The capacity of the human heart for self-delusion is nearly limitless. Case in point: the Home Depot cashier had just finished ringing up my cart-load of purchases. When she told me the total, all I heard was “seventy four.” For a fleeting moment, I allowed myself to believe that that was all she’d said – that I might have just spent the better part of an hour filling my shopping cart, in Home Depot of all places, assembling the needed supplies for about a half dozen small home projects – but that the total might really have come to only seventy-four dollars.
I asked her to repeat the amount. Needless to say, I’d missed the initial digit. And it wasn’t “one.”
Part of the reason it had taken me the better part of an hour to fill my cart is the fact that Home Depot is not exactly an easy place to find things in. Sure, if you want a paint scraper, you know it’ll be in the paint section, but that only narrows it down to four or five aisles. And would a “box of rags” be in the paint section? Or are they integral to some other type of project and kept with its components instead? (Paint section, as it turns out.) And heaven help you if you are looking for something that’s in no clear category, like fire extinguishers. I asked three employees and got three different answers, two of them sending me to opposite corners of the store, so the walking alone took five minutes, and then, in each case, I had another four or so aisles to look through before I could be reasonably certain I was in the wrong spot. The second employee told me they’d be in the electrical section, where I noticed smoke detectors were on display. This made it seem especially reasonable that fire extinguishers might be there, too, so I spent an extra few minutes carefully combing the shelves, because I didn’t want to be led back to this same spot by the next employee I asked. I told the third employee my tale of woe and she not only turned out to know where the things were really kept but put her money where her mouth was by actually escorting me there. Turned out they were near the locks and safes, in a sort of “protect your home” classification. Next I wanted what turns out to be called a “splash block,” the thing that sits under your downspout to carry the water a little further away from your house. I thought these were always made out of concrete or some kind of faux stone, plus you use them in the garden, so – of course – they’d be in the garden section, right? No, the gutters section, on the far side of the store from the garden section. (And they aren’t stone, either, or at least Home Depot doesn’t carry that kind; the ones I bought were molded plastic and weigh about five ounces, and I expect them to remain on my property exactly as long as it takes someone to notice them and scoop them up.)
And another reason it took me so long to find everything is that, on top of how confusing the store is, it can be very difficult to locate an employee to ask in the first place. Even the ones you do see are generally walking quickly, avoiding eye contact as resolutely as a weeded waitress, obviously thinking “please don’t ask me anything please don’t ask me anything.” I always feel almost apologetic for a second when I manage to flag one down, before I remember that, if I don’t ask, I’m going to be wandering the aisles for the next half decade trying to figure out where some obscure little item is stocked. Why don’t they just install some sort of computerized directory, like the libraries have? I guess that’s easier said than done, but if they’re not going to train or otherwise inspire their staff to leap to people’s assistance when they are looking for something, not to mention hiring enough staff so customers can actually find someone without walking a quarter mile from the section they have a question about, maybe they should consider it. I’m sure that there are more than a few people who shop elsewhere because of this, especially the novice do-it-yourselfers that Home Depot’s ad copy seems aimed at. (“You can do it, we can help,” it says, next to a picture of a woman or at least a shiny-faced young couple with soft-looking hands.)
As I trudged back and forth through the store, I made numerous sightings of a pigeon that had gotten inside somehow and was swooping back and forth and perching in the rafters. Or maybe there were numerous pigeons. Either way, no one else seemed to notice.
Since I get going a little later on Saturday than during the rest of the week, I didn’t want Zuzu to have to wait for her breakfast until I was back from the gym and so fed her before I left. I did my legs and abs workout then read a New Yorker short story while huffing away on the gerbil stepper. The television never fails to disappoint, though. I only glanced at it for a few seconds here and there, and yet that was enough to read the following closed caption (approximated, from memory): “A new music video about Barak Obama is making a stir on the internet – and on the political scene. How will it affect the presidential election? But first, the nuclear standoff with Iran.” That “but first” sort of saves them, of course – it lets them claim to have their priorities straight. But of course the nuclear standoff with Iran didn’t come first in their headline tease, and the logic of their presentation seems to be that the story about “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama” will probably be of the most interest to their viewers, but that’s for dessert. (Never mind the obvious deficiencies of a media environment in which we are supposed to pretend that such a thing is worth thinking about at all.) First we have to eat our broccoli by watching some boring piece about the boring old nuclear standoff with boring old Iran. Maybe if Ahmedinijad more often appeared wearing either a two-piece or short shorts with something pithy spelled out in block letters across his buttocks, more Americans would pay attention. But I guess that if he were the type to do that, Iran probably wouldn’t be the problem that it is.
When I got home from the gym, I learned that Zuzu had convinced my brother to feed her again.
My brother was headed to New York City for the weekend, after his Saturday bike-shop shift was over, so he asked me to drive him to work so that he could just take a cab to the Greyhound station from there. After I dropped him off, I picked up a bagel at the Federal Hill version of Sam’s, then stopped for gas. (I’d used the car off and on over the previous day or so, and the gas light had been on the whole time, so I was starting to get a little nervous.) For the sake of the permanent record, let me just note that five bucks worth of gas appears to cost about ten dollars these days.
I returned home and did some work on a freelance project before eleven, when the contractor suggested by my management company finally stopped by to estimate replacing the tub surround. Now that I’ve had a chance to talk to the guy face to face, I feel a lot more charitable concerning his standing me up on Tuesday, when he was first supposed to stop by. I think there is a major language barrier that may have led to signals getting crossed, and then he would have had to call me up and try to understand me and maybe admit that he didn’t understand me, and so on. But in person he seems capable and eager for the work. We’ll see what his estimate is, which I should be getting in a day or so. (He had to research the cost of the insert he’d be putting in.)
I was also expecting someone interested in some furniture I’m selling on Craigslist. She was supposed to come at two. Around three I gave up waiting and headed out to Home Depot. Is it really more mortifying, when you’ve decided not to keep an appointment like this, to imagine calling someone and telling him “never mind” than it is to imagine him just waiting for you and cursing your lack of consideration and communicativeness? Sometimes I think I’ll never understand you humans.
A. called and talked me through setting up a Paypal account using her U-Montana departmental credit card so that I could relay her payment for the replacement video cameras we’d won in eBay auctions. I found myself thinking about this strange historical moment, in which one person sitting in an SUV in a wilderness forest area in Arizona can be in contact with someone in Baltimore, sitting on his couch, talking via a cell phone headset, setting up the purchases and shipping of items from god knows where to said wilderness area. (Bet those eBay sellers don’t get too many shipping addresses mentioning a “ranger station.”)
Which is all well and good, but where’s my jet pack?