How I Made Peace With the Hardware Store
Marcy Goldman ©
Like most people, I have few dislikes and few phobias. The latter include: snakes, planes, childbirth (which is a fading phobia these days), any and all personnel of the post office, the licence bureau, the medical lab, notes-brought-home-from-school, and the return counter clerk at Sears. When it comes to dislikes, again, the list is pretty modest: people who add stuff to my coffee especially skim milk and calorie free sweetener, ice milk and frozen yogurt (versus ice cream), margarine, judgemental people, and TV shows on fishing, curling, and bridge. But I do have a real problem - not a phobia, not a dislike - but a problem, a battle as it were, with the hardware store. Not great hardware stores that have cast iron pans for sale, old fashioned hard candy and popcorn, and a soda fountain. Not hardware stores in Vermont or Montana that have calico dresses and local preserves and fudge for sale. Not those hardware stores or the quaint ones you can still find in quaint parts of the city but the mega hardware stores. Big, warehouse places with aisles the size of boulevards, each named for plumbing parts, paint, and light bulbs. Mammoth-sized, acres-big hardware stores with parking lots made for fiends that drive too fast and with bouncing, open trunks, containing weekend warrior materials. Those hardware stores. Home depot, home experts, Renovations-Are-Us-Not-You sort of places. In short, hardware stores that give hardware stores a bad name.
Well, in a very unapologetic sexist way let me say that these stores are designed for guys. Testosterone-to-loan-viagara-ad guys who see these hardware meccas the way I see a bakery full of flour: nirvana, as conceptualized by Black and Decker, Makita, and Bosch.
I walk into my local Big Hardware store and it is tool belts, tee shirts, sweat, and plaid. Real men, excuse me, do not eat (nor bake) quiche: they repair or renovate. And whereas these same guys are courtin' and sweet if you are dating them, in the hardware store, appearing as I am as an Unknown Woman looking for Something Mechanical, they do not see me. Ditto for the sale clerks. They do not even need to glance at me to see that I am not worth their time. It is unlikely I am there to stock up on supplies for A Big Project and they know it. They also know I will have one little question for which there will be no definite answer. They know whatever they answer will doubtless lead to more questions, all and each, totally obscure. In short, they know trouble when they see it. Thus, they invariably walk right over me to deal with the contractors, painters, tile layers, plumbers and electricians and guy-with-two-weeks-off-finally-finishing-his-basement-or-installing-a-dryer- vent. So, that is the first reason I dislike the Big Hardware stores. Second, I do not want to be there and I have to be there. And it is no fun. I could be at the gym, an open-air market, antiquing, or the bookstore but I am doing one of life 'have-to's' and a have-to that I do not excell at. Furthermore, it is going to cost me money to buy stuff that confounds me and has no appeal whatsoever; money that could be better spent on a new perfume or a lip gloss from Mac or an Oprah magazine, or a nice, neat, half pint of dulce de leche ice cream but instead, will be allocated to something utilitarian. Sigh.
Have I mentioned that I know nothing about: metal stuff, electrical stuff, duck tape, cheesecloth, varnish, screws, nails, cocking guns, wood glue, alan keys, cordless chucks, wireless doorbells, and 'parts'. 'Parts' are my nemesis. They haunt me. I would sooner launch a new life than find the right part for something. What parts? Parts as in : parts for toilet seats, doors, hinges, mailboxes, windows, locks, garden hoses, lawnmower thingies, vacuum cleaners and anything else you can think of. This being the case, and life being the whimsical script it is, whenever I need something in the ways of ah, 'parts', I, no pun intended, screw up. I just never get it right. Of course I make a list! I am not a total lost cause. I write it all down and I venture out. I even bring the broken evidence of whatever it is that needs repairing - little ziplock bags with mongrel, broken parts, findings, switches, plugs, wires - sundry stuff - the remnants of something that once worked and a role in my home. Stuff that once it is unplugged, unassembled, dismantled and otherwise disconnected will never come together again because I am clueless. Actually, for a short time, I used online dating as a research source. I would do the dating email thing, cordially asking each suitor about which movies they liked and which books they read etc and sneak in a question about repairs. It was like, 'So, what did you think of The Matrix...and by the way, if you had to buy a new drill, is the basic model enough?" Over time, I began to see I really was interested in most candidates romantically but was using them for their mechanical savvy. The ruse was up when one fellow, trying to flirt, noticed I always brought the topic back to tools and gadgets, sneaking in a dry wall question once or twice, and dodging his more pointed (and appropriate) questions. "Are you going to tell me your horoscope sign or are we going to talk about latex paint versus oil-based for 4 more emails?" Guilty.
Back to the crime scene and parts. Then, the Big Hardware store has the last laugh for nothing evenly vaguely looks like what I need. Similar, close, but not what I need exactly which is whatever that thing is that I lost, my boys broke, or something that finally just wore out. Inevitably the hardware fellow will scratch his head (kiss of death, that gesture) and say that a) he has never seen one like this before as if it fell down with a meteorite shower or b) they do not make those anymore ...the one factory that used to make them exploded four years ago or went out of business or c) this is not my department. Let's call..
Then (oh horrors), then they send me on a endless mission to find the oldest employee on the planet still working who might be in Guinness records and who should be retired but just loves people and no one can bear to tell him to just go home already. Agreed, he probably knows more about hardware and parts than anyone should know and still be considered sane but he also can't remember much of it - at least when I need to know it. Worse, he will know and he will remember and seize the opportunity to teach me more than I want to know about something I am already allergic to.
Do things retrofit? Dunno. Is this the new model or do I need a whole new casing/unit/module/holder/insert or simply an entire room? Maybe I need to replace my whole house. Right. Maybe, it will turn out, the particular drill bit I need is discontinued and I will have to sell my home and buy a totally new one, built around that new model nut and bolt and obscure drill bit. Here. Take my Visa card. Do your worst.
So, I do one of two things: I either buy everything that could potentially be the right part, as well as everything related to the repair figuring I will return what is not the right part or an unrequired tool. I mean, it is sheer a numbers game at that point.
I know I am fated to return. Odds are, SOMETHING in the bags of parts I bring home is bound to fit and if I buy the wrong stuff or not the right amount of whatever it is I need, it is inevitable I will have to return anyway. So, I buy a lot of stuff. Just in case. Or, conversely, I buy nothing. I get overwhelmed, seize up in the tool cage (why do they lock that area?), buy a coffee instead, wander through the plant section where it feels like normal, and then just go home. Takes me hours to recover.
Frankly, anytime I return home from the hardware store I need to play my Celtic Moods cd and have a gallon of chamomile tea.
So, why not ask someone for help? See above. Hardware store guys know never to take you seriously unless it is a) Single Women Learn How to Change a Gasket or Furnace Filter Day OR b) you are with an impatient, irritated man that looks as though he might call a store manager or c) you are naked.
The last time I went to the hardware store I spent 47 minutes in Plumbing before anyone realized I was not part of a shower panel stall. I was conscientiously ignored for almost an hour. Finally, I placed my coat on the ground. Plunked myself down and staged a minor sit-in. I camped for a full 15 minutes before I was noticed. Well, first I was tripped on and then I was noticed and finally I got some help. Only later did it turn out that the clerk thought I was with accompanied (Scenario b) by an irritated man or (variation on Scenario c) thought I might be naked under my clothes.
So, you see, for me the Big Hardware store is an exercise in wasted time, wasted money, showcasing the plethora of what I don't know in life (which is a lot), feeling unattractive, and the rigours of returning items that didn't fit, or broke, and for which I invariably lose the packaging, the bill, or the contents.
Ah, but one day.one day, something happened. I made peace with the hardware store. I got lost. I was sent to look for a piece of aluminium in an aisle far, far, away. Somewhere between small nails and tools (the metal gizmo aisle) and garden tool parts, I got really lost. I was sent from row to row to aisle to model kitchen to home improvement and energy saving insulation to .. aisle 9, Wood. I had never been to the Wood aisle before. Like floor 13 in a high rise building, I must have missed it entirely. Suddenly I was wondering through balsam and pine, inhaling maple, and cedar sheeting. The scent was like the forest. It was breezy - saws create a gentle wind and the resulting, fine wood dust, with their perfumed aroma, blew around me. How, I loved the smell! It was like the country. I felt like a kid again, in the middle of summer time. My word, I found a veritable little oasis in the Big Hardware store. How is it no one told me about the marvellous wood section, how could I have missed this secret, treasured, place? And you know what else, despite the buzz saws, Wood was a relatively quiet aisle. Blissful. I stayed for a good half hour, touching paneling and inhaling the scents. That would have been enough but then I stumbled upon the model gazebo with its bricbrac siding and hexagon bench seating. I imagined I was a cast member from The Sound of Music and fell totally in love. On the muzak system I heard an old Stephen Bishop song. In that moment, I gave the hardware store amnesty.
Anyway, since then, I manage. I no longer stage sit-ins in the plumbing aisle but I do buy quadruple the stuff I need. Just in case. (and I also hold on to my receipts and packaging.) I laid off online dating for hardware and repair research and found some platonic friends and my son's baseball coach instead, to ask things. I still can't find the right parts but I might have found peace at Big Hardware store. Not a bad deal. Besides, having things work all the time is so overrated. I mean, who needs a flushing toilet, functional doorbell, or front door lock anyway? If it bugs you, take a vacation in the country. How's about, I meet you in ..Wood, Aisle 9? Bring a thermos of coffee. I'll bring a picnic basket. We can do lunch in the gazebo.
Marcy Goldman for BetterBaking.Com Lifestyle Features
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