Of course, there was a time in the beginning when the world was beautiful. A time when cardinal song seemed to lift us from our slumber and usher us tenderly outside to Elsie; a time when standing before the trailer triggered a flipbook full of possibilities; a time when a fresh coat of paint offered a satisfaction borderline “erotic.” There was a time in the beginning when the words “water damage” or “contact paper” or “still leaking” or “Are you sure it’s supposed to look like that?” didn’t trigger apoplectic meltdowns and the crumbling of personal psyches 20-some years in the making. In the beginning, everything was possible. Everything was right.
During these halcyon days even Lowe’s couldn’t tear us down. In truth, we loved that big box, always right where we needed it, just off the highway, the florescent lights beckoning us to stop, to grab another can of paint or return an extra compression fitting. Sometimes we’d purchase a “work soda” at the cooler next to the check out, because it felt right. Because lukewarm Mountain Dew and the scent of top-choice, kiln-dried ponderosa pine were meant for each other. In the beginning, we shopped at Lowe’s almost exclusively, and we did so for the obvious reason: the convenience. Don’t misunderstand us: we’d prefer to support the mom and pop shops, but when it came time to finding the right parts for Elsie, we just couldn’t always count on the small guy having the parts we needed. Before long, we were making bi-weekly visits to Lowe’s, always buying extra and returning the leftovers. And then there was Mustache Steve.
Mustache Steve entered our lives like a dream. Mustache Steve had the voice of an angel and the hands of a Sears model. Mustache Steve had the thickest handlebar mustache we have ever seen. His hairless scalp reflected light like the Chicago Bean under a noonday sun. Mustache Steve gave us hope. Also, Mustache Steve seemed to have a categorical knowledge of paint strippers. He knew exactly how much CitriStrip® Stripping Gel it would take to finish a 120-square-foot travel trailer. “Year and make?” he asked. “Figured so,” he later said. Not counting the extra leverage provided by the knob above the blade, he could recite three reasons why the Blue Hawk Steel Scraper performed better than the Kobalt Razor Scraper. Mustache Steve kept a tiny red notebook in his back pocket, filled with hieroglyphics only he could understand, and with which he frequently conferred. He spoke in complete sentences. He knew the difference between “who” and “whom.”
We only saw Mustache Steve during our first visit. [Note: Like Crazy Horse, he refused to be photographed.] He vanished from our lives as quickly as he had entered it. Much slower to fade was our love for Lowe’s, but fade it did, until one day, three or four months into the renovation process, we realized: we hate Lowe’s. The idea that Lowe’s ever seemed convenient to us felt absurd. Why is there never a sales rep nearby when you need him? Why is there no price listing on any of these 2x4s? Where the hell is the bathroom? Who’s buying this many copies of American Frontiersman Magazine? Why is the gardening section in a different time zone than the roofing section? Why is there a scar above my kidneys? Why is there so much ice in this bathtub? Where am I?
We haven’t altogether quit going to Lowe’s, but we avoid it whenever possible. Instead, we shop at Pracht’s Ace Hardware in Broken Bow, where the proprietor is never out of earshot if we need help. Or we try Menard’s, which isn’t much better than Lowe’s, but it feels less polished, and therefore a little more personal. Plus, Menards. Just say it: Menards. You know it’s funny.