Ikea, which is Swedish for "three screws left over," has announced that it no longer will put out a catalog. What's the point of felling trees, printing something and shipping it to people's homes? Everything's online.

You're drumming your fingers, impatiently: "Go on, get it over with."

What? I don't know you're talking about.

"The names. You're going to make fun of the Ikea product names. As if double vowels and umlauts are just comedy gold of the freshest kind."

You mean like the Skoog shelving units or the Drönjöns wastebasket?

"Yes, like that. Get it over with."

I just did. I don't think it's comedy gold, and I don't think gold can be fresh. Are we good? OK. The three-screws line, though, that's funny! Right? Oh, never mind.

I will not miss the catalog, but I do miss catalogs in some abstract sense that goes back to childhood Christmases, probably. Those impossibly thick Sears books with impossibly thin pages. But those days are past, and it's a pity. No one will find a thumb drive in an antique store in 2043 that has PDFs of all the Ikea product offerings for 2021. The cloud, as we call the great incorporeal mass of data, will dissipate with time, and none shall snicker at the sight of a chair called Poäng.

(Which isn't funny.)

What will remain, though, are the trials of putting this stuff together.

I was putting together a chair for my wife's home office. The instructions gave the number for the help line, and you feel pity for the people who staff it. Unless the chair is missing some crucial part, there's little they can do.

You wonder how many times they have to deal with someone who's utterly unsuited for these things.

"OK, I can try to help. Do you know how a screw works?"

"No, I'm new at this."

"I'll walk you through it."

"I'm on crutches, so maybe you could go slow?"

"That's not what I ... OK, fine. First, pick up the screw, that's the black round thing with a top like a mushroom. It's threaded. Place it over the hole."

"I don't see any threads."

"Then it's not a screw. It must be a pin."

"It's not sharp."

"Not that kind of pin. Anyway, are you sure it's not threaded?"

"Like strings you use to sew things?"

"Not that kind of threads. But, OK, fine, that's the screw. The threads are the little grooves on the side. Place the screw over the hole, like it says in the directions. Use the screw marked 'A' on the hole marked 'A.' Does that make sense?"

"I think so! 'A' to 'A,' right?"

The help-desk person is scrolling ahead on the directions, and notes that the assembly has 16 different screws with 48 holes. It would be easier to send the customer a crate of those monkeys who write all of Shakespeare if they type long enough.

Lucky for me, I'm an old hand at assembling. And by "old hand," I mean "it hurts to grasp a screwdriver because of carpal tunnel." I've put together desks, bookcases and chairs, dealt with every bizarre Euro-fastener idea they can throw at me. About halfway into the assembly of the wife's chair, though, I was frustrated. I wanted to call the line. I wanted to have the following conversation.

"Hello, Sitz-Rite furniture help line, how may I be of assistance?"

"Yes, I'm putting together your XB3925-1 ErgoComfort PostureAide, and I have a problem. The screws are clearly labeled with easy-to-understand names. The instructions are concise, and do not look like something that got M.C. Escher fired from Ikea. The screw holes have been drilled precisely, and there seems to be no likelihood I'll strip the threads or the screwhead by forcing the parts to mate."

"I'm not sure what the problem is, sir."

"No, you wouldn't. I have to write a column tonight, and the 'predictable curmudgeonly rant about those danged complicated instructions' is the bread and butter of the hack writer. These instructions are concise and helpful. There's no material here whatsoever."

"I see. Well, you could fabricate a conversation with someone who's not good at this."

"I already did that."

"You could make up this conversation."

"I'm not sure that's ethical."

"I'm sorry, sir. Is there another item you have to put together? Might it help you pad out the column to a minimum acceptable length?"

"Now that I think of it, there's a desk, too. Thanks. You've been a great help."

The desk was even easier. I looked at the completed set, chagrined, knowing that even the obvious COVID angle — we're working from home, and that means we're assembling our own furniture! — would be predictable and insulting to all the people who cannot work from home.

So there you have it. I've been completely abandoned by the one industry we can count on to make our lives a little bit annoying. I wish I could've gotten a column out of it, but dang: Some days the world does not play along.

james.lileks@startribune.com •