Let’s start with the punchline.
Elbow Grease. You can’t buy elbow grease at Lowes. I suspect you also cannot buy it at Home Depot or any other home improvement store. Most people know this by common sense. I know this only by experience.
It was 2007 and we were headed to a friend’s birthday party. She and I had a running joke about elbows and I knew an elbow-related gift would hit the spot. My husband, being the kind gent that he is, didn’t try to talk me out of it. He even drove me to the scene of the crime and offered to “wait in the car.”
If you are not a woman, you may not know what it feels like to walk into a such a store without a Y chromosome.
You have something to prove. You enter the store with your eyes on your phone. It is to be understood you are checking your fantasy football scores. You mumble something about the Patriots or some team you hope is in-season. In reality, you’re actually googling house project terms so you don’t wander into plumbing instead of electrical. You dodge down aisles, so no one has a chance to sneak-attack with “can I help you?” The last thing you want is to be offered help. You approach vested-employees on your timeline, only after silently rehearsing a well-worded statement to communicate your (false) knowledge on the subject. You walk not too fast and not too slow. A speed of 2.8 mph communicates you are neither lost nor late for preparing a meal/picking up a child/a pedicure. You know what you need, where to find it and what to do with it. (Or YouTube does…)
After an unsuccessful search of multiple aisles, it was time. Time to engage an employee with my prepared statement.
Not a question. A statement. You always lead with a statement. Questions imply lack of knowledge and you can’t take a chance in this situation. Even if your statement is actually a question, just adjust your inflection and mix up your word order, accordingly.
“I can’t remember what department the elbow grease is located in.”
It’s been almost ten years, and I guarantee Jason in Hardware is still telling this story in the break room. Or at dinner parties. Depending where life has taken him.
At the time, I was sure he knew exactly what I was talking about. He directed me to Plumbing, explaining how often things get moved around, so it was understandable I couldn’t find it.
Soon, he enlisted the help of Mike from Plumbing. Not because Mike had special knowledge in that department, but because Mike was the nearest employee Jason could grab in which to focus my attention so he could spin around to spit out his silent laughter. I’m 100% positive (now) that was the reason. Mike initially looked confused and then caught the glance of his co-worker, nodded and directed me to the next aisle. He pointed to a four-foot-wide expanse of products where he “saw it last” and left me to my dignity.
It was around this time that the synapses began firing and the world went from fuzzy to clear. After a final scan of the shelf resulting in nothing called “elbow grease,” time came to a screeching halt. I suddenly remembered all the instances where I had ever heard the phrase “elbow grease,” and connected that such a thing did indeed not come in a bar-coded container. I maxed out my home-improvement-store speed to it’s upper limit of 3.1 mph, as to not draw attention. Leaving such a store empty-handed is a huge risk to the female ego, but at this point, that ship had sailed.
I hadn’t prepared for what would await me when I reached the car. A husband, bowled over in a fit of laughter. No replay required. He knew what had happened. He had all but set me up.
I wish I could say I just never went back. But, you can’t live in a city for a decade and avoid the home improvement store. You just can’t.
I’ve been in and out of that place one-hundred times. Avoiding aisle 17. Avoiding Hardware and Plumbing. Avoiding Jason and Mike and anyone else who’s ever seen my picture in the break room with the words “elbow-grease girl” scratched under it. Avoiding eye-contact.
Well, today, I had my victorious moment.With a toddler in tow. I walked directly to an aisle and without any assistance, selected four half-inch overlay hinges, navigated self-checkout and was back out to my car in under five minutes.
I felt like a champ.
Not just because I got what I needed (well, what my husband needed). Not just because I got it without any help (truth be told, I did ask which aisle hinges were located). And not just because I tackled the whole thing without phoning my spouse (and thus displaying I was really just an errand-girl).
I felt like a champ because my home-improvement victory lap happened in aisle 17. Aisle 17 – where, almost ten years ago, I met Jason. Jason from Hardware. Jason who is still laughing his head off at the elbow-grease girl.
Take that aisle 17. Take that Jason from Hardware. Take that home improvement stores everywhere.
It took me ten years to feel victorious in your store. What can I say? Sometimes, you just need a little bit of elbow grease to get the job done.