As my vision has deteriorated, I’ve entrusted household tasks to those with a sharper eye. I handed the lawn mower to a landscaper who doesn’t impale the blade on tree roots. I passed my saw to a handywoman who doesn’t cut boards a quarter inch short. I’ve outgrown the need to supervise my hired hands, choosing to provide moral support and stay out of their way. I’ve come to believe that somebody with decent eyesight and a screwdriver can finish my old jobs in half the time, without profanity or bloodshed.
Recently, I was struck with a vision of a Felix the Cat wall clock gracing our kitchen, above the little window with the checkerboard valence. You remember Felix the Cat—a two-tone cat with a clock in its tummy, with eyes and a tail that moved back and forth to mark time. The Amazon ad said that every six seconds someone bought a Felix the Cat wall clock. I counted to six and ordered mine.
Felix the Cat arrived in a box the size of a mouse trap. “Felix the Kitten,” I muttered, placing four plastic body parts on my desk and the print instructions under the OCR. I could kind of noodle out what to do except for how to “snap the plastic bracket so that one end attaches to the tail lever and the other end attaches to the eye mechanism.”
“Honey,” I said, presenting the dismembered cat to my wife, “Will you please help me put this damn thing together?”
She scanned the instructions and ordered me to retrieve a small slotted screwdriver and one AA battery. I did as I was told.
“’Loosen the screw and remove the back cover, exposing the battery compartment’” she read from the directions.
“Got it,” I said. “Where’s the screw?”
She guided my finger to the screw.
“The screwdriver’s too big,” I said. “And we don’t have a smaller one. But not to worry, I’ll use my thumbnail.”
“’Failure to secure the bracket will result in…’” my wife read.
“Ouch!” I cried. “That screw ripped my thumbnail.”
“And I can’t get this bracket to snap into the tail and eye slots,” said my wife.
While I searched for a nail file to unscrew the screw, I thought, “She ought to be able to figure this thing out. She can see the instructions. She can see the parts. What’s the problem?”
The nail file loosened the screw and I handed Felix to my wife to remove the back and insert the battery. I tightened the screw and my wife snapped the bracket into the tail and eye slots and then held up the clock against the kitchen wall. “Tick, tock,” she said.
I thought, “See? My theory is proven. All it takes is good eyesight.”
Then, Felix’s tail fell from his body, bounced off the countertop and hit the floor. “I give up,” said my wife. ”Sorry, Honey, but I don’t know how this thing works. I’m out of ideas.”
While I thought about how I used to be able to put things together, how now I felt so stupid and powerless and frustrated and how I blamed my wife for not being able to do everything that I can’t do anymore, I said, “That’s OK, Honey. Thanks for trying. You did your best.” After I repacked Felix for his return trip to Amazon, I trimmed my damaged thumbnail and smoothed the edges with the same nail file I’d used on the screw.
I don’t have a Felix the Cat wall clock hanging above the little kitchen window with the checkerboard valence. But some assembly required taught me a few things. One—my wife does her best and knows when to quit. Two—I must not displace onto her the impatience and frustration I feel at my own limitations. Three—having eyesight doesn’t necessarily solve all problems. And four, this message for Amazon—if every six seconds, someone buys a Felix the Cat wall clock, then every twelve seconds, does someone return one?