Monday, February 20, 2012

Big Box Wonderland

An alternate universe in a Big Box
“I think we need a new faucet,” my husband sighs, looking at an unidentifiable, supposedly faucet part.  “I can’t go to - - “

“I’ll go,” I volunteer, visions of faucets and nuts and bolts and piping running through my head.

“But I can go if you - -“

“Nope,” I say quickly.  “I’ll do it.”

At first my husband seems a little perturbed but I’m grinning, not rolling my eyes. 

“Ah,” he says.  “You’re going to look for sheep things.”

I have an on-going desire to make lawn sheep.

“No, I just like to look,” I say.

“For what?” he asks, but he knows.

I just like to look.  Well, and maybe fantasize a little.

I’m not a handywoman, per se, although I do have my own tool chest and I did just take apart the stopper in my sink so I could better clean out the drain.  Oh, and I built the shelves in my office.  But my fascination with hardware stores isn’t practical, it’s creative.

Growing up, there weren’t the big box hardware/supply stores.  There was the neighborhood hardware store, Rea’s, an odd mix of small appliances, giftware, and the little pieces that one forgets, loses, or breaks during home repair projects.  Most of the people who went to Rea’s, my father included, entered in a dark mood, stomping or impatiently striding, muttering a string a curse words as they sorted through bolts and washers in the palms of their work dirtied hands.  I didn’t go to Rea’s with my father.  Since it was in the closest shopping center, I would go with my mother to look at the collection of tiny ceramic animals.  I was particularly fascinated with the cocker spaniel series, but I’d also look at the horses (not as good as the Breyer series), the miniscule ceramic mice, and peruse the other creatures.  It was like a glossy, humane pet shop.

My real fascination with hardware/supply stores happened when I went with my friend and his dad to the lumber yard to get the supplies to build an aviary.  It was out of our isolated community, which made it an adventure in itself.  Then I entered the warehouse which smelled of sawdust and there were stacks of timber and plywood and particle board.  There was also cement board, drywall, and chicken wire.  These were the ingredients for an aviary, a tree house, a real house, a mansion. 

I was in awe.

This is where one acquired the materials to make Significant Things, Big Things, things that were more substantial than pottery or beaded jewelry.  I could walk into things built from these materials.  I could stand or ride or climb on things built from these materials. I could lose a finger building these things.

That was exciting.

When the big box hardware/supply stores finally arrived, it was an entirely new experience.  I ignored the cabinetry, carpet and bath sections.  I wandered up and down the aisles spellbound by shiny metals, interesting tubing, tubs of mysterious substances.  I intentionally ignored the pricing labels.  I didn’t want to know what these things were, their true purpose.  I just wanted to enjoy the shapes and textures, my mind arranging them into supernatural creatures or surreal structures. 

It changed a little when I became a homeowner.  Going to the big box stores was like going on a quest not for redecorating, but for repairing material.  I learned about joint compound, various caulks, and types of piping.  But, still I paused in front of interesting objects. 

Oooh!  Shiny Mylar arms and legs for robots, like something from the older Dr. Who shows.

Wire crowns? Dog bone sculpture?
“Why are you looking at air ducts?” my husband asked, having found me after I’d meandered off on my own.

We’ve purchased cabinets and sinks, flooring and gallons of paint, shelving and sprinkler parts along with all the implements that go with them.  On one hand, I gained knowledge of home maintenance.  On the other hand, the mystery faded.  It was like learning that a lover’s intriguing scar was caused by a trip on the sidewalk.

I started making trips to the hardware store on my own to preserve my innocence.  I’d get what we needed, then lose track of time as I wandered the warren of aisles, hurrying away when a sales assistant approached me. With their brightly colored aprons, they reminded me of the cards sent out by the Red Queen. 

Either through education or clearly marked boxes I can’t speculate any more.  I know about saw blades, the screens for florescent light boxes, and copper piping.  I stood in the faucet aisle staring at the dozens of different kitchen faucets, debating if brushed nickel was outdated or not.

What does it matter?  Get the best price for the most durable.

“Where. Are. We. Go. Ing,” a metallic voice beckoned from one of the aisles.

I glanced over and saw a young girl waving the corrugated tubing on her arms.  She lowered her arms and the tubes unfolded like a Mylar caterpillar.  She smiled up at her dad.

I grinned.  The magic returned.  How could I remain callous in Wonderland?

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