Revisiting the Big Box
In recent weeks, I’ve found myself revisiting some of the stories and online venues who took a chance on me in the early days of my seeking publication. I could argue that I’m still seeking out people to take a chance but that is a post for another day. I addressed Mirror Dance and their publication of “Hills Dreaming Themselves Mountains” and then republished “Promethean Trans Am” here since it was no longer available. Then I fell down the stairs. Nothing broken mind you, but staring at my ceiling with wounded pride, I felt compelled to write about the experience and the thoughts that rushed to my mind. Originally titled “A Unified Theory of Power Tools”, I would eventually go on to complete my story “Items Not Found in Home Depot.” Traveling back to early 2019, “Items Not Found in Home Depot” found a home at Soft Cartel and would eventually win Best of March 2019 honors. This was my first non-fiction piece to find publication and third item overall. I remember fretting about this one in particular as I never really intended it to be a “non-fiction” piece though it has always seemed to have a bit of a “sermon” vibe to it. To what denomination it could be preached to, I don’t know. I also remember presenting this to a class workshop and the debate largely centered around the question of what exactly constituted a short story. I do not recall the end result of that debate but in my recollection, there was some criticism about my inventing the word “nightmaring.” Ah, college. Alas, Soft Cartel went silent long ago and its archives are missing from the greater library of the internet. Much like “Promethean Trans Am” I am offering it here for your enjoyment. Feel free to debate word invention at your leisure.
Items Not Found in Home Depot by Kyle Brandon Lee
What exactly does an accountant need with a belt sander? What does a lawyer need with a power drill? What do I need with an air compressor? Why do so many people need power tools complete with rechargeable batteries, an array of various attachments and a lifetime warranty that will likely never be put to use?
It’s not like I came to these questions lightly. I can justify a need should the need arise but do I aim to be my father and house half a hardware store in my garage? What is it I, and the accountant, and the lawyer and everyone else need to fix with this cornucopia of not oft used power tools? What are we trying to fix?
What are we meant to fix?
Coming to this question began by my falling down the stairs. It wasn’t a large flight, one of only a few steps. Earlier, I had brought down a three-hole punch from my study, a power tool of a different sort, for my wife and the hefty amount of paperwork she attempts to slay on a regular basis. With her task done, I left the punch on the third from the bottom step so I would remember to take it back up where it belonged. This is the sort of thing that’s akin to writing on your hand. One may think he or she will remember since it’s placed in so obvious a spot but it’s a magic trick, the kind where objects hide in plain sight.
Alas, the three-hole punch worked its magic and I went up the steps without it. This lead to my downfall, as on my return, my foot found the silvery object. In an instant, I crashed and carpet burned my way down the steps to the cold tile floor.
There I laid, staring at the ceiling, hating the popcorn texture left by the previous owners of the house. It spread before me like a static ocean of dusty white around an island of a light fixture that I hated because it was both ugly and held lightbulbs that took forever to warm up to full brightness. The bulbs I could change without much effort, but that popcorn would haunt me.
My parents once put up a popcorn ceiling, realized they hated it and scraped it all off a week later. The popcorn floated down like snow, leaving their hair just as white as the ceiling. The process aged them prematurely in various ways. Surely, Home Depot had a tool to make this easy.
But the popcorn and the impending war against it would have to wait for another time. On the way down to bruising my pride and dignity, my hand reached out to the handrail out of instinct. Though the fall was short, it was plenty blunt. Out from the wall came the banister.
I’m not clumsy but the stairs marked me a target from the day my wife and I moved in. They fed on the suffering of bipedal creatures and the kinetic energy generated by their collapse.
So, onto the list of chores this priority repair went. I needed new hand rail brackets, screws and maybe even a new power drill because the one I already owned wasn’t worth the twenty dollars I spent on it at the big box store. Those places sell Band-Aids, not aid.
Unfortunately, this felt like the sort of thing that stays on that “Honey Do” list for a while because life builds up a Hoover Dam of obligation. Just enough gets through to grant one the power of authority but should it all come at once, it’s overwhelming. I’m perfectly fine being “whelmed.” But somewhere in that obligation rise the floaters and cracks and brownouts and aggravations.
The house seems to be falling apart all at once.
The children are going through that phase you don’t know how to handle.
Work becomes less an occupation and more servitude.
The humorless robots you try and explain yourself to occupy more of your thoughts than they should.
There are things that thousands of years of existence have never produced an easy fix for and these things always find a way to rear their ugly head. These are human problems no doubt, but consider that dinosaurs had a similar problem structure. One dinosaur finds food. Another dinosaur wants said food. A third dinosaur decides that eating the two smaller dinosaurs is best for everyone that just so happens to be him. It worked for millions of years, but no mega lizard could figure out that meteor on its way down, could they?
I suppose we have missiles and Bruce Willis for that, but the problem remains despite human ingenuity and the need to push somebody over. There are things in life that have no easy fix. The grand difficulty in this observation is we, as a species, are way too slow to arrive at this conclusion. More so, we are too damned stubborn to accept it.
Until the house drives you to the edge of budget and reason.
Until the children make Lord of the Flies look tame.
Until your job slaps you awake with recursive reality or a pink slip.
Until the humorless robots activate Mother Machine.
We each have our moment of realization, an epiphany of mumbled cussing and forehead slapping madness. Mine occurred late at night, not long after my rebelling children finally fell asleep, dreaming of fire breathing dragons and nightmaring about Mickey Mouse. The house was quiet for the first time in hours and I sat on those same damnable stairs looking at the broken handrail. I took up the brackets, took up the screws and went to work. I couldn’t quell the inhabitants of the madhouse any better than a general need for sleep could but at this instant in time, I reached the summit of Everest and the surface of the moon all at once. Why? Because at that very moment, it was a singular thing I knew I could fix. We fix the things we can when we are faced with the things we can’t. It’s a Zen of misplaced attention and I suppose, it’s also quiet contemplation.
How many banisters have been fixed during an offspring’s naturally scheduled rebellion? How many track lights have been installed when the boss wants more productivity for less money? How many significant others complained about the in-laws only to get a refurbished attic instead? How many toilets have been fixed when teenaged daughters were dumped?
How many dad jokes were launched from that one alone?
By this theory, I’d say there’s a power tool that corresponds with each problem. These are the modern human contemplative devices, idols and totems of significance and reassurance. So yes, the accountant will own a belt sander. The lawyer will need a power drill. Fathers will have garages full of tools because of their children alone.
I know my father did.
More so before the garage sale that happened to coincide with my graduation from high school.
This “Unified Theory of Power Tools” may not work for everyone of course. Trade workers own what they own for obvious reasons and people like engineers and architects and the like love power tools for a different reason. But these are the sorts of people who look for similar answers by painting serene landscapes, baking chocolate chip cookies larger than their head or doing lawn work.
My dad had tons of lawn equipment, too.
Maybe karma is its own power tool.
But do you know the miraculous thing of it all? There are whole stores dedicated to “home improvement.” These corporate entities know full well that they sell bears the weight of double meaning, all while understanding that for thousands, possibly millions, they have created the very issues that drive a man or woman to his or her tools. Is it an illusion? The friendly neighborhood T-Rex didn’t have a Home Depot. And where is he now?
Aisle 14 in an oil can.
Consider for a moment that we’ve not always had these big box home improvement entities. Before these there were mom and pop stores to provide that down home comfort and service. And let us not forget the handymen who’ve driven nails and maybe shared a little bit of homegrown advice that only comes with experience. Somewhere, a Grecian urn shows a philosopher who may or may not have been a handyman himself.
There have been TV shows about handymen, their tools and their wisdom. Songs have been written about these toolslingers, one even sung by the King of Rock n’Roll. And lest we forget that the King of Kings himself was a carpenter, handy for your home and your soul?
Rome wasn’t built in a day since they probably didn’t have enough tools.
Would this then make Hal at Home Depot and Libby at Lowes gurus of life coaching or new age doctors of a real do-it-yourself mentality? Is your friendly neighborhood Ace Hardware a temple of transcendence? Can we find on the shelves the answers we so crave?
They don’t sell everything at Home Depot, especially not the easy answers. These are people with their own set of things they can’t fix. But they do get an employee discount on the things they can. And they can certainly guide you toward that table saw on clearance that has “senior prom” written all over it.