Words in a Row

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff--supposibly its like, real important!

Some Disassembly Required

I know how to prove that men and women are fun­da­men­tal­ly different:

Put a man and a woman into sep­a­rate rooms alone with a new appliance—say, a bread machine—and watch what hap­pens. The woman will make some bread. On the oth­er hand—bear in mind that this is a brand new appli­ance, right out of the box—the man will take the bread machine apart to see how it works.

I’m not sure what dri­ves men to take things apart. Maybe some psy­chi­a­trist has it fig­ured out. If so, I bet the psy­chi­a­trist is a man. Why? For the same rea­son psy­chol­o­gy has tra­di­tion­al­ly been a male pur­suit: Psy­cho­an­a­lyz­ing peo­ple is very much like tak­ing them apart to see how they work.

I think the dri­ve to take things apart is genet­ic, not learned. For instance, I saw a TV show once about Under­writ­ers Lab­o­ra­to­ries. This com­pa­ny takes new prod­ucts, dis­as­sem­bles them down into mol­e­cules to see how they’re designed, and then fig­ures out inge­nious ways to break them.

Under­writ­ers Labs pays the guys in white lab coats you see on TV com­mer­cials who build a robot arm to open and close a refrig­er­a­tor door 38 bil­lion times in two weeks. All guys, mind you—you nev­er see women in the com­mer­cials. These are the men who send cars hurtling into con­crete walls at 90 miles an hour to see what will hap­pen to the dum­mies inside.

I’ve often dreamed about work­ing for one of those com­pa­nies that blow up build­ings so that they col­lapse into their own basements.

Odd­ly enough, their research has con­clu­sive­ly proven over and over again that the dum­mies (sur­prise!) get demol­ished. But for some rea­son, they still find it nec­es­sary to crash an aver­age of 10 cars a week.

Don’t tell me it’s all about safe­ty and research—these guys are hav­ing the time of their lives. I’m not sure why Under­writ­ers Labs even both­ers to pay them; most men would prob­a­bly work there for free. I know I would.

I’ve often dreamed about work­ing for Under­writ­ers Lab­o­ra­to­ries. I’ve also dreamed about work­ing for one of those com­pa­nies that blow up build­ings so that they col­lapse into their own base­ments (c’mon—you have, too, haven’t you? Let’s see a show of hands, guys … I knew it!).

My favorite destruc­tive fan­ta­sy, though, involves work­ing for one of the big auto man­u­fac­tur­ers. Their research depart­ments have teams that secret­ly buy com­peti­tors’ cars. Then they com­plete­ly dis­as­sem­ble the cars and mount all the parts on sheets of ply­wood, which they hang in a warehouse.

You must under­stand, though—when I say they dis­as­sem­ble a car, I’m talk­ing a lev­el of dis­as­sem­bly rarely seen on this earth. If a butch­er ren­dered a cow the way these guys take on a car, he would need 17 square acres of coun­ter­top. Every sin­gle part in the car is bro­ken down com­plete­ly: The door locks are tak­en apart into piles of tiny springs and wafers. The engine is trans­formed into a heap of pis­tons, rings, bolts, bush­ings, springs, valves and bear­ings. The starter motor is unwound to see how much wire is in the armatures.

Every hook, pin, screw, nut, bolt, gear, spring, bush­ing, sta­ple, clip, clamp, strap and wire in the car is unfas­tened, until the engi­neers have thou­sands of parts to cat­a­logue and mount on the boards. They even unstitch all the uphol­stery, sep­a­rate glued-togeth­er pieces, and cut all the welds apart until they have the orig­i­nal pieces of met­al that make up the body and frame.

They say this is done to help them bet­ter under­stand their com­peti­tors’ designs. But it sounds like a labor of love to me. I bet they draw straws to see who gets to take things apart and who has to do the paperwork.

Yep, I’d be real­ly good at that sort of thing; I’ve always been a cham­pi­on dis­as­sem­bler myself. When I was 8, my par­ents gave me a watch. I pried off the back to see how it worked (and my moth­er has nev­er quite for­giv­en me). Since then, I have dis­as­sem­bled elec­tric razors, toast­ers, an elec­tric knife, radios, car stere­os and tape decks, a vari­able speed drill, an elec­tric gui­tar, a See ‘N Say, and any­thing else I could get my hands on.

Last year I sawed an 8‑foot-wide alu­minum satel­lite dish in half.

When I was 19, I took the engine out of my car and put it back. It was so much fun I did it again a year lat­er. Last year I sawed an 8‑foot-wide alu­minum satel­lite dish in half (don’t ask).

I sup­pose (I said don’t ask!) I can under­stand why, when my par­ents gave me a bicy­cle for my 24th birth­day, my moth­er looked me right in the eye and with a straight face said, “Now don’t go tak­ing this apart to see how it works!” She need­n’t have wor­ried. Bicy­cles were kid stuff; I was in the big leagues by that time.

The all-time high­light of my decon­struc­tion­al­ist career was when I mur­dered a piano. My room­mate, George, had bought an old upright piano for $100. This beast was made by a Ger­man com­pa­ny called Gul­bransen, and it was so heavy it took eight peo­ple to move it into our house. I think mov­ing one of the rocks at Stone­henge would have been eas­i­er. The piano’s wheels left ruts in the wood on our front porch, it was so heavy. In fact, I think the Ger­mans designed that piano to hold pill­box doors shut against ene­my mor­tar fire in World War II. It was that kind of heavy.

Any­way, after we all got her­nias mov­ing this bat­tle­ship anchor of a piano, George dis­cov­ered it had six keys that did­n’t work at all. The remain­ing 82 were so far out of tune they made my dog howl when we struck them. George called a piano tuner, who came over, lis­tened to the piano, and then left, laugh­ing so hard he was drooling.

Need­less to say, George did­n’t want to take the piano along when he got ready to move out a year lat­er. The prob­lem was that he had no way to dis­pose of it, and he was too kind­heart­ed to sell it to some oth­er sucker—I mean, victim.

So while George was at work one evening, I decid­ed to sur­prise him: I took the piano apart and put it in a Dump­ster in a park­ing lot behind our house. I used pli­ers to cut the strings; a crow­bar took care of every­thing else (cham­pi­on dis­as­sem­blers don’t need hun­dreds of tools; that’s for wimps like Tim Allen).

Over the course of an hour or so that night, my friend, Dave, and I stealth­ily car­ried the dis­mem­bered piano to the Dump­ster, arm­load by arm­load. Final­ly, only two pieces were left: the back frame, which was made of huge oak beams, and the harp, a thick steel frame­work over which the strings had been stretched. These pieces weighed sev­er­al hun­dred pounds each and were the only parts that were dif­fi­cult to maneu­ver into the Dumpster.

The Dump­ster squat­ted at the end of the alley like a land mine as George and I glee­ful­ly peered out the upstairs bed­room window.

George near­ly had a heart attack when he got home and found noth­ing but a major dent in the car­pet where his piano had been.

At 5 a.m. the next morn­ing, George woke me excit­ed­ly. One of those trucks that picks up Dump­sters and turns them upside down to emp­ty them was rum­bling up the alley toward the Dump­ster. The Dump­ster squat­ted at the end of the alley like a land mine as George and I glee­ful­ly peered out the upstairs bed­room window.

The dri­ver posi­tioned the load­er’s arms in the slots on the Dump­ster’s sides and turned on the hoist. George and I clutched our sides with laugh­ter as the truck­’s engine roared—and noth­ing hap­pened. The dri­ver scratched his head and put the hoist into a low­er gear. With the truck­’s engine bel­low­ing in protest, its sus­pen­sion groan­ing and the hoist’s gears screech­ing, the Dump­ster slow­ly left the ground.

As we held our breath, the Dump­ster turned over, the lid flipped open and the harp and frame tum­bled out into the truck­’s bed, which—and I knew God loved me when I saw it—was emp­ty. The harp and frame land­ed flat in the truck­’s bed with a resound­ing, thun­der­ous boom. The rest of the pieces slid out on top, crash­ing and rat­tling into a heap atop the frame.

The noise echoed up and down the predawn street; lights began appear­ing in win­dows. The dri­ver and his helper stag­gered out of the truck, hold­ing their ears, and climbed the side of the bed, no doubt think­ing an aster­oid had just land­ed in the truck.

They looked over the side of the bed in aston­ish­ment. I could hear them excit­ed­ly ques­tion­ing each oth­er: “How on God’s green earth did a piano get in there?” the dri­ver said in amazement.

I closed my eyes and sighed wist­ful­ly, know­ing I would prob­a­bly nev­er again expe­ri­ence a moment so sub­lime this side of eternity.

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