from August 1, 2007
For those of you who were smart enough not to read “Knobs for Noobs,” and frankly, good for you, a quick recap: After a fruitless yet epic search for a replacement air conditioner knob, which took me such exotic locales as Boro Park, where a man ate dinner from a dusty hot plate, to New Jersey, where I bought a “shhnurgenshtein” in the Swedish heaven called IKEA. I was finally forced to order a knob at a stupidly inflated price from GE. That blog featured an extended description of my lifelong frustration with Home Depot. An excerpt follows:
Despite owning the reputation of having everything anyone could possibly need to put in a tub, sod a lawn, or furnish a castle, I had trouble there a few years back finding some hex screws. On another occasion I could not buy their advertised drill because, as explained by an associate, “it doesn’t exist.”
For those of you who have never been to a Home Depot, congratulations! Home Depot is one of those huge mega-warehouse hardware stores that is supposed to be your one-stop shop for anything in your home, be it paint, planks, or pliers. It has power saws and sanders. It has garden soil and planters. It has primer and stain. You could go into any Home Depot store and leave with anything for your home except an actual house, but if you want to live in a tool shed, they can supply your home too. Or so they say. I have found Home Depot to be lacking in pretty much whatever I have needed. And I’m talking about simple stuff, like nails or toilet seats. (Not to mention air conditioner knobs. But that was another story.)
Well, as this episode begins, I found myself in the strange predicament of being locked inside my apartment the other night. I’d been locked out before, but this was new. I was inside with no way to get out. I have a very expensive and secure lock on my front door. It has a very unusually-shaped key and is guaranteed to be impossible to open except by that key. In fact, the keys are uncopyable and have to be registered with the locksmith. So if my home is ever burgled, I am going straight to the police with the name of my locksmith, since he must be the one who broke in. The lock is great, but the doorknob was original equipment with the door and had been going bad for a few weeks. It would spin on the axle and not catch until I tightened the little screws on the side, and they were starting to strip. I put off replacing it because, well, that’s usually what I do. (Other than writing blogs where I review movies. Have you read my Ratatouille review? Neither did I.)
On this night, as I was on my way out to an exciting and amazing destination (Waldbaum’s to buy some fruit) the door knob just came off in my hand. The door stayed shut, I had the knob and a stupid look on my face. “Uh.” Thanks to my special lock, if I were on the other side of the door, I could easily have gotten in to the apartment with the key, no knob required. Getting out, however, needed the knob. See why the lock is so special?
I got a long-handled screwdriver and used all of the skills I picked up in my years as a carjacker to jimmy open the catch through the little space between the door and jamb (and no, this doesn’t render the lock useless, this can only be done from the inside) and popped the door open. I cancelled my vital plans to buy oranges and knew that I had to replace the knob or once I came back I might never get out again. It was nine at night and only one place was open, Hells’ Depot. I mean Home Depot, again in search of a knob.
A little bit of back story here. I had just slightly twisted my right ankle for the 12th or 13th time in my life and it was a little sore. High on my left hip I had a small insect bite which had become infected and painful to a degree that I wouldn’t inflict on Jolanta Rohloff or Rick Mangone. Consequently, walking was uncomfortable for me. Not bad, not painful, but uncomfortable since any pressure on either leg was a problem. And if there is one thing you do in Home Depot, it is walk, because the place is as big as a TWA aircraft hanger, but with worse customer assistance.
I approached the store the way you I imagine soldiers in Viet Nam approached a stretch of dark woods. Cautiously, not knowing what it held, I slowly neared the store. Steely eyed and resolute, I nodded when the greeter did his thing. (And why does Home Depot need a greeter anyway? If I want a guy in filthy overalls to say “hi” to me I’ll go to the dump.) This was to be the last intelligent human contact I had inside the store. I would have a load of non-intelligent contact soon enough.
Home Depot (HD from now on because I’m lazy) at nine on a Friday night is not a happening place. On Saturday night, date night, the aisles are filled with young lovers, but on Friday the place had a few moms and toddlers looking for mops, some guys buying sheets of plywood, a few people pushing carts filled with power tools (and Homeland Security should really see who is buying power drills and big bags of fertilizer) and me, on my mission.
When you enter HD, you are facing the cleaning supplies. To your left is the garden center, to the right is the bulk of the beast. I turned right.
All the aisles are cleverly labeled with such helpful signs as “tools” and “nuts,” so I at least got a good chuckle there.
So I walked and walked and walked to the other end, past appliances, through paint and wallpaper, to the lumber section, in which it is possible to purchase bags of sawdust. That’s the stuff that gets swept up and thrown out at the end of a job. I assume it is there so that someone could spread it all over their floor and pretend to have been working really hard building that patio deck when they’ve actually been drinking beer and looking at their Jessica Alba calendars. (And yes, I do know why they sell sawdust. I’m no fool. They sell it to spread on the floors of western steakhouses.) You may have noticed that I have just walked end to end without finding the doorknobs.
The first thing to do was find someone to ask. This is easier said than done because, in a store the size of a city block, there are maybe three employees. The guy at the door, someone in a red vest who always seems to be at the opposite end of the store no matter where you might be, and the guy I asked. In my defense, he looked like he knew what he was doing. He had a price gun and was carrying a ruler. But of course, the answer I got was “back there, I think.”
My first instinct was to hit him with something solid. My second instinct was to just walk away. I briefly thought about asking “back there where?” but my better judgment kicked in. I said “Phhhpt” and walked, now a little more uncomfortably, to where I believed, logically, they should be. I studied the flow of the store. I noted where the plumbing section led to the appliances and then led to the tools. After a few seconds of inspection, I said to myself “aisle twenty,” and that’s where they were. (And before you ask, no, the signage did not help at all.)
Now don’t think it was that easy. Although I was in the right aisle, I still had to hunt through all the stuff I didn’t want to find what I did. And then it was still harder because they had only four sets of knobs. Four in this whole city-sized place. And they were all dented.
Dented! Every single one of them, in every set of two, was dented. I held them all up to the light. Some were small dings, some were big holes. I picked the least dinged of them on the theory that A- I really need this to get out of my house, B- I could replace them later, and C- if I could manage to find a manager, I could complain. Now I knew that C was impossible and B wouldn’t happen because I’m lazy, but A was very compelling so I set out to find a cashier.
They actually had a cashier working, and I have to admit that this cashier was working hard. Good thing too, because she was the ONLY cashier and the line was anywhere from 8 to 45 people deep. I couldn’t really tell how many there were because they weren’t in a line, they were clustered around the cashier and complaining about how she was the only cashier and why didn’t she open another line and why didn’t she work faster and where was the manager and why was there only one cashier and where were the lawnmowers and on and on and on. Plus everyone had either a wagon filled with stuff or a flatbed filled with lumber.
I had doorknobs. So I went to the self-checkout.
Self-checkout is a scam. Part of what you pay for anything goes to pay the salary of the employees who ring you up. If I am going to ring up myself, and the store doesn’t need to pay someone to do it for me, I want a rebate. After all, the store is getting to save money by making me do the work. The same goes for when you bag yourself at the supermarket, but I make an exception there so my groceries will be bagged competently. Fast food places do the same thing when they give you the cup and you fill your own soda, but you can get over by getting refills. (But since soda is the biggest moneymaker in all of food service, this really is a hollow victory. McDonald’s, for example, pays less than ½ cent for the soda for which you paid $1.49. Soda is nearly all profit in food retail.) In general, there is a trend in retail to get the customer to do more of the work, thereby saving the company money. These savings are never passed on to you, and they are designed to make you think you are getting faster checkout, or convenience, or whatever, but in the end you still pay for services you don’t get.
But if I wanted to get out of HD before I died, or before I killed someone with a Dremel roto-tiller, I need to leave. Self-checkout had a line slightly smaller than the regular checkout, but slightly slower, so it was a wash.
When I finally got out of HD, sometime early Saturday afternoon, I went home and put the knob on the door.
Fit like a glove.
I would like to say that I will never go to Home Depot again. I’d like to tell you that I have managed to get it out of my life. But history shows that I am doomed to forever go back again, and again. Home Depot still beckons me, like some Lovecraftian phantom, lurking on the threshold of my sanity. I pray that I have the strength to resist.