What did the instructions say?

Do you read ‘em? Those instructions, or owner’s manuals that come with things you’ve bought or been given? Do you open up a box on Christmas and then, when all the morning’s excitement has ebbed and people are relaxing in cookie-comas, do you curl up on the couch in your pink fuzzies, slap on those reading glasses and dive headlong into the operating instructions or assembly diagrams?

Why the hell not?

That’s my favorite part about buying or receiving something fancy or deconstructed. Be it electronics or a bookcase from Ikea, I get all giddy thinking about curling up on the couch, cup of tea in hand, and reading the manual or assembly instructions from Page 1 to the end. It’s my second favorite part, the first being the new owner of whatever thing it is I’m reading up on.

Don’t you love it?

When you bought your car, did you come home, all excited and happy about the new purchase, then sit down that evening with the owner’s manual and read the whole thing? I did. I remember, back in ’02 when I bought my Beetle, it was Fall, and by the time I got home and came down from the extreme high of a new car, it was dark and cold outside. I curled up on the couch with the owner’s manual, stroked that massive, bound, multi-volume monstrosity with a loving hand, and read the whole thing, cover to cover with a huge smile on my face.

Every year at Christmas, someone gets something that comes with instructions, and I scream when I see them tossed aside while the new owner simply dives in, clueless, and starts pushing buttons or assembling pieces. I typically grab the instructions and go sit somewhere quiet and read them. That’s probably why I’ve gained a reputation in the family as the person who’ll be able to figure out how it works, or goes together, once the owner has given up in a sweating, angry huff.

Seriously, people, you do read these things, don’t you?

Do you KNOW the weight limit of the luggage rack on top of your car? Do you even realize what the optimum positioning of your rear passenger seat headrests ARE? Have you a clue what Slot A is, or how many Allen-head screws part C you have?

Honestly, sitting down with an operator’s manual is as exciting for me as curling up with a seriously good book from my favorite author. When the guys at work caught me reading the owner’s manual for my car, they laughed, but I didn’t care. While other people are struggling to make Shim A fit into Slot C using Screws L and H with Washers P and can’t figure out why it isn’t working, I’m already stacking books into my new Ikea bookshelf.

While some poor slob takes his or her brand new car to the gas station for the first time and struggles to find the release for that little door covering the gas cap, I mourn just a little bit for that unread manual waiting, untouched, in the glove box.

Someone worked long and hard to write that thing, you know. They spent days lining up the diagrams just right, double checking the arrows, making sure Slot A is properly depicted. “It is best to be two persons while assembling this furniture.” That doesn’t write itself.

Why, just the other day, my sister and I bought an SUV. It’s used, because when you’re purchasing a spare vehicle that won’t even be put in the garage, it’s foolish to buy new. So I knew there was a chance we wouldn’t find the owner’s manual. Just as sure as I knew I’d be able to go online and print a freshly minted copy, if need be. So you can imagine my surprised delight when we got home and discovered, Joy of Joys! there in the glove box – the original owners manual !

Looking like it had never been cracked open before, I lifted that beautiful, heavy book from the glove box and carried it inside. It was bound in leather, black and lush and soft like the seats themselves. I rushed to make a pot of tea and found my reading glasses, then curled up on the couch, in my happy place, and spent that evening reading the manual from cover to cover.

Now I can say, with confidence, that I am fully versed in the clutchless gear shifter, the operation of all-wheel drive with traction control, and everything in between. I can quote you on anything from the weight limits of the luggage rack to the proper care and maintenance of leather seats. If a light on the dash comes to life, I won’t panic, because I know what it means. If I insert a CD, I know which button to press for Track 3. After maneuvering that big, black, beautiful thing into the drive up at Starbucks, I can roll down the window without even looking to see which button to push.

Because I read the manual.

I studied the instruction book from cover to cover.

And I loved it !



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