It isn't pretty if men cry in tool aisles

February 29, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE ARE MEN who are handy around the house and then there are men like me, men who can barely work a Venetian blind and live with the silent shame of their handicap.

For the unhandy, there is nothing more unnerving than a trip to the hardware store on a Saturday.

As you enter, the air is thick with the smell of testosterone and Aqua Velva, wet work boots and Red Man chewing tobacco.

Burly men in heavy flannel shirts, faded jeans and John Deere caps move purposefully through the aisles examining sash locks, flush ring pulls, wood chisels, bar clamps, decorative hinges, window bolts, boat and camper hoses, asphalt emulsion driveway filler sealers.

These are men who could pinpoint the whine in your Oldsmobile's transmission in 10 minutes. These are men who could slap a 40-foot redwood deck together before noon, men for whom a tool in the hand is as comfortable as a fork.

These are men with basement work benches the size of aircraft carrier decks, men with 1.5 horsepower Shop Vacs and 12-inch portable planers and nine-drawer tool chests and 24-inch variable speed sanders.

As they roam the aisles of the hardware store, these men are shopping for compound miter saw blades and grinding wheels, 16-gauge brad finishing nailers and geared pulling winches.

These men are not like you.

You you're here for a paint scraper.

As you begin your search for the paint scraper, your anxiety levels red-line at the sight of so much hardware, so much stuff, all shimmering under the harsh track lighting.

You pass Black & Decker two-speed cordless drills and high-speed paint strippers, sheet metal pipe-cutting blades, Stanley 6-piece screwdriver sets and heavy-duty mahogany levels.

You pass window installation kits, cans of windshield spray de-icer, row after row of nails, screws, bolts, lid supports, a whole wall devoted to Dirt Devil vacuum bags.

You pass 11 different styles of plastic trash cans, rows and rows of unfinished oak molding and Closet Maid closet organizers, featuring the photo of a smiling woman effortlessly installing the closet organizer herself, which only deepens your sense of inadequacy.

For the unhandy, there is that moment of dread in a hardware store when it becomes clear that you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of finding what you're looking for on your own, and must therefore ask for assistance.

So you walk up to the counter, which is always manned by a beefy guy with thinning hair who has an enormous key ring dangling from his belt.

For some reason, the beefy guy feels compelled to repeat your question in a voice loud enough to be heard in the next county.

"A PAINT SCRAPER?!" he booms as two or three nearby customers whip around, startled. Then he adds condescendingly: "Oh, I'm sure we can dig up one of those."

Setting out at a brisk pace, he leads you past router and saber saw tables, Thorson 11-piece combination wrench sets, Stor-Away sawhorses, a bright display of caulking guns.

You can't help but notice that they don't sell just two or three types of caulking guns. No, they have 17 different types of caulking guns! And underneath, lined up like artillery shells, are the tubes which fit in those caulking guns.

There is concrete sealant, advanced latex sealant, window and door sealant, acrylic latex caulk, panel and foam adhesive, silicone caulk, aluminum and metal sealant, and many, many more.

Finally, you arrive in the paint scraper aisle, a dimly lit gulag in the rear of the store. Sure, it's hard by a sign that says "Paint Supplies." But it's also semi-hidden by taping knives, carpenter's wood glue and other non-paint-related items.

You could see how a guy could miss the paint scrapers. Couldn't you?

"Yeah, I guess we have a few left," says the beefy sales clerk, pointing to a collection of paint scrapers so vast it might as well occupy a wing of a museum.

So you pick out one and follow him back to the cash register. All around you, men are bellying up to the register lugging portable sandblasters and welding kits, 12-inch combination squares and 25-inch power return rules with retractable utility knives.

And you you're buying a paint scraper.

For $1.29.

And praying someone can show you how to work this thing.

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