In the past fortnight, I’ve been to the local hardware store four times. As someone for whom such a trip is, at best, an annual excursion, this is quite the turn of events. But despite the vastly increased frequency of my visits, I remain none the wiser. The whole experience is as mystical and as unfathomably mysterious as ever. I appreciate that terms like ‘mystical’ and ‘mysterious’ are seldom used in reference to a store that sells lug-nuts but there is a simple reason for this: I am not a handy man.
By ‘handy man’, I don’t mean someone with a Mario-style tool belt who’s available to perform odd jobs around the house or, alternatively, leap over barrels maliciously hurled across a building site by a gigantic monkey. Not at all. Rather, I mean I missed out on whatever genetic makeup is necessary to be able to distinguish between a left-handed hammer and a right-handed hammer. If I’m being honest, they all look the same to me.
For me, going to a hardware store is like going to another country; one where everyone else speaks a language I don’t. I live in fear that, at any moment, someone will say something to me I won’t comprehend and I’ll be left to simply shrug my shoulders, grunt in reply and point. At best, I feel like an imposter even for being there, which is why I tried to dress the part for my first visit and purchased a checkered shirt, gumboots and chewing tobacco in the hope that I’d fit in seamlessly. I also bought a pair of denim overalls to add, so I hoped, to the overall effect. (Incidentally, I may well start a band called ‘The Overall Effect’ where all the members wear denim overalls. I might even write a song called ‘Overall’ to the tune of ‘Wonderwall’. I’ll keep you posted.)
Turns out, people who frequent hardware stores do not chew tobacco. Instead of making me fit in, it made me stick out like a sore thumb that, presumably, had found itself on the business end of a left-handed hammer. Spurting tobacco juice through the gaps in your front teeth like some kind of hillbilly whale is frowned upon if not outright prohibited by the proprietors. Indeed, it was after one such nicotine-laden liquid expulsion that I was encouraged to buy a mop.
Before making my second trip, I decided to do a little research. By looking at websites, I discovered that people who visit hardware stores are, without exception, delighted to be there, as nothing else could account for the wall-to-wall smiles on the faces of those present. Also, I learned that when members of the generally public interact with staff members, one of them is always holding something whilst the other is always pointing. But as I continued my research into the products themselves, I was left more confused than ever.
Even objects that I consider to be relatively basic come in a near-infinite number of varieties. Much as in nature, you can refer to a ‘bird’ or, if you prefer to be super-precise, a ‘Slender-billed Flufftail Gruiforme’, so it goes with almost everything at a hardware store. I’ve no idea what a ‘Fernuggin Nut’ is, much less the heightened circumstances that might necessitate it being pressed into service. How a ‘Shaka-shaka Wing Wang Doodle Cordless Drill Bit’ is used is, I feel, best left unanswered. The less said about the ‘Lolly Gobble Bliss Bomb Two-inch Adapter’, the better.
There were some objects I recognized, even though they appeared in a different context. I, for one, was unaware that a ‘Dutch-oven’ was something you could purchase for the very reasonable price of one hundred and seven dollars and fifty cents. Who’d have thought? I feel misled.
On my third trip, I took my brother. In the genetic lottery, my brother scooped the pool when it came to being handy. If you were to give me a set of instructions and ask me to construct an infant’s cradle, I’d fail on every level. There’d be nothing to show for my efforts other than a pile of splintered wood and smoldering wreckage. My brother, on the other hand, built his own crib as a newborn using a cordless power drill. He also added a small gazebo and a feature wall. Show off.
If hardware stores were a principality, my brother would be King. As it is, he walked into that place like he owned it and other patrons doffed their hats and referred to him as ‘your Majesty’. With confidence and great certainty, he navigated through the aisles like someone who knew exactly how and when to use a Fernuggin Nut. Within minutes, he had retrieved me from the small base camp I had established over near the outdoor furniture settings and we were on our way.
The fourth trip was showing off on my part. Having received a royal pardon from my brother, I returned to get a Shaka-shaka Wing Wang Doodle Cordless Drill Bit before surrendering my inhibitions completely and splurging on a Dutch Oven. As I write, I am surrounded by a sea of instructions and bits and pieces of everything and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I’ll never figure out how to put them all together, despite my left-handed hammer. After all, I am not a handy man.