I entered Lowe’s a few Sundays back bristling with manliness, as men do the moment they drive into the lot of any mega home improvement store. With a demeanor not unlike Clint Eastwood manning up to the bar, I approached the customer service desk and spread out my collection of returns – a four pack of LED bulbs, a small bag of tile spacers, a box of sheetrock screws, two GFI wall plugs, and a 3-foot piece of plastic gutter guard.
The woman at the counter was remarkably chipper for 7:00 AM. Twenty something and vibrant, she graciously offered me a store credit, insisting I not worry that the receipt I had handed her was actually from Staples. Each item she scanned served as a testament to my untold but obviously epic tales of home improvement. Though she gave no visible or verbal indication, I sensed that she could tell she was in the presence of an iconic do-it-yourselfer, a man old enough to be her father still moving and shaking the world one leaf impacted gutter at a time.
As I turned from the counter flush with almost $28.00 of credit, she called after me. “Have a good night last night?”
I looked back. She raised an eyebrow, smiled and gave me a little wave. Imagine her reaction if I had returned something as testosterone infused as chop saw or 10-gallon drum of joint compound. I returned the smile and thought hard about the night before, and what I might have forgotten between saying goodnight to my wife and getting up twice to let the dog out.
In the lighting department, an inexplicably jovial employee who couldn’t have been more than a decade or two over 80, was on me before I could even ask for help. He explained why the overhead LED’s I had purchased had shown so weirdly bright, their unearthly blue beams bleaching the couch and floor and vaporizing the dog when he walked under it. In the 10 minutes we spent together, him explaining some fascinating formula about converting watts to lumens and me pretending to understand, it dawned on me that Lowe’s was perhaps the friendliest place on earth. He patted my back as I pushed my cart and my LED’s, now each 4000 lumens less bright than my original purchase, toward hardware and lumber. He underscored his “Have a great day!” with an enthusiastic thumb’s up.
The two employees in the paint department treated me with equal enthusiasm, gleefully directing me to the Leak Stopper I needed to patch the phantom drip haunting the family room. From lights to lumber, I had become the proverbial mayor of Lowes, engaging every do-it-yourselfer, contractor and employee I encountered, a man among men sharing war stories of clogged gutters, mysterious seepage, 10-in-1 tools, and treasonous false claims of guaranteed 1-coat coverage paint.
As I waited to check out, confidently taking my place in the contractor’s line, one of the trio behind me called out, “Hey dude, you have a good night last night?” I gave them a shrug and a nod, wondering a second time if I had repressed any memories of that pre-dawn dog walk.
Unintimidated by their rolling carts of dry concrete, rebar, and 30-pound boxes of 16D nails, I held up my quart of leak stopper and gallon of paint, the two most manly items in the cart, for the cashier to scan. She gave me a big smile, told me what I owed, and exchanged glances with the men behind me who couldn’t seem to be happier about their morning purchases.
Then I reached into the back pocket of my cargo shorts for my wallet. As I lifted open the pocket, I felt something stuck to the Velcro. I pulled it free and held it out like a little flag between me and the cashier. It was one of my wife’s black thongs which had been dangling from the back of my shorts since I had left the house, a stowaway from the previous day’s laundry.
The guys behind me burst into applause and whistled. I bowed, paid, and briskly retreated to the parking lot, a man among men.