Issue # 112 / 26 December 2008 // Page One
The Desk Project
With Just a Few Simple Tools and Nine Hours of Your Time, You Too
by Britt Leach
THE IDEA WAS to have a writing desk. I have a computer desk, but I also wanted a writing desk. I don’t think of my computer desk as a writing desk even though I’m writing at it now.
Is that clear? Some of it? Any of it?
So I went to Staple’s in Studio City, California and sought out a writing desk.
No, that’s not exactly true. What I sought was a computer desk with the idea of converting what is now my computer desk back into a writing desk because it was originally my writing desk. Before I had a computer.
So, now that I’m back on track, let’s review. My plan was to buy a computer desk at Staple’s and then take all the computer stuff off my original wooden writing desk—bought used, once a dining room table probably—and put all that stuff on my new computer desk, leaving a space on my now clear, original writing desk for my fountain pen collection, my notebooks, my journals (thirty years worth) and some reference books: Garner’s Modern American Usage, The Chicago Manual of Style, American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, and New Hart’s Rules. And a coffee cup full of sharpened pencils. And, oh, yes, a place to write with a fountain pen on a legal pad. I’m a vegetarian and would never use a quill, though I do like the idea of using a pen knife.
I’ll explain why that didn’t happen—getting my old desk back as a writing desk—but first I must tell you something of building the new desk, whatever it is.
And, sad to say—again off track—I’m confused about my new desk. Such clear thinking about everything else, but what about this business of buying a desk at Staple’s that’s made in China and putting it together myself? What I mean is, what about craftsmen and the U.S.A? What about wood? And mortise and tenon? A bit of residual sawdust in a finely crafted drawer?
Money, of course. Welcome, WalMart Shoppers, Staple’s Shoppers! Feelin’ good about saving money on the backs of U.S. workers and craftsmen? Payin’ $170.00 for a black composite-board thing made in China that still has the smell of the container ship about it?
Well I'm not..
As penance for my sin—and I’m not even Catholic—there’s the labor of putting it together. No small matter.
A nice fellow at Staple’s helped us put the two-hundred pound plus box of blood-on-our-hands, black composite-board unassembled desk in the back seat of our Prius. But to get the thing upstairs to our apartment from the garage, we had to unpack it and carry it up, piece by piece. Took about half an hour.
You’re weeping for me, I know. But think about this: I’m not handy. I had a miniature Phillips-head screwdriver when what I needed was a power drill with a Phillips-head bit. Why would I need such? Because of the composite board. Do you know about that stuff? It’s like steel. It might even be steel for what I know about matters industrial.
It took me nine hours to assemble the desk. The instruction manual has twenty-nine pages and there were twenty-four steps to the assembly. I had to go to Home Depot and buy a power screwdriver that required charging for twelve hours before I could use it effectively—as more than a manual screwdriver with a large handle.
I didn’t do a bad job even though part of my new desk was installed upside down. Because I put three panels with their finished sides up as the top of the desk was resting on the rug, where it had to be as I screwed on the legs. The naked composite is visible in a photo somewhere on this page. I might take a black Sharpie to it one of these days, but maybe I won’t, as a reminder of all the labor. Okay, penance.
And after all that I’m going to use it as my writing desk. In a photo somewhere on this page you can see my reference books and my files and my Hodge (Samuel Johnson’s cat) bookends. I’d still like to have my old writing desk back, but I’ve accumulated too much computer crap to allow its transfer to the smaller Staple’s desk: iMac, scanner, three hard drives and associated cables. I also have two music systems on my old writing desk and they certainly wouldn’t fit on my new black composite-board desk.
(Because I need two music systems, that’s why!)
None of this really matters. Computer desk, writing desk. Pens, pencils, legal pad, iMac, quill. Nothing helps when it’s time to write. Except vodka, and I don't have the skills for it. V