If I Were A Carpenter by
(298 Stories)

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Around the age of twelve or so, I was very interested in taking things apart to see how they worked, and then putting them back together. When I was finished taking them apart, and taking all the components out to examine, I put everything back together, and no one was the wiser. Until I took apart my brand new electric shaver. It was pink and pretty, the deluxe model with an on-off switch, which was the latest thing. When I went to put it back together, I got everything else in the right place, but couldn’t figure out how to put the switch back in. Neither could anyone else in my family, as it turned out. I didn’t get in trouble, but I also didn’t get a new shaver. From then on, it turned on and off just by plugging and unplugging it, the same way the cheap ones did. I had lost my wonderful on-off switch. After that, I was not so inclined to take things apart.

It was quite a job putting the bed frame together, although I don't remember whether it required any trips to the hardware store.

Fast forward to adult life, and the advent of IKEA, the amazing Swedish furniture store. (Yes, you are supposed to write the name in all caps, because it is an acronym of the founder’s initials and where he was from.) We have bought many items from them over the years, and of course they all need to be assembled. My husband is of the “I don’t need to read the directions” school of thought, but then when he gets stuck, I help him figure out where he diverged from what he was supposed to do. Otherwise my role is to hold parts that are being fastened together until they are all fastened, with screws or clamps or whatever hardware is required.

The most memorable item that we ever had to assemble was a loft bed from IKEA that Ben wanted. He was in 8th or 9th grade, and hoping to make his bedroom into a suite where he could entertain friends. He figured out that if he put his desk underneath the bed, he would have enough floor space for a couch and a couple of comfy chairs. He had measured it all out, and researched what was available (we did have internet at that point, although it was dial-up). Because his desk had a hutch that sat on top of it, and was a total of 58 inches tall, it was hard to find a loft bed that was high enough for it to fit underneath. The only place that had one was IKEA.

At that time, there was no IKEA store anywhere near us, although there is now. So we had to drive to Emeryville to buy it. This was an 80-mile drive each way, taking at least an hour and twenty minutes, and more if there was traffic (which there always was when you got at all close to the San Francisco Bay Bridge). But Ben had his heart set on this bed, so we made the trek in our minivan, which had barely enough room for all the boxes, with three of us in the car. We must have left the two girls at home, or we never could have fit it all in.

It was quite a job putting the bed frame together. I don’t remember whether there were any trips to the hardware store involved – most of these assembly projects seemed to require at least one hardware store run. When it was finished, and we set it up and put the mattress on the platform, there was only about one foot between the mattress and the ceiling! Ben said he was okay with that. He had to slither in and out of bed, and obviously couldn’t ever sit up. I tried to go up there once to change the sheets, and I just couldn’t do it. Even setting aside the impossibility of putting on or taking off sheets in such a tight space, I couldn’t get myself onto the mattress, it triggered feelings of claustrophobia I never knew I had.

He kept that bed through all of high school, and maybe even all of college, and possibly never changed the sheets in all of that time. At some point after he left home I commandeered the desk and hutch and moved them downstairs. Then we sawed off the legs of the frame so that it would be a normal height bed. That was tricky too, because we had to make sure all four legs were the same length. Now we can use that room as a guest room, which we obviously couldn’t do when the bed was up by the ceiling. And I do change the sheets frequently!

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    IKEA assemblies are legendarily difficult — and often frustratingly so — so I salute you on all the effort involved in building Ben’s bed. You and family are to be congratulated (and maybe even pitied for all it involved).

    Having been in the lower bunk of a bunk bed in my early years, I was always grateful my brother wanted the top bunk, because it always gave me claustrophobia being up there. So I can only imagine what it was like on Ben’s bed. I’m surprised he didn’t pursue a career in spelunking after surviving his experiences up there.

    And I can only imagine how difficult it was to saw off the legs evenly. There are so many stories of efforts to correct the wobbly legs of a chair or stool that ended up with no legs at all, as each cut created a new unevenness among the legs.

    In any event, a fun, fascinating story in all respects — though I’d still love to know what the solution to the on-off switch problem was.

    • Suzy says:

      I like your comment about spelunking, I guess you’re right that crawling through narrow passages in caves would be no problem for Ben. If he ever gets tired of comedy writing, I’ll suggest that as a second career.

      I was trying to picture how we cut the legs, because the frame was too big to turn on its side. Somehow we did it while it was upright, maybe with two people holding it up while the third person sawed.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I am amazed that you took apart an electric shaver, got it almost back together, and it worked, even without the on/off switch. That is some feat, Suzy.

    We probably all have IKEA stories, Suzy (each of my kids bought IKEA beds, though after they were out of this house. Dan helped David put together the one in grad school, which was also lofted like Ben’s. Vicki just bought one upon her move to Seattle, so did all the installation herself). I can’t imagine being so close to the ceiling that you can’t change the sheets! While in college, Vicki only changed the sheets when we came to bring her home for holidays (she was at Brown, so not too far away). Whew, that must have been challenging for you. Clever that you sawed off the legs (perfectly) to turn the bed into guest quarters and now CAN change the sheets. Glad to hear that!

    • Suzy says:

      We probably could have done a whole prompt on IKEA if we hadn’t done this one first. Another thing about that store is that once you enter, it is almost impossible to leave without first walking past the merchandise in every single area of the store. Clever marketing!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    This story certainly triggered IKEA memories! And bunk beds. I had to laugh about the unanticipated nearness to the ceiling. Fortunately kids are adaptable. I have a friend who bought a bed with storage underneath and a supersized mattress who also ended up with a bed that needed stairs to get into it, in an attic room with a low roof.

    • Suzy says:

      IKEA memories, definitely a special category. And I like the phrase “unanticipated nearness to the ceiling.” It didn’t bother Ben, and presumbly your friend as well, but I couldn’t handle it.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    OMG, Suzy, my daughter has the same IKEA beds all over her house. When she remarried, there were 6 kids to house somewhere and it seemed like a practical solution. Except for the ceiling height thing. The kids don’t seem to mind it, but I can’t imagine how they deal with being so close to the ceiling.

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, with 6 kids you would need bunk beds, it’s just like the Brady Bunch. Still, the top bunk wouldn’t necessarily have to be as close to the ceiling as Ben’s bed was – he was making space for an almost-six-foot desk and hutch underneath.

  5. Such a funny story! Sounds like Ben couldn’t even turn over in bed! And of course changing the sheets would be impossible.

    I remember sending my son off to college with two sets of extra-long sheets as the school specified. I think four years later one set was still in the Macys bag.

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    My daughter bought a lofted bed from a departing student when she was a student at Denison University in central Ohio. It was a very substantial unit, built with 4×4 posts and 2×6 stringers, but it was held together with nails and flimsy screws. I took the bed home and over the summer re-built it, with heavy duty 3/8″ bolts and nuts, for easier assembly and disassembly in her dorm room.

    As an aside, at that time Denison had a number of coed dorms, but just one single sex women’s dorm – inappropriately named “Beaver Hall”. No kidding.

  7. Marian says:

    Oh, man, you went beyond the call of duty with that IKEA bed, Suzy. BTW, I know that Emeryville IKEA store well because it was one of the first in the Bay Area. I’m impressed that you managed to put the bed together in the first place and that you got the legs sawed so that it was stable. Brava!

    • Suzy says:

      I figured you would know that IKEA, Mare, being a Bay Area person. The drive down there from Sacramento just to buy a bed was brutal. Now there is a store in West Sacramento which is much more convenient.

      • Marian says:

        We drive by that West Sac IKEA often, Suzy, on the way to Auburn and/or Rocklin. Never been in it, though.

        • Suzy says:

          I’m pretty sure that every IKEA looks exactly the same on the inside, so that if you are familiar with one, you will feel comfortable in another one. And now I’m thinking about the Swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam in their restaurant. Yum!

  8. Whoa! I too didn’t know I had claustrophobia, but just reading about a ceiling that is one foot above the mattress leaves me terrified, and thinking about the ending to the original (French) version of the movie, “The Vanishing.”
    But anyway, well-done to your son and to your husband and to all the other men (and women) who make me feel truly incompetent in this arena. It is only words that I am sometimes able to construct.

  9. From a pink electric shaver to a sawed-off bed! Quite an odyssey! I can’t imagine sleeping that close to the ceiling. I would have become instantly claustrophobic! And what fine parents you were, to haul this longed-for contraption from Emeryville.

    A familiar story, the directionless male assembler. It seems that men don’t like to read directions any more than they like to ask directions.

  10. Dave Ventre says:

    Working as, among other things, the facilities manager for an often short-on-cash academic department, I have screwed and glued together DOZENS – quite a few dozens, in fact – of ready-to-assemble furniture units. I can thus testify that IKEA stuff is the absolute top of the line when it comes to particle-board furniture. Some of the Brand-X things I’ve assembled were so bad, I took to reinforcing them as I built them so that they would not fall apart in a year or two; students can be rough on equipment!

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