Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Taking a lickin' at the hardware store

I’ve always been sweet on trips to the hardware store and, quite honestly, it started with the candy. Those old-fashioned striped stick candies, if you must have details.

It never struck me as odd that places where the air is thick with lawn fertilizer and 3-in-1 oil also specialized in sugary delicacies, cellophane wrapped and flavored with root beer, cinnamon or the exotic if not vague “tropical fruit.” But I was knee-high to a sack of Kingsford briquettes then, usually stopping in on a Saturday with my dad so he could pick up a bag of concrete mix or a propane canister for his soldering torch. And those ol’ mom-and-pops had everything. "Hey, Ethel, we already sell slip joint pliers, right? Let’s stock some cavity inducers while we’re at it?"

Every neighborhood in my hometown had a hardware store then. A tiered display of rainbow striped sticks was mandatory, placed prominently in front of the cash registers. Those temptations were mostly there for the undersized tagalong crowd like myself, but even though I’m now old enough to shop for spray paint without having to show an ID, I still kind of miss them. They would definitely make my adventures in do-it-yourselfness more palatable.

Like most in my generation and after, I tend to be less of a handyman than those patriarchs before me. Those fanciful flavored sticks, as bad as they are for my molars, would make a good consolation prize after another visit to the local hardware store where I learned, yet again, I had neither the proper tools and/or skills to fix what ails my house. Instead, the assortment of beef jerky sticks and pizza-flavor Combos they offer only rub salt in the wound and the doctors say I need to watch my blood pressure.

Hardware stores, to the ambitious yet limited in fixer-upper ability, are designed to break the heart. You walk in full of optimism, like a bottom-dwelling baseball team marching into spring training. Gadgets with amazing possibilities! Shelves lined with magic solutions! One hundred and thirty-seven types of stove bolts! Do stoves even still have bolts? Then reality hits you like the Astros’ lineup hits trash cans. So you find yourself in the cellar again hoping the electricity will just start working on its own again. Maybe if I just kick the outlet a little harder?

At least I still give it the old college try before giving it the Gen X shrug. I’m a homeowner, not some trendy apartment renter, by golly! I have no super to call and save me. I can’t just pack up and move to another studio with a communal fire pit and a Hump Day happy hour. I still need to know my brass from my galvanized steel elbow to properly correct that drip -- OK, Millennial? I’m going to duct tape, Krazy Glue and nail the bejesus out of anything until it works again or my wife finds my replacement on Angie’s List ... or it is Tinder?

This is not to say I’m completely without my successes. YouTube is the Time-Life home repair guide for today’s world. It has led me through replacing car headlights and repairing washing machine circuit boards. But there are limits. Installing new flappers, fill valves, overflow tubes and thingamabobs in the master bathroom toilet? Yes! Swapping out mercury thermostats in a home with wiring salvaged from wrecked Chrysler DeSotos? Uh-uh. This is exactly when comfort in one of those root beer candy sticks would make up for my handyman talents taking another licking.

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My Uncool Past