Minor Update on the Closing


So about that hardware store that’s closing. They’re still closing. But as I understand it they’re busy enough at the closing sale that they’re taking on employees who, I guess, know they’re even more temporary than usual.

But also apparently they’re figuring they can keep the store open through Christmas Eve. And now I’m all delighted thinking of them holding the place open, minutes before 5 pm in that dark-of-winter cheery seasonal gloom, watching the last couple people rush in saying, “I need something for my mother! Do you have any billhooks left?” And they have, but it’s not returnable. Just saying.

(Also, billhooks are great. I do not know that I have seen my love happier than when using our closing-sale billhook to hack down dead rose bush branches. If you want one, I know a place that’s open through the 24th. A billhook is a thing you can get from a hardware store. Well, I can. I know a place.)

Closing In Town


The hardware store that’s like two towns over is closing. This is a serious blow to our hardware-shopping needs. It’s a pretty good hardware store. By “pretty good” I mean I can imagine my father hanging out there talking for upwards of 150 minutes with people he just met about some obscure plumbing part that he needs while eight-year-old me sighs and presses his finger into the socket set attachments and wonders when we’re going to get to the Polish bakery and if so whether it’ll be before they run out of Poppy-Seed Thingies. I’m going to go ahead and assume the obscure plumbing part is a “flange”. Like all plumbing parts that aren’t toilet seats it’s a circular disc attached to a Y-shaped hinge on an axis, and mounted inside a cylinder.

Also whenever you select, like, the four washers and nuts-and-bolts that turn out not to quite fit the project you have, they put it in a cute tiny little brown paper bag and scribble on it some mystic scrawl, using one of those flat carpenter’s pencils that has to be sharpened by pocket knife, that somehow the cashier knows to ring up as $1.42 total. Or maybe a wax pencil. I’m not being too limiting in my categories here. The important thing is it’s a bundle of little metal shapes in a cute brown paper bag folded over and maybe stapled shut and it’s always $1.42.

But it’s also not too much a hardware store. By “too much” I mean “every aisle is occupied by grumpy men with scraggly beards complaining about how they can’t make good plumbing flanges anymore because of political correctness”. What they mean by “political correctness” is the flanges are made of PVC instead of the most rust-worthy iron in the history of rusting.

This is also a serious blow for the town. I mean, the town will still exist, but mostly as residential developments and medical clinics in strip malls. In terms of stuff people actually need there’s going to be little left except the Best Buy. The hardware store’s corner used to have a tolerable little crossroads’ worth of stuff. Like, there was a music-instruments store that got shooed off across the street so the fire department could use their old building for training. They lasted a couple months there before moving to climes where people weren’t visiting to ask about the check they weren’t supposed to deposit for another couple weeks.

Also at the intersection used to be the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum, which billed itself as the only Tuba Museum Restaurant in the world, and I think was owned by the same people as the music-instruments store. At least it would make less not-sense if it were. It was a great spot to bring friends from out of town, because they had a lot of tubas, some of them extremely long, all along the walls. Also the menu was twenty pages even before you count the pages that were just the staff’s poetry. They closed right before the music-instruments shop vanished, possibly because both were turned directly into quirky indie dramas about, like, a slacker time-traveller from the 23rd century going back to work a small town diner and finding that kind of loving relationship where you never actually touch or necessarily even look directly at each other.

For the hardware store’s closing (remember that?) they’re holding a clearance sale, which is fair enough. It’d be sad to have a shuttered hardware store in town. But to have a shuttered hardware store filled with hardware-store merchandise would just be too creepy-video-game of them. Even if plastic clothes hangers are in the hardware store for some reason. I guess they’re kind of hardware but, yeah? I don’t know. I really expected them to be metal. Possibly galvanized.

They’re also raffling off hardware. According to their rules sheet, which is copyright 1999 to somebody named “Wingate Sales Solutions”, everyone who signs up gets 100,000 raffle points. And there’s a thousand more points for every dollar you spend during the clearance sale. And even more bonus points for stuff like `Sweetheart Thursday’, a thousand points times your ring size. Or 5,000 points on Mondays for “wearing something blue”, a condition I do not want to judge because telling Navy Blue apart from Black is hard in the best of circumstances. In Mid-Michigan, in November, at the height of Clouds Rolling In season? (We won’t have direct sunlight again until June of 2019.) It’s almost impossible.

Also, a hundred thousand raffle points just for signing up? A thousand points for every dollar spent? A thousand points times whatever just for having a ring finger? But I guess the shop is closing. They must figure they aren’t going to suffer the long-term consequences of a loose-money raffle-points system. It always opens doors when you don’t have to worry about the budget anymore.

The Hardware Store, A Play In Three Scenes


4:23. I stride confidently into the Great Lakes ACE Hardware store. I know what I need. It’s an O-Ring for the plastic watering tank we’re hoping to keep goldfish in this winter. I have the plastic plug we’ll be using to stop up the drain. Past conversations with our goldfish indicate they’d much rather the water didn’t drain at all, but if it must drain, it should drain as nothing as possible. I just need to find the small circles of rubber somewhere in the hardware store.

4:29. An employee tells me I’ll find it “just behind you”. I haven’t told the employee what I need. It’s not just behind me.

4:31. I ask the employee where the 1 1/4-inch O-rings are. They were the next row over. 65 cents per. I buy one and leave without asking what the employe thought I was looking for that was just behind me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index held steady today as traders worried they might have been spotted by a predator, possibly a lion or a pack of hyenas. This defensive posture left them well-poised to leap for the emergency exits or the pretzel stand in the corner should the need arise. It has not — yet.

104

My Utopian City Plan


OK, so my brilliant plan. I’m going to find one of those cities that has just enough people in it that it can support the essentials of life, like a hardware store stocked full enough that it feels a little scary to be in because I can just imagine my father saying “it’s right next to the quarter-inch annular grommets” as if that’s any kind of guidance. But it’s small enough that it can be converted easily into a utopian colony. It’s not going to be one of those utopias that tries rejiggering all society and setting out rules like everybody has to spend time being one of exactly 810 kinds of cook. It’s going to be basically like life is now. The main difference is anyone following up a mention of something being “left-handed” with any kind of sentence about “thought there was something sinister” has to leave, and never be spoken of fondly again. Done.

What’s Not Here Anymore


There’s a little block of doomed buildings in my neighborhood of Lansing. It’s not doomed for the good reasons, like we’re facing a small meteor strike, or there’s a rampaging horde of attack jerboas headed this way, or they found it was actually a giant kid’s play set and she’s outgrown it and giving it away to a less fortunate giant, maybe in Big Rapids or somewhere. It’s for the usual reason. The local developer noticed this was a thing that wasn’t torn down already, and it is so much fun tearing stuff down. I understand. What would be the fun in tearing down the empty lot one block east for their new construction? All you get to do there is tear up a gravel lot, and when you tear up a gravel lot you just have a gravel lot at the end of it.

The local alternative-weekly included a piece describing some of the things that had been in the doomed buildings. Mostly they name things. Some of the buildings have been there since the 1910s, so there’s a lot of things to name, even if an awful lot of them seem to have just been barber shops. I’m not disparaging barber shops, it’s just there’s a limit to how much story any of them have. There’s the part of the shop where a guy is cutting hair, there’s the chair that doesn’t work right, there’s the signed sports jersey, and there’s a bunch of colorful slips of plastic that turn out to be the money of foreign lands.

But there’s wonder and mystery here. For example, between 1995 and 2008 one of the storefronts was the United Nations Association. My love remembers it. It sold all kinds of United Nations-themed merchandise. And why the United Nations? In Lansing, Michigan? A United Nations-themed store makes sense in a city more associated with international diplomacy. You know, Geneva or Paris or New York or the Frelinghuysen Estate in Raritan Township, New Jersey. And don’t go thinking I’m overlooking Portsmouth, New Hampshire, either. I know exactly where they are and I have my agents sending me reports.

Maybe it did start out the logical way. Someone sold the original proprietor a fake ticket for Vienna. Then he found himself in the mid-Michigan area and figured, why not? Still, they must have been on to something for a United Nations merchandise store to carry on for thirteen years. I would have thought a store for that market in that location would last about four hours. But then I also thought Home Improvement was a cute show that would last maybe eight weeks. Instead here we are decades later remembering that it’s not still being made, is it? It seems like it couldn’t still be on, right? Somebody check and tell them to stop if they haven’t already. But the point is, the wonder is that the store lasted only thirteen years. Maybe it moved to an even more promising United Nations-mad city, like Muskegon or Rochester, Minnesota.

Still, there’s other businesses that used to be there. One that delights me ran from 1951 to 1972 and began as Merry-Go-Round Toys, then became Quarmby’s Merry-Go-Round Toys, then Quarmby’s Art Supplies, and finally Quarmby’s Picture Frames. I was all set for them to cycle back around to Quarmby’s Picture Frame Toys, or maybe a Merry-Go-Round Quarmby, but they demolished the building instead. The spoilsports. And with blotches like that on the record people have the nerve to call capitalism efficient.

Another building spent 1914 through 1916 as Sanders & Fizzell Hardware. Sometime in 1916 I guess Sanders’s eye was turned by another merchant-proprietor. From 1917 to 1920 it was Sanders & Newsom Hardware, Tinshop, Furnace, & Heating. Perhaps Sanders and Fizzell broke up peacefully. It could be Fizzell was less sure about the market for tin-shoppery in Lansing. Maybe Fizzell just didn’t see the need to advertise their providing both furnace and heating services. “Goodness, Mister Sanders,” Mr Fizzell might say, because those were more formal days. “What sensible warmth-lover in this metropolis would not know to come here for furnace and heating work already? Why `puff’ oneself `up’ so?”

Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong. Possibly Fizzell wanted to encourage all hardware stores to emphasize their tinshop and furnace and heating sides. Once Fizzell found a decent partner in Newsom he could leave Sanders to his devices and move on to another hardware shop in need of his magic touch. I just don’t have the evidence to say. Sanders & Newsom things and other things wasn’t on the block after 1920 anyway, so you’ve missed that.

Then there’s the building that spent 1965 through 1975 as Dental Art Laboratories. I can’t imagine it was for, like, painting molars, yours or someone else’s. That seems too early for the paint-your-own-ceramic-stuff-while-drinking kind of store you get in malls these days. But then I wouldn’t have expected a United Nations store just a couple blocks from my house either, and see what happened? It’s all a wonder, that’s what it is.

Some Ways That I Act Like A Guy


I don’t participate in most traditional guy behaviors. This is because most traditional guy behaviors are bottomlessly terrible. The generic formula for making a guy behavior is to find something which might be interesting or exciting and do so much of it that it’s awful, which is how we get hot-sauce-drinking-contests, World War I, soccer riots, and pieces of furniture set on fire and shoved into the streets. Guys are pretty much the male dolphins of civilized society, which is why we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. But there are some guy behaviors which are not terrible to the point of cruelty, and I partake in some of them.

The commonest is bringing in the groceries. It’s very important that I bring the groceries inside with as few trips as possible. My love is amused to see how I’ll hang shopping bags all the way up and down my arms, and maybe loop a couple around my legs, and hang two or three lighter bags from each ear, and if I could get away with it I’d hold one in my mouth too. Sometimes I’ve bought an unnecessary Chapstik or roll of Necco wafers so I could stuff them in my nose just so I can bring in more stuff on the one trip. The saddest thing I can do is get up to the door and realize I’m surrounded by a protective layer of grocery bags reaching up to the second-floor windows, because that means I have to set something down to fit through the door, which I forgot to open so I have to kick it in and repair the frame afterwards. But, boy, if I can get it all in in one trip and fall over into a titanic sprawling mass of packs of frozen French fries and cans of condensed milk that roll through the dining room, into the living room, and come to a rest under our pet rabbit, whose ears are perked up to full attention over this collapse, then I am happy.

Less common but at least as satisfying is hardware stores. I feel a wonderful sense of place when I’m in a hardware store, for whatever reason, and I would let my father mention here how hilarious this is except when I asked him to write something about it he started laughing hysterically and he’s barely stopped to take breaths, much less to get his composure enough to write anything, since, and it’s been eighteen days now. I am not your traditionally handy person. Would you believe that I have attempted to change a flat tire and, after having got the car jacked up not nearly enough to do this but finding myself unable to either lift it higher or let it get back to the ground again, I’ve abandoned my car in the intersection where the flat tire became un-ignorable and taken the bus home, on three separate occasions? Sure you would, and it doesn’t even matter that nothing all that much like this has never happened to me, because it makes too much sense that this is the sort of thing that should, and you know that too.

But set me in a hardware store, where I have absolutely no business being and no ability to identify anything past “this is probably not a wrench”, and I feel this wonderful inner peace. I think it’s the sense of a world of potential all organized into little grey boxes of metal and plastic parts, surrounded by tools that for some reason aren’t in alphabetical order. Or it’s getting to occasionally overhear people talking about “joists”. I’m not sure what a joist is but I know they are subjects of legitimate discussion when in hardware stores, and that reassures me. Life may be chaos and a struggle for comprehension, but for a little while, there’s cylinders of steel or iron or aluminum of something and gaskets of some kind of plastic or whatnot, and people walking around casually hefting things that are probably not wrenches and they have plans to make joists of things and maybe fix the doorframe. It’s perfect.

You know, I suspect I’d be happier if I could get the groceries in without any trips, but I haven’t worked out the details of that just yet.