Everything You Need

Mary I. Cuffe

There's this big lie out there. That we can do anything. And everything we need to do it is at the Home Warehouse.

You may have noticed that nobody does small home repairs anymore. There are no carpenters, only contractors. This leaves a huge gap into which fall the lot of us who bought the marketing ploy that we should be able to do small household repairs and installations ourselves. Shamelessly misled, we find ourselves standing before the vast sliding glass doors of the Home Warehouse like innocents confronting a wilderness, pathetically ill prepared.

Such was I, clutching my dimensions for louvered doors.

The store is cinematic in scope. Where to begin? Before me are ten acres of warehouse stocked with every innovation in building supplies, household wares, furnishings, tools, parts, and lawn equipment capable of leveling a Brazilian rain forest. Signs, arrows, loudspeakers yank my attention in opposing directions. Merchandise is stacked to the very top of the vaulted ceilings, hovering dangerously overhead. People in green aprons scurry around corners. Forklifts barrel down aisles. Noise and light careen off all of this, along with the frantic chirping of a trapped Starling. Customers scanning endless aisles look confused, anxious, wanting out. Do I really want in?

But how can I turn back, standing on the threshold of everything I needed. And just what was that, again? Louvered closet doors, I remind myself. I study my dimensions again, then search for a sign to guide me. It's like staring into a hologram. I know it's there, amid the plumbing and fixtures and flooring. I just can't see it. What I need is one of the Home Warehouse Service representatives that are smilingly portrayed in the advertisements. They wear green aprons with You Can Do It printed at a jaunty angle across the front and a look of helpfulness that is both sympathetic and composed -- the look of mental health professionals.

There is no lack of them in the store. Flashes of green everywhere -- streaking down aisles, balanced on stories-high ladders, brandishing 2 X 4s and driving forklifts heaped with floor tiles while bellowing for clearance. But when I approach, they vanish like Irish fairies.

Doors, I remind myself. Neck beginning to hurt from looking up, I wander down aisle after aisle in search of a green apron or a sign that says simply "doors." Several aisles and a twitching neck muscle later, I find Exterior Doors. Confident that Interior Doors cannot be far away, I press on past toilets and tubs, flooring, tubing and piping, past paints, paneling, and wall coverings. It is at this point that I begin to wonder about the mind that conceived the layout of Home Warehouse. It is only by chance that I stumble upon Interior Doors, which includes closet doors in a dizzying array of choices -- except the one I'm looking for. I begin to search in earnest for a green apron.

Mistakenly, I directly approach two Can-Do-It representatives engaged in conversation 20 feet from me. Before I can form my question, they part, then vanish. Never let them see you coming, I vow.

I spy another, who smiles and looks sympathetic and composed before a customer despite the fact that the customer literally holds him in place by his green apron. I charge up to the two of them, then hover beside them. We are in the land of bolts, knockers, hangers, and hinges, I see. All sizes shapes and possibilities. When the conversation about hinge replacement ends and the customer ambles off, looking as desperate as before, I jump in with my question about louvered doors. A beeper goes off. The Can-Do-It lifts his hand as if to ward me off. "I'll be right back," he says breathlessly and sprints away, following the command of his beeper.

No one else in the aisle now. I am left to wander, aisle after aisle, searching for a louvered door or a person in green. I find neither.

Suddenly a green apron appears in front of me. A tactical mistake on the Can-Do-It's part, I see right away by the snared look in his eyes. He tries to recover and look helpful. I know he is hoping for his beeper to go off. "Louvered doors," I demand. "Where are the louvered doors?"

He looks befuddled. "Mediterranean, Colonial, or Rustic?"

"Just louvered doors to start with."

He bolts and runs, presumably leading the way. I give chase, but this is his habitat and he loses me easily. Three aisles over I spy him 40 feet up a ladder.

"Louvered doors?" I call up to him, my question ricocheting off the rafters.

"Of course, " he calls down, looking helpful and composed. "I am just finishing up with another customer. Be with you in a minute." I watch him until my neck muscles begin to twitch spasmodically. I drop my head momentarily and, sure enough, when I look up he is gone.

I am determined now to catch a man in green or at least knock one of off a ladder. I lurk close to the merchandise, trying to camouflage myself among the oriental rugs. All is quiet. Eventually, I step out, stalk the aisles. I catch only the green rim of a cap, high atop one of the sliding ladders. Sure it is the same Can Do It who most recently eluded me, I skulk down the aisle, then scramble up the ladder. I remember only when I am one rung below the green apron perched at the very highest rung of the ladder that I am afraid of heights.

"Can I help you?" he asks as if this is a perfectly normal position from which to conduct business. I cannot see if the expression on his face remains sympathetic and composed because I am directly below him, welded by fear to the ladder.

"Louvered doors. Remember?" I say, my voice taking on a tone that frightens even me.

"Louvered doors," he repeats tightly. "You'll find them in Aisle.."

"I'm not going down another aisle," I snarl. "We're not going anywhere until louvered doors, 48" X 73" arrive right there." A shaking finger points to the floor 60 feet below which, from this height, has an unsettling, undulating effect.

"This is against store policy," he says after a short pause. But we both know I am well beyond store policy, self preservation, or even human decency.

"Call for the lift," I demand.

"This is against store policy," he mumbles again as he carefully reaches into his apron pocket for his beeper.

I have the feeling that this is not the first time there has been a hostage situation at Home Warehouse. Within minutes the forklift pulls up below us. Two men in green, one on the forklift and the one trapped on the highest rung of a 60 foot ladder by a customer gone berserk, exchange knowing looks. Somber instructions pass between the two. The Can-Do-It driving the lift nods, then drives off. Despite my captive's attempts to reason with me, I do not descend the ladder until the lift returns hoisting a large cardboard box.

My feet firmly planted on the floor of the Home Warehouse, I examine the contents of the box and quickly realize that it contains not quite everything I need.

"How do I attach them to the wall?" I ask. To my surprise, the two men in green aprons are still standing beside me, like lingerers at an accident scene.

"You need the hardware, of course," one of them replies with a smile that makes a nifty transition from sympathetic to demonic.

"Hardware?" I gulp. "And where is that?"

They turn, shade their eyes and peer into the far recesses of the store. "We cannot take you there," is the reply. "It's out of our territory."

Then, it seems all noise and chaos fades into the background. I am standing in the midst of everything I need, aware only of the manic chirping of the Starling, still looking for a way out.

© Mary Cuffe

Mary Cuffe is a poet/writer who lives in upstate New York. She has published numerous poems, short stories, and articles in literay journals and magazines. In 2000, her first book, "The Woman of Too Many Days," was published by Calyx Press. She is currently working on children's books and another collection of poetry.

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