Coming unhinged at Home Depot

The Baltimore Sun

When a man reaches a certain age, he begins reflecting on a lot of things. Lately what I've been reflecting on is: How much of my life have I wasted wandering around these home-improvement superstores, trying to find stuff?

The other day, for instance, I went to Home Depot looking for two things: a handle for a storm door and gardening gloves.

The whole process took, I don't know, three days.

Let's start with the door handle.

Want to know how many different door handles Home Depot sells?

No? Neither did I.

But I'll tell you anyway: They sell about 4,000 door handles.

They have wood door handles, brass door handles, pewter door handles, crystal door handles.

You need to spend about a week looking at all the door handles to figure out which one you want.

What's the chain's slogan: "You can do it, we can help"?

Hey, Home Depot, I'll tell you how you can really help.

How about narrowing the door-handle selection down to, say, four? That would really speed things up.

Anyway, I finally find the storm-door-handle section - in a completely different aisle, by the way - and pick up a nifty brass handle.

Then I go off in search of one of the Home Depot guys in the orange apron. I want to tell him what kind of door I have at home and ask him if he thinks the handle will fit.

That way, if I buy it and it doesn't fit, I'll at least have someone to blame.

For several minutes, I walk up and down the aisles, but there's no one in an orange apron to be found.

Finally about four aisles over, I find someone.

I ask if he can help with a question about a door handle.

"You need to see Jim," the man says.

Jim's not around, I say. No one's around the storm-door-handle aisle. It's like there's been an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease.

"He's probably taking his break," the man says. "We'll page him."

So they page Jim.

OK, I know how this paging thing works. Oh, yeah, I've seen this movie before.

Sometimes Jim shows up when he's paged, sometimes he doesn't.

This time Jim doesn't show up.

So Walt, the guy who was paging Jim, reluctantly offers to help.

"What's your question?" he asks.

But as I pose my question to Walt, his face begins to take on a glazed expression, which is never a good thing.

Not once does Walt nod or murmur "Yep, uh-huh" or give any sign that he knows what I'm talking about.

When I'm through, he says nothing for about 15 seconds.

Finally he says: "Jim would know the answer to that."

But Jim's not here, I say. I thought we'd established that.

"You have anything else to do in the store?" Walt asks. "If so, I'd do it and check back here after that. Jim should be back from his break by then."

OK, so there it is: The success of my trip to Home Depot - in fact, my very ability to get in and out of my own home - now hinges on Jim.

Who might be at Dunkin' Donuts or out back pitching horseshoes or God knows where at this point.

So now, to kill time, I go off in search of the garden gloves.

And, boy, do I kill time.

Want to know how many different types of garden gloves Home Depot sells?

Neither did I. But the answer is 23. I counted them. Why not? I had nothing better to do now that I was waiting for Jim to finish his break.

Finding the right garden gloves also took way more effort than you'd want to spend on that sort of thing.

But by the time I returned to the storm-door-handle aisle, a new guy in an orange apron was puttering about.

Ta-daaa! I think, we've found Jimbo. (Yep, I'm a regular Sherlock Holmes.) And it turns out it is Jim.

But when I tell him what kind of door I have at home and ask whether he thinks the handle will fit, he seems startled.

For an instant I think: Hmm, maybe you're not supposed to ask them any questions when they first come off their break.

Maybe there's some kind of acclimation period needed to go from down-time to being grilled on door handles.

Maybe you just need to give them a minute or two to get it together.

But Jim finally said he thought the new handle would fit just fine, although he couldn't be certain, and that if it didn't fit, I shouldn't blame him because who can ever be absolutely sure about these things.

Well, that was certainly a definitive answer.

The garden gloves, on the other hand, fit like a dream.

So I guess it was all worth it.


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