Tuesday, April 25, 2006

IF ONLY WE COULD PEEL FASTER

It was hardware store #3 that I tried that evening, and things were not looking good. You could literally see a storm approaching--a mass of gray clouds bumbling down the island, enveloping building after building. All of the other hardware stores were already closed. Who needs screws and self-adhesive hooks and toilet snaking devices after 6 PM? Apparently nobody. But this hardware store, the third I've tried, does not yet have its graffiti-covered steel shutters rolled down yet. It does have a disgusting yellowed glass case with a rack of rat-chewed soft pretzels inside, right next to a key grinder. The sign on the door is in Chinese, but the characters seem to suggest more of an openness to me than a closedness, so I give it a try. The floor is warped plywood and the shelves are teetering precariously into one another. The place smells like oil and rot. Nobody seems to be in the place, but luckily--miraculously, really--I find exactly what I need right in front of me. There is a sagging cardboard display that appears as though it sustained a substantial amount of water damage right by the counter, which has all of those "essentials" that you can't get by without: half-priced bathtub caulk, multi-purpose rubber mallets, florescent screwdrivers that are also keychains and have magnets attached to the end, and then what I need, which is a tape measure.

"Perfect!" I say aloud, and snatch up the tape measure, which is a hefty, metal kind. As I gleefully whirl around, I knock into the man of my dreams, who has just entered the store unbeknownst to me. He is wearing a pleather jacket, which makes a plasticky squeak when I slam into it full force. He half exclaims, half grunts and gently grabs me by the elbows and separates us. "I'm so sorry!" I say, and I am a little bit, but also, if I had to collide with someone, boy, I'm glad it was him. He is tall and has the kind of complexion that seems like he was all freckles in the summertime as a kid.

"Excuse me," he says, and sounds embarrassed, which I like. "Are you okay?"

And rather than answering rationally, I proudly display my tape measure like it was the cure for polio and say "yes, I was just buying a tape measure so I can measure my new bedroom."

Already I realize it's really more than any rational person would care to know, but he's not that rational, he's the man of my dreams, who by definition should be a little healthily irrational.

"Could I measure your hand?" I ask, "to make sure it works?" And without a word of protest, he produces his left hand, his fingers held tightly together. Very seriously, I produce the end of the tape measure and hook it around the tip of his middle finger, then pull it down until it nearly reaches the cuff of his shirt. As I work, I talk to him, like the dental hygenist, who has the opportunity to carry on the most inane conversation while people are completely incapacitated to tell her to shut up.

"I'm so glad this place was still open," I say, "because I really needed a tape measure. At first I thought I could just measure by holding my arms out, but I don't think I'm very consistent with that sort of thing." The man is watching me and not responding. "I wonder how far my armspan is actually." I say. "I guess I could measure it now that I've got my tape measure. It's probably wider than I'd think. You know, certain birds of prey have wingspans of six, seven feet. That's a huge bird." I look down at the tape measure, which I'm holding against his wrist. "Wow, eight and a half," I proclaim, and permit the tape measure to noisily retract, "that's a pretty big hand. I guess if you had anything and you knew exactly how long it is, you could easily use it to measure something. Like if we had one of those giant birds of prey here--a bald eagle--and we knew its wingspan was exactly 6 feet, that would be helpful for measuring a room. It'd seem strange holding it up against the wall, though, all smashed up flush against the freshly painted surface."

The man is smiling, not sympathetically, like he thinks I'm nuts, not even amused, like he thinks I'm quirky, but like he's just listening and loving it.

"Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a federal offense to use a bald eagle for something like that. I don't know."

Then the man says something: "How long is your hand?" He asks.

"Guess," I say, and hook the end of the tape measure on my middle finger.

"Uh..." He bites his lower lip. "Six."

I frown. "Seven." And feeling self-conscious, I laugh nervously and say "but you know what they say about girls with big hands" even though I haven't the foggiest clue what they say about girls with big hands.

The man smiles and laughs and nods slightly, but he doesn't ask what they say about girls with big hands, he just acts like he knows, which he doesn't, because I don't think people really say anything about girls with big hands. The fact that he doesn't say anything really confirms to me that he's the man of my dreams.

"What are you here for?" I ask the man.

He quickly scans the aisle we're on, hones in on one area, compares two boxes with one another, and then selects one of them. "These." He says, shaking a box of screws. "I'm hanging an enormous map of the Khyber Pass in my living room."

Just then, a door in the back creaks open and a stout, ogre-like man in a soiled army green tee-shirt lumbers out. "We're closing," he dutifully informs us.

Outside, the sky rumbles like an angry stomach and large droplets begin pelting the sidewalk. The two kids eyeing the superball machine outside the deli next door run for cover under the awning. The man of my dreams and I pay for our respective purchases (I do not offer to measure the hand of the man behind the counter) and then the man of my dreams let me share his umbrella with him until we got to the subway. He was going that way anyway, he said.

3 comments:

Madame said...

So...

Did you get the man of your dreams' phone number or name?

la_sale_bete said...

I didn't get the name/phone number, but I did have him chomp down on a bite plate, so I'll be able to identify him by his dental records.

Belle-ah said...

YOU do know what they say about girls with big hands, don't you????

The wear large gloves!