Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
A few years ago I was in line in the hardware store in Aspen, right around Christmastime, to buy a snow shovel or something. A woman stormed into the store and announced, loudly, what she was there to purchase. She had the air and appearance of someone who quite probably was in town just for the holiday week. If this is profiling, then, well, sorry – there goes my career at the Transportation Security Administration.
Here’s what she said:
“I need a … ”
Then she paused, pantomiming for the right word, the proper technical term for the item she needed to complete the obviously stressful project that she was in the middle of.
” … Stick,” she finally said.
She needed a … stick.
Now, I’m hardly an expert, but come on – “sticks” are things you pick up in the yard. She needed a dowel. Even I knew that “dowel” was the word she was looking for. Duh.
And I have to admit that I felt a bit smug about knowing this. I exchanged a knowing smirk with the cashier. Stick. Ha.
Look, I’m not proud of this behavior – I’m just being honest because I’ve been told that people appreciate you more when you’re honest.
Now, let’s move forward five years, which takes us right up to last week. I’m in the final stages of renovating an old, old house in Paonia, and I’m remembering something my father-in-law told me. He said that in his house – which is right across the street from mine and even older – they removed the doors and had them dipped in a big vat of paint stripper, then brought them back all bare-wooded. I’m remembering this because I’ve just spent the past 5 hours sanding 100 years of paint off of a tiny portion of a single door. This door-dipping thing is sounding like a mighty good option, so I ask about it during one of my many trips to the local hardware store.
“Hey, I’ve heard about some guy in town who’ll dip your doors in a vat of stuff that strips all the paint off of them. Do you know about this?”
The hardware guy smiled and said no, he didn’t know the guy, and in fact he’d never even heard of such a thing before. Then the other guy behind the counter chimed in.
“Dip your doors in a tank and take all the paint off, just like that, huh? That sounds like somebody’s fantasy!” And he laughed. And the other guy laughed. And then everyone in line laughed. Hard. Prolonged laughter echoed through the hardware store – all of it directed at me. They laughed like I’d just said, “Hey, I heard about this pill that you bury in your front yard, and overnight it grows into a slate walkway. Do you guys carry those?”
There I was on the other side of the mockery. I was the big-city out-of-towner busting in and demanding a “stick.” No amount of paint smudges on my Carhartts can make up for this. I left the store with my head hanging.
Meanwhile, my father-in-law remembers the name of the alleged door-dipper guy, and Christina finds his number and leaves a message. He calls back and leaves a message of his own.
“Hi, returning your call. Yeah, I have a strip tank here, and I can dip doors for you. Give me a call back.”
A strip tank! They exist! It’s true! Yes, Virginia, there is a door dipper! I never thought I’d be this excited about a vat of caustic chemicals.
Oh, but I am excited. Very excited. Not so much about the time I’ll save on sanding doors, but that I get to strut back into the hardware store with this new knowledge. But I’m also somewhat conflicted – I don’t want to be too smug, because ultimately their laughter was good-natured. But they were wrong, and I was right, and they must pay! No, I’m new to a small town, so there’s no point in being a jerk right away. But they laughed at me! I’m gonna play that phone message for them through a megaphone. No, I have to … aaargh …
I’m not generally one to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” but in this case I think it’s fitting. I mean, Jesus was a carpenter, right? So he must have experienced something exactly like this. Surely at one point early in his carpentry career, he went into the local hardware tent and asked for some galvanized nails and got laughed at because such nails hadn’t been invented yet. Did he just go home, magically create one, bring it back and drop it on the desk saying, “Behold, the galvanized nail … bitches.”
Yeah, probably not.
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