If at First Your Don’t Succeed…

Johnny-on-the-Spot … by John Foster …

My son-in-law and I got entangled in a storage barn “character-building” exercise recently and the challenge was trying to follow the instructions that came with the roughly 8’x8′ structure.

More on that in a minute.

In the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I recalled a version of that old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

Most say that originated with Edward Hickson’s Moral song from 1857 but the phrase was quoted as far back as 1848.”

The version I had in mind was, “If at first you don’t succeed…read the instructions.”

It sounded like something my Dad would have said.

See, this is a guy who painted an old-fashioned washboard gold and printed, “If an first you don’t succeed…” and it hung above our old wringer-washer in the basement of the house I grew up in.

The old Kenmore would break down frequently so his sign reminded us of the potential optionsw before the next breakdown.

I also thought I might have seen that version of the phrase in the old “Wacky Plak” cards from the late 50’s and 60’s.

Rememder those?

They were distributed by the Topps people, the same as the old baseball cards and each pack held several of these doctored quotes, much in the spirit of Mad magazine.

Packaged with that stiff, sugar-dusted piece of pink bubblegum in the back, just like baseball cards.

The closest version I could find in the “Wacky Plaks” I searched was, “If at first you don’t succeed…to heck with it.”

Now, I also found other versions of the phrase with one of the best attributed to W.C. Fields, who declared, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it!”

I also uncovered, “If at first you don’t succeed…”

“Try a bottle opener. It probably isn’t a twist-top.”

“Order some pizza”.

“You’ll get a lot of free advice from other folks who didn’t succeed either.”

“Hide all the evidence you tried.”

“Perhaps skydiving isn’t for you.”

“Try two more times so that your failure is statistically significant.”

“Find out if the loser gets anything.”

“Keep flushing.”

“Try drinking a beer while you do it. You’ll be amazed how much less you care.”

So, back to my original thoughts regarding the storage barn.

I am convinced there’s a lot of money to be made by actual people who have done a project being the ones to write the assembly instructions.

This barn would still be a pile of unattached parts and bags of pieces and screws if we finally didn’t scrap the instructions and resort to common sense and previous experience.

The barn is standing and erect but there was a time that I wondered if we’d ever finish the project.

We started in the early afternoon and by the time we finished, darkness was closing in and we had no lighting.

We were also fighting wind gusts to 40 miles per hour which made securing the various side panels an adventure at best.

Throw in malnutrition and dehydration with instructions that had very little rhyme or reason and you can see the challenge.

There was a point in time where I made up my mind that we were going to finish that barn that day, with or without the instructions, come Hell or high water.

This was after getting conked on the head by one of the metal trusses while having leg and hand cramps attempting to hold side panels in place in the swirling gale.

Did I say tools were tossed on occasion and words were uttered that might make sailors on shore leave blush?

At one point, I suggested separate from the instructions that we might screw some of the side panels to the wooden deck that we had built earlier in the day.

Suddenly, the wind became less of a factor.

Then, after several attempts at attaching roof panels following the printed guidelines, I suggested attaching one of the roof panels to the truss while it was on the ground.


Instant stability!

We had the roof and doors on in minutes.

The project was complete.

It was finally time for a cold beer.

Brings up an observation I have regarding pre-packaged kits like this.

Folks at the factory seem to enjoy putting extra hardware in thoes nicely-lettered plastic bags.

We had small, metal washers that seemed to reproduce once exposed to the air.

I always suspect there’s a tiny camera somewhere in the kit so those factory workers can watch us try to build this thing, using their step-by-step guidelines as they laugh deliriously.

Well, factory workers, we won.

Instruction writers?

We overcame…by ignoring you.

So, if at first you don’t succeed, follow the instructions on where to send complaints and figure it out!

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