Assembling A Life


Charlie Nadler grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and graduated from MVRHS with the class of 2002. Until mid-March, he lived in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles where he worked in the film and television industry and performed stand up comedy. He’s just relocated to New York City, where he will continue to muse about his life on and off Martha’s Vineyard in his weekly “From Afar” column.

My girlfriend and I had braced ourselves for a New York apartment the size of a large refrigerator with enough room to cram in a small refrigerator and bunk bed. But when the real estate gods blessed us with an unexpectedly massive apartment in Astoria, we began to strategize a superlative way to furnish our big new life.

Now just because we had extra square footage did not mean additional bank account space. Filling out this palatial pad would prove challenging. Unless, of course, we considered the Swedish alternative: IKEA.

This Scandinavian superchain cuts their price point considerably by outsourcing the assembly of their items to the consumer. For the cost of a desk and dresser at an already-built-furniture store, you can get the fixins’ for an entire apartment at IKEA. This business model makes a world of sense but has one substantial flaw: me, the default foreman of our new abode.

I like to think my man skills have come a long way during my man tenure on this planet. The bar had been set at a subterranean level for me, born into a family of writers. To us, the pen was mightier than the sword by default because our genes prevented us from being able to physically lift a sword.

I struggled along a steep learning curve and in college famously “helped” install antitheft brackets on one of our windows. These brackets required screws, so my roommates were rightfully surprised to hear loud banging noises from across the house. “Just hammering in these screws!” I yelled. Say what you want, but nobody ever broke in through that window.

Since then I have become vaguely proficient at screwing a screw and hammering a nail, arming me with the necessary skills to assemble anything from IKEA, in theory.

I am thrilled with the Swedish savings, but I think they could go a step further. Upon exiting the store, the cashier should make you assemble a shelf and prorate your discount depending on your lack of abilities, providing additional financial aid for butterfingered builders like myself.

I suggest this because after assembling numerous pieces over the last couple of weeks, the finished product is not always identical to the stock image in the catalog, but more a quirky limited edition asymmetrical model with quaint little holes.

Despite all of this, the bargain trumps the trauma. I feel accomplished as I slowly bury myself in empty cardboard while engaging in something more similar to Legos than carpentry. And I find myself feeling much more empathetic towards sweatshop employees. Politicians who feel the urge to perpetuate unfair labor practices should be mandated to spend a day in my apartment, finishing my dresser.