Maybe the local hardware store is an unusual place for a person suffering from extreme anxiety to stumble upon solace…but I do.
I’m not alone. The carefully masked man at my hardware’s information counter says when the deadly germ Covid-19 first began to terrorize Morgan Hill—as well as the rest of world humanity—many months ago, foot traffic in home repair jumped 30 percent. Despite directives to shelter-in-place, neighbors flock in large numbers to this essential business.
For myself, this hardware store can’t be too crowded. I need to be latex gloved and wearing a three-layered mask, shopping single, without worrying distractions, my wife and son ensconced safely at home. Dinnertime is best, right before closing, when only a few cautious diehards continue to inhabit the aisles.
I can’t claim big answers—not to why my nation chooses such a God-awful reckless president, or if another 200,000 citizens will die of the virus, or if California’s and the world’s economy will soon or ever recover. Sometimes my 62-year-old wife’s cautious optimism, in spite of her weariness, can perplex me. I wonder if assuring our young-adult son that solutions exist to climate change, that the historic record-breaking wildfires, the Stage-4 hurricanes, will stop, that the planet will heal, that he will be able to trust his government, that life will be fine and long and, at special times, happy—is nothing more than a harmful fantasy at this point.
Yet, in my shopping cart rest small answers I know to be true. Teflon tape and a new tap will stop a kitchen leak my wife has been asking me to fix for weeks. With a box of three-inch galvanized nails, I can secure the sub-floor of my garage studio. A can of paint will make our family-room walls look brand new. A length of Romex cable will bring 120 volts to a living-room plug I’ll repair easily enough.
In my hardware’s lighting section, I hear two electricians discussing energy ratings for L.E.D. tubes. Tomorrow they’ll install library lighting at a junior high school they helped build. The school is currently closed, but scheduled to reopen sometime in the possibly foreseeable future, after the killer germ is brought under control.
A comforting thought occurs to me, as it often does here, listening to repairmen and looking through tools—maybe human hands have always been designed to hold wire strippers and pipe wrenches, screwdrivers and shovels, hammers and saws and paint brushes.
I can, for now, restore a few tiny, tangible, broken parts of my world.
And so, can anyone else who discovers these aisles. All the proper tools and construction materials line the shelves. Advice is given freely, some of it good even in these times of misinformation and propaganda. Most store discussions (as in the outdoor church meetings held around town) center on two life-affirming topics: repair and creation.
At home, my tired wife asks “Get what you need, Mister Fix-It?” I smile at her well-worn term of endearment. Nod yes.
Tonight, I skip watching the national news on TV with my family, listening to the latest death totals. Instead, I head straight for the kitchen sink, my hellish nerves calmed down, reassured from the trip to my hardware that I can deal with our dripping faucet.