On his blog, my friend Bob shows his handiness installing a new sink — something I don’t think I could manage. But last night I did manage to fix the pneumatic closing mechanism for my front screen door. To finish the job, I needed new screws to match some old ones, but that were about half an inch longer. I naively thought I’d just bring the old screw with me and match it to some new screw over at Lowe’s. Ha ha ha. Sweet holy Jesus, I had no idea there were so many screws in the world. Sheet metal, heavy metal, woodworking, wood vole, self-drilling, carriage bolt, pram flange, bleagh! And then there were the sizes for each type. Inches, metric, and some number-dash-number ones. My eyes swam over all the possibilities and I had no idea where to begin. So I just stood there for a moment, stymied.
As I looked vaguely about I noticed that my peers in the screw-and-nail aisle were moving with purpose and certainty, while I remained stock-still and slack-jawed. The task at hand quickly shifted from Finding the Screw to Demonstrating Manhood. In order to accomplish the latter, I found myself theatrically inspecting the largest carriage bolts I could find, turning them over in my hand with an eyebrow cocked, as if I were judging a melon. But I wasn’t thinking about the bolt. I was thinking, “hmmm… is my eyebrow cocked convincingly? Or should it be furrowed? Can you furrow and cock and the same time? Is this what it feels like for women to shop for swimwear? Why the hell are you fondling this carriage bolt?”
Indeed, why the hell was I fondling that carriage bolt? In order to avoid looking ridiculous, I had apparently decided to act ridiculously. And I’m not alone in this; even though my friend Bob did a great job with his sink, he too reported feeling out of place in the plumbing aisle looking for the right sort of PVC pipe. Bob was wearing flip-flops at the time, and we all know real plumbers don’t wear flip flops.
It took a great deal of resolve for me to suck it up, turn to the staff guy in the apron and utter the words, “I’m having trouble finding a screw in this size. Could you give me a hand?” He did just that, nobody cocked an eyebrow or furrowed a brow about it, I got the right screw for the job, and I went home and fixed the damn door. But the morning after, I think to myself that if I reacted in such a confoundingly conformist way to the task of picking out a 2-inch piece of hardware, how would I react when challenged to make the right public decision when the stakes weren’t so negligible? How would you?