Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Highs of Lowes

In the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in the back of my mind is a folder I like to refer to from time to time, every once in a while when I get a creative penchant; therein the file hides a collection of home improvement projects that I have every good intention of tackling… when I have the time, when I have the money, when I have the nerve. I’d like to build a railing for the front porch but I don’t ever seem to have the time. I’d like to scale back the slope in the backyard and put up a retaining wall, but I never seem to have the disposable income; and I’d like to pull down the wall that separates the living room from an unused downstairs bedroom but I can’t seem to find the nerve.

I have good intentions, and above else, I have good plans. A while back, I measured out the details of the living room and subtracted the difference of the wall to make space for the super living room. My deep-seated architectural desires were indeed satisfied by drafting the plans on the computer so I could refer to them when I think that I’m ready to question whether that wall is load-bearing or not. The plans are drawn up for the porch railing, but I’m missing the building code that dictates the distance between the balusters; once that is established, I’m ready to start cutting wood. As for the planned wall in the backyard, well, I just need a crew to dig out the 70-foot long, four-foot high slope of nicely packed dirt otherwise known as nature’s concrete. From what I’ve read and seen on television, the actual building of the wall is the easy part.

It makes sense that I often find myself at either Home Depot or Lowes from time to time, and each home improvement store serves its own purpose for me: Home Depot is dark, a little dingy, God-awfully orange and not especially clean. It’s always hot and stuffy, even in the winter, and I can never get anyone to answer a reasonable question or offer any kind of service (with scant exceptions). Lowes, on the other hand, is brightly lit, clean and well organized. The signs are clear and I can always find everything I need without any help(even though I hate the fact that the signs are bilingual, my latest pet peeve). I go to Home Depot because it is closer to my house, and since any project I attempt comes with it a requisite of several visits, I like to get in and get home without inordinate amounts of driving across town. I visit Lowes when I’ve got some time to walk about and think, refer to that project folder in my mental file cabinet and discuss with myself the options and obstacles associated with each task. And maybe pick up some new ideas.

Such a trip had been a long time coming when the doors to Lowes slid open and a cool gust of conditioned air greeted me a couple of days ago, when I had more free time than good sense… plus I just needed to lose myself in a man’s place for a while. I had no business being there, as I had no plans on buying anything… at least there was nothing I needed.

I find great satisfaction strolling through home improvement stores. I stopped at the barbeque section first, checking out the latest in stainless steel units, pricing a new set of utensils—should I get an expensive higher quality four piece or a less expensive six piece?—and I looked at the various colors of covers and admired the fancy medical-looking marinade injectors. Sweet.

The next aisle had hammocks, and I have always wanted a hammock, picturing myself lounging in the backyard after a morning of yard work, reading a book and watching the clouds drift across a Southern California afternoon. They’re pricy, as it turns out, and I needed to research the virtues of cotton over nylon, and meanwhile I’d better plant a couple of trees. I looked up and the patio furniture caught my attention, as it usually does. I’m always shopping for patio furniture it seems, and though I have seen a few sets that will fit the bill, nothing has made me want to commit. I sat in a few of the chairs and then moved on.

I have a lawn mower; it’s only a few years old, but I didn’t take very good care of it back when we had a two-car garage. It was relegated to the backyard and sometimes it would sit uncovered, in the rain. When the little engine does roar to life, it exhales a giant flume of white smoke… and it sounds terrible, like I’m mowing the yard with a metal box full of marbles.

The new mowers are so clean and shining—all red and black—with tall rear wheels, enlarged bags and fresh controls. Powered by Honda. Powered by Briggs & Stratton. John Deere, Troy-Bilt… mini tractors for city folk wishing for farm life. I don’t think I could justify a riding mower in my yard, but the cup holders and that big headlight (for night mowing) is alluring.

I always skip the major appliance section, and not because I don’t like looking (I enjoyed shopping for the Big Three that we bought a few months back and I liked comparing water heaters last summer), but because the section is manned by enthusiastic sales folks who cherish their commissions and I don’t like to be approached when I’m not really looking… plus, saying that I’m “just looking” is a lie. That implies intention to buy.

Anyway, the real point of going to Lowes at all—if I had to nail down a reason—was to look into some shelving options for the garage, so I walked up and down the storage section for a while, a couple of laps was enough. I like storage items, boxes and crates, cubbies and shelves, as they give my obsession for order and arrangement a tangible quality and I can justify my mania a little. “I can’t be so weird if they make products that keep everything in its proper place.”

I like the tile aisle, because it rhymes and because I’ve got detailed plans to redo the downstairs bathroom to somewhat of a seaside motif and I’m slightly undecided on tile pattern or color. I like the variety of tiles, the colors, the textures, and I like that you can touch them all, see the styles together and picture the displays in my bathroom. Same goes for the kitchen remodeling displays, but to a lesser degree. I don’t dream of a redone fancy kitchen, but it would be nice to have granite countertops… so I sometimes find my way into that section (avoiding the commission earners that troll the faux kitchens) so I can feel the granite.

Always, one of the last stops on my Lowes tour is the lumber section, and for me, walking down the aisle is like opening the door of a coffee house and having that blast of coffee bean smell envelop your senses. Blindfolded, I could turn the corner into the lumber section, take a deep breath and swear I was in a forest standing on pine needles and hearing birds swoop through the air. Then I feel a little guilty: The trees have been cut down and sliced up for general consumption like carrots at Thanksgiving, and it’s like visiting a morgue and commenting on the scent of someone’s perfume. Sure, you smell enticing but you’re dead. Red Oak, Fir, Cedar, White Pine, Poplar, Redwood. It all smells so great and natural, even though I know a significant percentage of the odor is chromated copper arsenate, a common lumber preservative. Diagonal grain, spiral grain, straight grain…Select grade, common grade, first grade… four, six, eight-by-twos… some massive 18-foot planks, and railroad ties. I pondered near the planks of ponderosa pines what I could do with a few railroad ties; I like the rustic realism, and I could even see where they spiked down the rails, and it make for a great bucolic border to a flower bed, no doubt.

On the way out, I usually circle through the tool section, as there is nothing that evokes a larger spark of creativity more than a glimmering line of wrenches, or the many grains of sand paper, the clean tan leather pouches of the tool belts and the unused saw blades radiant from a light coat of oil.

I skirt the checkout counters empty handed and head for the bright sunlight of the parking lot. I’m relaxed, a little better focused, more in tune with my goals.

All that from a store.

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