"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I am a girly girl and very happy about it. My favorite color's pink (though maybe not as pink as the dearly departed Anna Nicole Smith) and I love lace and ruffles and flowery fabric. I love perfume. I love getting my eyebrows waxed and buying a new lip gloss (though it might sit lonely in my bathroom or purse) and I loved the one or two manicures I've gotten. And of course I love bling, in pretty much any form.

However, I also love hardware stores. From the dusty, down-home local shop where they still sell screws one at a time from small bins with hand-written labels, to the "big box" places with miles of aisles, uncomfortable florescent lighting and on-site designers graphing out your shiny new kitchen. And everything in-between.

Don't get me wrong.  It's a good thing there's no Sephora anywhere near me.  I love Sephora and I love the stuff in there, and I know my girly stuff -- Nars!  Stila!  Urban Decay!  But in a hardware store, time seems to go by in a funny way and I can lose myself amongst the staple guns, primer and duct tape.

You might think this arises from living alone, having to maintain not only my house but a rental property (my brother does help), and very little money to hire professional handymen and/or women. You'd be absolutely, positively, unquestioningly partly right. It is affirming, believe it or not (I'm being truthful - not sarcastic) to be able to lie prone on a cold cement floor with a wrench and an empty coffee can priming an oil burner. Who'd have thought I'd ever need to learn how to do this - much less find myself in a situation where that knowledge comes in handy? 

I'm an old hand at sealing holes in a wall with wire mesh and plaster, changing weary hoses on a washing machine, snapping in gutter guards from ten feet up on a ladder and shimming a shaky storm window. I love the bench-mounted vise in my cellar for holding the occasional board while I saw it -- and I love looking the saws over, testing the edge for sharpness, getting a rhythm going and, as my father always says, letting the saw do the work.

Thanks to do-it-yourself shows, how-to books and, at long last, the glorious internet, I have bitten the bullet and begun a multitude of projects with perhaps a bit more confidence than I deserved. As a kid, brought up long before cable TV, videotapes and computer games, I grew bored with the four walls surrounding me and followed my father and my Uncle Frank as they puttered in the basement, so that Dad would patiently give me "busy work" and turn me loose on all manner of tools, paints, varnishes, bits of interesting metal and wood, nails and screws and hooks and hammers, bolts and wire and levels and levers and extension cords. It was quite absorbing.

There is something earthy that touches a point of you in a hardware store, to finding the right tool, whether in a circus of bright displays or a high shelf behind obsolete faucets and last year's seeds. A new and improved wrench. A power screwdriver that holds its charge longer. A non-toxic epoxy guaranteed to bind quickly and permanently. Or just an old-fashioned hammer with a good reputation.

I don't pretend to know a damned thing about car parts and engines, or gardening and trees. Funny how this all-encompassing knowledge doesn't seem beyond the ken of many of the males in my life -- some who, like my Dad and my awesome "four star Uncle" Bob (both of whom are also ready to lend a hand, or both, at a moment's notice) have probably lived and learned (did you know a screw will go in better if you push it into a bar of soap first? that plant food can be poured directly onto the leaves of a withered fruit tree?) And some, like my nephew, just so mechanically inclined that nothing, not the most ornery of fan belts, tree roots or off-kilter door knobs can outdo them. For them, my admiration (indeed my adoration) knows no bounds. But I'm happy to stick to tools. Gadgets. Repairs. Immediate gratification.

So what will it be...the outlet mall or the hardware store? Discount cashmere sweaters or an adjustable wrench? Salesladies in heels with dramatic haircuts or potbellied men with earnest advice and well worn hands?

It all depends. If only there were time for everything. Meanwhile, while I'd dearly love the newest fragrance by Chanel when my birthday comes around, no one need feel the least bit cheap to buy me a socket set, some needle nose pliers and a Swiss army knife instead.

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