Funny things happen when you go Christmas shopping on Route 58.
Not too long ago, I donned my favorite orange hoodie and ventured out into the rainy and un-Christmas-like weather of this December in search of Christmas gifts.
As usual, one of my first stops was at the Home Depot. I do most of my Christmas shopping at the Home Depot. Your loved ones never know when they may need a new furnace igniter or a battery-operated Sawzall or a new drain stopper. Sometimes you have to give them hints, through Christmas gifts, of what they might need to get through the year.
The Home Depot takes to having greeters at the door this time of year, and this year, the greeter was especially friendly.
“Hi!” she said, the universal American greeting of a friendly stranger.
“Hi!” I said back. She smiled bigger than any Home Depot greeter I’d ever met. It put me right in the Christmas spirit.
I started out in the light bulb aisle, because I have an obnoxious habit of giving my relatives the latest new-fangled craze in energy efficient lighting. This habit was marred a few years back when one of my relatives convinced the rest of my relatives that the compact flourescent light bulbs I’d given them would give everyone in my family mercury poisoning. But I still try.
Another customer tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. Seemed everyone was in a touchy-feely holiday mood.
“Do you know where the light-activated light switches are?” he asked.
“No. Probably in the light switch aisle, I guess,” I said.
He groaned and shook his head and walked away.
I headed over to the caulk aisle. Everyone needs caulk, whether they know it or not. While I was piling up tubes of silicone and latex, clear and white and biscuit-colored caulk in my cart, a young couple who were walking briskly through the store screeched to a halt.
“Do you know where the smartphone-activated thermostats are?” they asked.
“Never heard of such a thing,” I said, then went back to my caulky adventure. They stood there for a minute staring at me and then walked away.
By the registers, the employee watching over the self-checkout lanes was in a fine mood.
“How ya doin’ today?” he asked as I wheeled my cart by.
“Aight!” I replied.
“Aight!” he said. “That’s good.”
We were grooving on the Christmas spirit.
I headed over to the garbage can aisle. Everyone needs garbage cans, especially that monster on that TV show we all watched as kids, who lived in a metal can. Retro, very hip. Metal garbage cans for everyone on my list.
A wiry guy in a brown hoodie walked up to me while I was picking out my cans. He wanted to know where the Ryobi One+ tool sets were.
“Probably in tools,” I said.
“Are you being a smartass?” he answered.
“Looks like you’re all out.”
“It’s not on my list. I already have that tool set.”
He lost his patience.
“If you don’t know, find me someone who knows,” he snarled. “I don’t care what’s on your list.”
“I don’t care what’s on your list either,” I answered.
“That’s it,” he said. “I’m reporting you to your manager.”
I looked at him in incredulity.
“I don’t work here,” I snarled back.
“Oh,” he said, and slunk away.
The chipper Christmas mood was suddenly marred. I felt Kafka’s universe on the tip of our own. I put down my garbage cans and hightailed it over to Lowe’s to see if I could salvage some of the spirit of the day.
There is no gift more important than a cold chisel, because you never know when you might have to open up the clogged main trap of your septic line on Christmas morning.
At the self-checkout with the chisel, I looked down to count my money, and realized I was wearing my lucky Home Depot-orange hoodie. This whole disastrous shopping experience finally made sense.
I looked back up at the Lowe’s self-checkout monitor. Above the monitor, some smart-ass employee had posted Lowe’s rules for employees when engaging with customers.
“Be friendly, smile and greet each customer.”
“Ask every customer if they found everything they needed.”
“Ask every customer if they would like to use their Lowe’s card.”
“Thank the customer and invite them back.”
I turned to myself and I thanked myself for shopping at Lowe’s, even though I really wanted to shop at the Home Depot. Then I thanked the computer for taking my spare change. The physicists are right. The seer and the seen are one and the same thing. The whole idea fried my brain.
And then I realized that I probably should have thanked all those people over in their Home Depot-orange aprons across the street for putting up with the lousy attitudes of Christmas shoppers.
After all, Santa and his elves all wear orange aprons.