earlier as her ailing father had been hospitalized. A couple of months ago, the family moved the father to an assisted living facility. After an emotional couple of weeks, Haley was just glad to have her father’s dresser fixed. Before we knew it, all 6 drawers were repaired. We said our goodbyes and wished each other the best of luck.

Mable Rogers

I walked into the lobby and tapped on the digital tablet to sign in. The device directed me to the 3rd floor in building 2, apartment 3107. Inside the elevator, the ominous-looking red cord reminded me of the andon cords found in Japanese auto factories. When pulled, the resulting siren alerted others when a problem arose on the assembly line. I swallowed hard, this place gave me goosebumps.

Mable Rogers opened the door with a big smile. She was excited to have her new dresser assembled today. We made some small talk about the weather and I promptly got to it. In the other room, the tv blasted an infomercial about a roadside assistance product. As I hammered in the wooden dowels, I also got first hand testimonials on the features and benefits of signing up for the product. Although captivated, I still needed to complete another 42 steps before these wooden boards resembled a dresser.

At hour 2, Mable came into the bedroom with apple juice and donuts. This brought me back to the days in grade school when I went over to a friend’s house to play. The snacks and drinks were heavily processed and laden with sugar; it was bliss. We chatted a bit and Mable told me about her children and grandchildren. They were very lucky to have this person in their lives.

An hour later, I completed the assembly. We shook hands and I wished Mable Rogers a good day. Still on a sugar high I opted for the stairs on the way out.