Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Vintage Charm Depot

So, I like projects. Building things and fixing things around the house. It makes me feel ballsy, but sometimes in a powerful chick way. So a few weeks ago I was wandering around and I happened to come upon a small independent hardware store I'd never been inside, I trotted right on in to take a peek. See, I LOVE little independent hardware stores. (The guys wanted to move to our house because of the bowling alley. I wanted to move to our house because of the independent hardware store UNDER the bowling alley. When it's time to de-ice our front steps or unclog a drain or winterize the garden, I joyfully trot out to do it. I LOVE this stuff). And the little indie stores are the best because they always have some wonderful wizened character who'll watch you look at paint for a while, or drill bits, then slouch on over to drawl questions about primer concentration or chamois softness or diameter tolerance (that last one sounds a little spicy, but it's less so than you might think).

But ANYWAY. When I got inside this little store the three or so guys standing around all stopped what they were doing to look at me, and the one behind the cash register shifted the toothpick to the other corner of his mouth, looked at me over the tops of his bifocals, and said, "What are YOU lookin' for?"

I honestly wish at that moment I'd had that elusive record-scratch sound at my disposal because of the briskness with which all three fellows snapped to attention and started looking really uncomfortable once I was inside. When I replied, "Nothing special, just looking around," all three of them chuckled with discomfort and proceeded to watch me look around. I went straight to the woodstain department, because at the time I had some benches at home I needed to deal with, but repeatedly I looked up and saw those six strange beady eyes on me, wondering what the hell I was and why the hell I was there.

Eventually I left, just because I was worried that one of the guys would have some kind of allergic reaction to me if I stayed, but it amused me and got me to thinking. I've had experiences like this before, though this was the first one in Chicago. Most of the time men that gawk at me in hardware stores sooner or later accept that I'm there to look, maybe there to buy, and I don't need them to pick out tools for me or help me lift the big 'ol heavy tubs of sealant and caulk. Most of the time if they react to me at all it's in a sweet, avuncular way, and I get a pleasant nostalgic feeling, as if I'm leaning back into an old chair of my grandfather's and happen to smell a hint of cherry tobacco.

And as much as I'm what I guess I would call a practical humanist (I reject the term 'feminist' with regard to myself because I have a lot of conflict with the notion of either gender taking any sort of precedence) I feel a part of something older when men treat me this way. It's like having someone tip his hat or offer his arm or pull out my chair for me. I'm not talking about the men in this most recent incident -- they seemed threatened and even a little bit threatening simply because they wouldn't interact with me in any real way at all while I was there and they openly snickered at my notions of competence. What I find comforting and somehow refreshingly familiar is the behavior of that certain older generation of men (and a few men of the younger generations) that indicates to me that they are prepared for me to surprise them. They treat me with respect, but it's also something more; they assist me in a human way but also they make room for me, acknowledge by allowing me to go first or take precedence that I have obstacles in life (many of them vestigial at this point because I do feel equal in almost every single way almost all of the time) but that, given a little bit of room and respect, I could have the ability to be some luminous, respect-worthy creature. With the older men it's as if they remember the days when I would have been a second-class citizen, maybe they even remember a girl from their youth who looked a little like me, and they treat me this way to commemorate what's past and acknowledge our shared human history.


But then, of course, I see something like this, and I start to wonder if there is a gender between men and women where everyone I know and respect seems to reside.


Blogger ShannonRose said...

Are you sure the hardware store wasn't just some Serbian Mob organization or a German SS front?

11:04 AM  

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