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Just Another Point of View: Assembling a barbecue can be character-building

I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now, because last weekend I put a barbecue together.

All by myself.

First of all, I’m sure you’re asking, “Kelly, why would you even TRY something that complicated when you have the IQ of a baby monkey and you’re barely able to operate simple tools — especially when they sell thousands of barbecues a day that are already assembled and just waiting to be wheeled out the door?”

Good question. I fully intended do just that, and put it in the back of my little SUV, but a fierce amount of study with my baby monkey brain led me to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to work.

That four-burner gas Char Broil BBQ (“Grilling’s Juicy Little Secret”) was 9 inches too tall to go into my RAV4 standing up and too big by about the same amount to lie on its side. Because I really, really, really don’t like assembling things, I gave it lots of thought. I measured everything several times. And then I gave up.

“Do you have one of these still in a box?” I asked a very nice employee at the Tigard Fred Meyer. She checked, and they did. They sent me around back of the store, where another nice lady helped me wrestle the giant box into my vehicle.

“I hope I made the right decision,” I told the other person who lives at our house when I got home.

She just gave me her best “no comment” look. Like a master politician, she conveyed neither disgust nor encouragement. She knew better. She also knew I was on my own.

I decided the “assembly” would take place in the garage, so I took all the parts out of the box and scattered them around in neat little piles, got myself a short stool and sat down to study the directions.

I could tell immediately that I was in for an experience. Flipping through the 52-page Product Guide, I noticed that the actual assembly of the beast didn’t even begin until Page 29, where I found the heading: “Assembly/Assemblage/Armado.” Even more concerning to me was the fact that there weren’t actual words about how to assemble the grill. There were just 10 pages of pictures, showing (in a cave-drawing sort of charade-type series of illustrations) steps 1 through 15 — with No. 1 being how to put the legs together and No. 15 showing how to install the propane tank.

Being a total word guy, I was worried about the lack of explanation. But I also happen to be a positive-thinking, glass-half-full kind of person, so I resolved to give it my best. I turned back to the beginning of the book to make sure I wasn’t missing what Jack Nicholson used to call “important plot points.”

Good thing I did. There were very important messages all over the place.

On Page 2, for example, there were eight boxes, each one bearing the following respective headings: Caution! Warning! Danger! Caution! Danger! Warning! Warning! Danger! The caution boxes had a white background, the warning boxes had a gray background, and the danger boxes were black. Which made perfect sense — black for danger.

That was just Page 2.

Page 3 contained seven of these boxes: Warning! Caution! Caution! Caution! Warning! Caution! And Danger!

To give you an idea of what all these warnings were about, consider the fact that warning No. 1 on Page 2 contained this message: “Failure to follow all manufacturer’s instructions could result in serious personal injury and/or property damage.”

In other words, there was a lot of shrieking about not too much. That’s when I decided these are the warnings they have to publish because somewhere out there is someone who will spill coffee on themselves and eventually win a million-dollar lawsuit from McDonald’s because there was no warning that the coffee might be, you know, hot.

There were other gems in these warnings. I learned that “this grill is for outdoor use only.” Rats, I thought. Guess I won’t be grilling those ribs up in my room after all.

I also find booklets like this especially entertaining because I do make my living as a writer and editor of the English language. Speaking as a professional, I should point out that when you put exclamation points after everything, you kind of defeat the purpose of punctuation. It is true, of course, that the comics one finds in the newspaper almost all have exclamation points after every sentence — but, hey, they are the funnies, after all.

The instructions informed me, for example, in a loud but breathless voice, “NOTE: Your grill may NOT be equipped with a Sideburner!”

I was relieved to see (by looking at the picture on the cover) that mine did have one — whew! Dodged that bullet.

Meanwhile, the scary boxes kept coming: “SPIDER ALERT! SPIDERS AND WEBS INSIDE BURNER.” Accompanying that ghastly message was a cutaway view of a burner showing a big black spider inside with its evil web stretching from one end of the cylinder to the other.

On Page 11, the admonitions began again, only this time in French. Ten pages later, it started over, in Spanish. The warnings continued yelling about mundane things, but in fancy-looking French (“Remarque: il se peut que votre gril NE soit PAS equipe d’un bruleur lateral!”) and then slightly less exotic Espanol (“Nota: Ex posible que su parrilla NO venga equipada con un quemador lateral!”).

Ironically enough, the how-to-build-it pictures worked perfectly. I started with No. 1 and plodded my way through 10 pages of pictures until (three hours later) I beheld the awesome Char Broil Model 463436215. Once I’d wheeled it out of the garage and around the house to the back deck, its silver hood gleamed in the midday sun as if to proclaim: “Kneel before me! I am the great and powerful Char Broil!”

And I did, and it was good. Also, it worked. Go figure.

A former editor for several Oregon newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review, Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, Mikel Kelly now works on the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune and contributes an occasional column.


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