My first impulse when I need something from the hardware store is to think I need something from Home Depot, so congratulations to their PR firm. I'm trying to work my way out of that, though, so when Sven (Anne's Volvo, remember) needed new nuts, I went to the Gulfport Hardware Store. The man didn't have an exact match in terms of style, but he gave me self-locking nuts, which is a phrase I never thought I'd use. Ever. I don't even like saying they're "nuts." It just doesn't make sense to me, but "washers" doesn't make sense, either. Is it possible that a self-locking nut doesn't need a washer? If so, washers should be called lockers.
Well, yesterday -- Thanksgiving Eve Day -- I faced a car-painting crisis which involved taking off about a third of the paint that was already on Sven. That called for mineral spirits, in addition to burning a Jesus candle from the Hispanic section of Sweetbay and burying a Hot Wheels car upside down in my backyard. I ran off to the Gulfport Hardware Store, wearing my painting clothes because that's okay when you're staying local.
My painting clothes consist of bike pants for their non-restrictive qualities, and an over-sized tee shirt (which is my size), usually from my days of major blood-donation. They're all covered with paint, but I keep washing them and using them. Lately I've been turning them around and cutting a slit in the collar for a more fashionable v-neck style.
Note that my painting clothes don't include a bra. In my earlier years (if not yours), that might have been something to wiggle your eyebrows about. In these years, let's all just turn our heads aside and think of something pleasant.
Well, dang. I got there at two:forty-five and they had closed at two:thirty. I cursed my luck. Now I'd have to go back home and change my clothes in order to go to Home Depot. That's not local, you see. What ho! There's some sort of hardware store on Ninth Avenue, in that odd little jog between 58th and Tyrone. Aker's True Value, maybe. Something like that. I'll go there!
I went. The place looked closed -- it always does -- but it was open. Mineral spirits were the first thing I saw. The shelves were more than half-empty -- and I don't mean half-full. I don't remember if the floors were uneven boards, but it's the kind of place that should be floored that way, with squeaks.
The old man behind the counter made me and the customer behind me wait while he brought a handful of bills and checks to the back room. I entertained myself by reading a notice and wondering what it meant. "A donation of 50 cents is appreciated, to keep this service available. Progress Energy." Hmm. Progress Energy is the old Florida Progress which is the old Florida Power which is the old ... well, it probably goes on for another half dozen names. At least -- so far -- it still employs actual words, unlike, say, Wachovia, and it isn't a torment like Fifth Third Bank. Wait a minute. Maybe only banks have nonsense names. Hmm ...
Anyway, when the man returned, I asked about the notice. He may as well have told me it was a fifth third from Wachovia, but I think the notice meant if you pay your electric bill at this hardware store, please consider adding a fifty-cent tip.
That four-dollar can of solvent cost twice what it should have because I had to stop down the block and get a jug of Farm Store eggnog.
Well, I got back home and could not open that can. I was almost weeping with frustration when I decided I'd simply have to go back to Aker's and have them open the damned can. But then -- because my mother lives on? -- I knew I'd have to change clothes including, this time, underwear appropriate to a middle-aged woman. The old man was outside smoking. He tried but couldn't get it open. He told me to get pljdih, which I thought might be the other clerk's name. He was talking around the cigarette, using both hands to give himself a hernia over that cap.
I went inside and waited while the other clerk chatted up the customer, who did not want to buy a ten-dollar flashlight. "Batteries are included!" the clerk said. He asked if the man had a knife. He did not, but I did, so he was able to open the flashlight package. In the meantime, I found the smallest toy solider I've ever seen. It might have been half an inch tall. He was next to a penny. I put the soldier on top of the cash register and said, "This is a stick-up," but no one paid attention to me.
Finally it was my turn. The fortysomething clerk patiently explained to me that you've got to push down while you turn. Oh, gosh. What an idiot I am. It's probably from having worn a bra too long. I kept my mouth shut, though, because I knew the guy wouldn't be able to open that can. I was right. He got a pair of pliers and that did the trick.
I own a pair of pliers, by the way, but it's not natural for me to think about tools. If I can't do it with my own hands, I bring it to someone with bigger hands. It simply doesn't occur to me that the right tool might make my hands stronger. I can think of a hammer, but that's it. Well, perhaps my tool-consciousness has been raised.
I love marching into the ever-masculine Home Depot, going directly to the aisle with the mailboxes or the blue painters' tape. I love acting like I belong there amongst all the bearded, ball-capped men with their trolleys of 2x4s and heavy buckets of ... of ... of whatever comes in those huge tubs. But I really do prefer the intimacy of the little hardware stores. I wonder, though, what I'd be thinking if Aker's had also closed early because of the holiday.