Humiliation in Hardware

I tried to look casually confident as I scanned the too-full shelves of my local hardware store. But the manager zeroed in on me anyway.
“And what are we looking for today?” he cooed at me, as if a pony-tailed mom in capri pants were the most pathetically lost creature to have set foot in his store all day.
The sexist. Just how did he know I needed help? Does he coo at my husband when he shops these same aisles?

“I . . . I’m looking for . . . an extension cord?”
He pummeled me with questions: Indoor or outdoor? Length? Amps? Volts? Watts? PVC jacket?
“I have no idea,” I whimpered.
It was too late to salvage my pride in this particular store, anyway. This was the same store I once entered looking for a can of “Cranberry Zinger” paint my husband had ordered.
When I asked for the paint, three men in overalls looked at each other and then turned back to me with shrugging shoulders. No one ordered any paint, they told me.
Yes, someone did, I insisted. My husband did this morning — “Crimson Surprise” or “Citrus Zipper” or . . . something like that.
They smiled indulgently. They shuffled through some papers. With great fanfare, one of them decided to check with “Larry out back.”
Larry hadn’t taken a paint order.
“Are you sure,” one of them finally ventured to ask as he swallowed a smile, “you are at the right hardware store?”
I blinked at him stupidly.
How dare he ask such a thing? Was this not the very hardware store I had pictured in my mind when my husband had talked about paint that morning?
Truth be told, I had no memory of Dan actually telling me the name of the store where he had ordered the paint. But I could not give my overalled friends the satisfaction of knowing that. With a giant gulp, which may or may not have been the sound of me swallowing my wounded pride, I left the store and drove home.
My hardware humiliations don’t always take place on location; sometimes they come to me. For example, we once had plumbers in our home for several days, working on an addition to the house.
“Do you know what your husband plans to do for insulation in the upstairs shower?” one of them asked me one morning.
I did not.
“Well,” the man explained, “The whooseywhatsit looks like it could use a bit more thingamaglop in the wingdingy. If you’re gonna yabbydabby the gingamagong I could just put a little razzywhoops in the rear of the goochygoo, but if you’re planning to yimmeryam the whole thing, it’ll never fit.”
At least I think that’s what he said. I can’t be sure — there were lots of new words in there. I must have been staring at my new friend blankly because he smiled patiently and tried to simplify things for me.
“All I really need to know is if you’re gonna shimmy the shug or goozy the gloppit.”
I blushed. No one had ever talked to me quite like that before. This must be what it feels like to be a man, I thought to myself. Except for that small part about having no clue what we were talking about.
My inner pride urged me to tell that plumber about my senior thesis. Or my seventh-grade science fair project. Or the fact that I can quadruple a recipe in my head while making dental appointments on the phone and wrestling a sneaker onto a two-year-old’s squirming foot. I felt an urgent need to share with this man, who I am pretty sure had me pegged for a moron, some form of intellectual success I had enjoyed in the past 25 years.
But he might have found that kind of bragging a bit odd. And anyway, wasn’t this situation a terrific example of just what God means for us to recognize and accept about ourselves in this world? That we all have different talents and all of us have limits. That we need one another. That men need women and women need men, and we’re very different creatures who sometimes don’t even appear to be speaking the same language — and that’s just as it should be. Even if it seems sexist sometimes.
“I’ll call my husband at work,” I offered.
“Good idea.”
Then, as the men folk went about goozying the gloppits, I silently resolved to have a humbler, more grateful heart. I am everything God intends for me to be. This place where He put me offers me all the intellectual affirmation I need, I told myself.
And finally, thank you dear God, for all of our shugs and for the gift of those who know just how to shimmy them.

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Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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