A Little Instruction

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It doesn’t look like much, but here was yesterday’s work: surge protectors and extension cords boxed, and a heap of instruction manuals gone through and organized (sort of).

Sometimes it pays to read. Actually, I think most of the time it pays to do this, whether you’re reading for pleasure or the betterment of your mind. (I’m sure reading this blog pays off handsomely for all of you.)

One place where I find it often pays to read, although I am in the minority on this, is instruction manuals. And, while I’m on this horse, I would like to say quite loudly and clearly that poorly-drawn pictures are no substitute for clearly-written instruction, but many companies seem to disagree with me these days.

The click-belt kit that Lynn bought for me once upon a time, for instance, was so busy trying to be sleek and millennial that the “instructions” consisted of four tiny drawings on the bottom of the box. Reading a competitor’s written instructions, it sounds as though I could have made a terrible mistake trying to follow the pictures, because the written directions instructed users to cut two inches past the waistline measurement, in order to allow for expansion. The pictures made no such provision, and had I followed them, the belt would have likely been too short. (I instead had Lynn send it back, and to this day am click-beltless.)

Way back many years ago when my niece Ellie was quite young, her aunt Terri and uncle Michael bought her something for Christmas — I do not recall what — that came in one million pieces that needed to be assembled the night before. It was that stereotypical scene, adults surrounded by pieces strewn haphazardly all over the living room floor, trying to find Tab A to fit into Slot B.

So there were Terri and Michael and I believe Lynn, down on the floor rummaging through all these pieces, trying to get them to make sense, while I picked up the instruction booklet and began reading. They ignored me, of course — who needs instructions? — until they hit some point and were completely baffled. I read the next instruction out loud and viola! Parts is parts, pieces is pieces, and it all came together as a whole without anyone having to stay up all night.

Even with clear evidence like this in front of her, Lynn is still one to eschew instruction — no one’s telling me what to do — and I doubt she’s alone in this. Plus there are instruction manuals, like the pitiful literature that came with my steam shower, that are so poorly written and just flat-out wrong that sometimes you have to strike out on your own. Anymore, probably due to the possibility of lawsuits, a good half of any set of instructions appears to be basic and obvious safety information. “Do not take your toaster into the bathtub.”

But occasionally one can find useful information and make it work for a more pleasant experience all around. I do have to note that Lynn has referred to the instructions not just once but twice in recent weeks, first to put her firepit together and then to put my diagonal bookcase together (although I rather think that one was once again a series of badly-drawn pictures that mostly serve to irritate me rather than instruct).

Yesterday, as stage one of my new plan to become more self-sufficient, I extricated one of the watering timers from the various hoses it was hooked to and brought it in to the computer where I located the directions for use on-line. (And repeatedly dumped water all over myself and the table despite efforts to empty it ahead of time. How could such a little box hold five gallons of water?)

The programming felt more cumbersome than necessary (to select how many days you want the timer to work, you have to arrow to a day, press “OK,” arrow to the next day, press “OK” and do that five more times. For each of four zones. That’s 20 “OKs,” which doesn’t feel okay at all) but I made it through, and today should be the big test to see how much more of our new grass seed will at last feel the life-affirming gift of water.

Then I turned my attention to the unwieldy pile of instruction manuals that’s been amassing since we moved in, and that turned out to be a project that paid off dividends as large as a Las Vegas jackpot. I found all kinds of treasures in there.

The first was the large packet of boiler instructions, which the plumber had left tucked behind heated copper pipes. It turns out, there’s maintenance one needs to do or have done on this boiler, some of it daily (that’s mostly inspecting to make sure vent and intake areas are clear), some weekly, more monthly, a bit annually. Since this beast is running not only our household heat but our hot water as well, this seems like good information to know — and no one had said a word to us about any maintenance at all.

With the dishwasher instructions came free samples of soap and rinse agent — and it turns out that the upper rack, which I found to be way too limiting because it was so short, is adjustable. And easily so. Who knew?

The fireplace (not Lynn’s firepit; her indoor gas fireplace that has yet to be tested) instructions were a timely find. It turns out — and we wouldn’t have known this had I not returned a piece they charged us for that we didn’t need — that the store that sold this to us was supposed to come put all the interior parts together, do a test fire and explain how it all works. This never happened, but once I returned that part the owner put us on the schedule for the test fire this Thursday. (Just in time for my mom’s visit!)

When someone comes out for this process, they will probably say to me, “Now, where’s your remote?” Up until yesterday I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea. But there was an entire bag of fireplace supplies, along with instructions, waiting for me to find them in our heap.

Here was the highlight of the day: in with the pitiful non-instructions for my shower (none of which offer any assistance for the user — it’s all about installation) was the missing drain plug. I don’t know why that got overlooked during installation, except that contractor, plumber and electrician were all pretty much over that project. (Shawn came back yesterday — yes, on a Saturday — to swap out the breaker, so this morning I should be full steam ahead.)

When I put the plug into the tub, I solved one of the many mysteries of the shower: the big silver knob on the side is nothing more than a dial to control whether the plug is up or down. That’s hardly exotic, but it is useful. Practically exciting.

See how fun instructions can be? And helpful. Instructive, almost.



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