Fix a treadmill, strengthen a union

This column originally ran on Aug. 12, 2016.


My husband, Mark, and I recently replaced the stretched-out running belt on our old treadmill.

Good news: Our marriage survived.

We get along, just not when it comes to putting things together. We’ve had so many assembly-related conflicts over the years that the mere sight of a parts list makes my jaw clench.

In the summer of ’94, we set up a new tent at an upstate New York campground on a sunny, 95-degree summer day. It was our first attempt at collaborating on a task — and almost our last. Despite handy color-coded tent clips, we turned a 10-minute process into a two-hour, sweat-soaked disagreement, complete with comments about each other’s lack of spatial intelligence and snarky retorts about where to put the tent poles.

The s’mores tasted mighty bitter that night.

A decade later, we put together a now-discontinued model of Weber gas grill known as the Divorce Maker 2000. Having matured since the tent incident, our emotional battle wounds hurt less and healed faster. Though not on speaking terms, we at least slept in the same bed that night.

Apprehensive but hopeful that the treadmill project reflect continued growth in our marriage, we agreed that I would read the instructions, and Mark would follow them.

There were 30 steps to replacing the running belt. They involved essentially dismantling every piece of the treadmill (“Step 1: Using a butter knife, carefully pry the decorative logo from the front housing”) and then reassembling it by completing the same steps in reverse order.

The instructions were clear but glib. In “Remove bolts A and B from side deck rails G and H,” for example, the word “remove” implied a process less strenuous than Mark having to contort himself into an inverted bound yoga pose to reach under the treadmill while I strained to hold one end off the floor and not drop it on his face.

In general, however, things proceeded smoothly. Yes, I fumbled a vital screw that rolled under the machine to the one spot neither of us could reach, but hey, the inconvenient trajectory of all dropped hardware is governed by immutable laws of physics. And at one point I misplaced the screwdriver; somehow it ended up in the kitchen after I had wandered off for a moment (it’s hard for me to stay focused when there is ice cream in the house).

Still, we remained guardedly civil during the whole process, and within about an hour and a half the machine had been put back together, right down to the decorative logo.

Mark turned the treadmill on and we heard it fire up just like old times. Success.

Except the newly replaced running belt didn’t move.

Mark looked at the display. He bent his ear to the humming motor. He tapped the decorative logo. I could see him mentally checking off each step we had just gone through.

Then he turned to me and said, “At some point, shouldn’t the instructions have said to reconnect the drive belt between the motor and the front treadmill roller?”

I flipped through the directions and there it was, step 18.


After a muttered apology from me and a string of four-letter words from Mark (none of them “love”), we undid steps 30 through 19 in sequence — giving Mark another chance to work on his advanced yoga poses — until the drive belt could be slipped back around the front roller. Forty minutes later we reached step 30 again, and the treadmill was fixed.

Sure, my little oversight had caused a bit of tension. But no one had cried, no one had thrown a packet of 1-3/4-inch pan-head screws (10) or 1-7/8-inch countersunk screws (8) across the room, and no one had suggested that anyone walk home from an upstate New York campground on a 95-degree day.

Some might call that progress. After 23 years, we’re calling it marital bliss.