Ronald Reagan may have been right that the scariest nine words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

But when it comes to the three scariest words it’s definitely “some assembly required.”

I realized that after I made the mistake last week of ordering two patio chairs on line.

I know. No one buys patio chairs when home improvement stores are skipping Halloween and bypassing Thanksgiving to go directly to artificial trees and yard decorations for Christmas.

I never do things the easy way and start projects that are in sync with the season. I decided I wanted patio chairs and I didn’t care if half of the retailers in the United States are in the Christmas mood.

I happened to find three versions of patio chairs that were still managing to hold onto a small piece of real estate the first weekend in October at the Lowe’s store in Modesto.

I was just looking but when I saw the one set of just two chairs I knew they were exactly what I wanted. That also happened to be the exact number I wanted — two chairs. I did not want four or six chairs. I did not want a patio table. I just wanted two chairs.

They also happened to be fully assembled.

After some help from an associate — remember when they were simply store clerks —I found out the pair was discounted to $170 as Lowe’s was eager to make way for super-sized Rudolph the Reindeer inflatables. 

Knowing how much I love assembling items — my favorite being a stylish bistro-style kitchen table I still have nightmares over 28 years later — I went ahead and asked if they had any I could order online.

They ended up being $210 for the set. As cheap as I can be given $40 is $40, the problem was simple. I no longer drive a Ford Escape. I haven’t for years. And while I can still get some rather good-sized items in my Ford Focus hatchback with the rear seat down, two “boxy” fully assembled patio chairs aren’t among them.

Imposing on someone with a pickup would have cost at least $20 in gas for the round trip plus their time. So against my better judgment I ordered them online.

In case you are wondering, the Lowe’s distribution center Penske Logistics operates on Airport Way in Manteca is not where they stash patio furniture. It’s in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

Regardless, they said it would take seven days to arrive and it took seven days to do so. Apparently the pandemic hasn’t caused any serious problems in the patio furniture supply chain. And they are definitely not short warehouse workers in North Wilkesboro, a North Carolina town of 4,382 whose claim to fame is being the birthplace and original store for Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Given this is 2021 I knew when FedEx delivered the box not by the door bell ringing but because of the dogs barking and what sounded like someone dropping a pallet of bricks in the driveway next to my kitchen door. By the time I got to the door the FedEx delivery vehicle was driving out of sight.

In all fairness to FedEx, if a porch pirate tried to retrieve the package they would have gotten a double hernia. Besides I don’t think unassembled patio furniture is a hot black market item when leaves are starting to check out.

On Sunday evening, I finally got around to open the box to assemble the chairs.

Imagine my surprise after opening the box realizing I would be adding what has to be the 30th Allen Wrench to my collection.

If you had told the crafters of fine furniture a century ago that their predecessors one day would sell chairs, tables, dressers, and such by boxing the pieces together, tossing in an Allen wrench with complementing screws, and providing confusing yet short instructions on how to assemble them in fine print in 72 different languages on a small piece of paper they would likely think you were delusional.

I figured with eight pieces excluding the cushions, the Allen wrench and 24 screws it would take me an hour at most to assemble the two chairs. After it took me 20 minutes to put together the first chair, I figured I’d easily meet my goal. Forty-five minutes into the second chair I was experiencing the modern joy of buying furniture in the box.

Apparently not all machined assembly line pieces of metal that comprise patio chairs are perfectly aligned.

An hour after I finished the first chair, the second was done but not before giving my hands and fingers a workout that would have Arnold Schwarzenegger crying uncle.

I realize the metal parts were likely manufactured and drilled by a machine partially if it completely controlled by a computer.

And I realize that you obviously want a snug fit for a piece of furniture people are going to be sitting on.

But if for some reason said pieces of metal and drilled holes are ever so off even just a smidgen of a smidgen that putting together such furniture as a solo act using just an Allen wrench and your hands can become an adventure.

For the record, the instructions estimated it should take 30 minutes to assemble both chairs. But then again the instructions said assembling them required no tools. The last time I checked Allen wrenches were considered tools.

It wasn’t my first rodeo by far with “some assemble required” items. But it was the worst in terms of making me feel like a 90-pound weakling.

Even so it wasn’t as maddening as the bistro table back in 1993. All it required was attaching four legs to the table and putting together two chairs that had 11 pieces each.

The instructions were totally useless. Not only were half the drawings reversed or incomplete but the instructions were in pidgin English that left off several steps. That said the English was perfect on the part that read “Instructions printed in Vietnam.”

Finally after not being able to get the chairs together I checked for the customer help line. It was a number accessible between 1 and 5 p.m., East Coast time Monday through Friday. Of course it was the weekend.

When I finally got through on Monday I got the good news. The lot number I had purchased from were shipped to stores with the wrong sized rear spindle or the “cross brace” between the two legs.

Say what you want about buying furniture — even for the patio — from a store that sells items fully assembled and not discontinued floor models but there’s something to be said about purchasing a chair that doesn’t come in a box stamped “some assembly required”.