Monday, January 19, 2009

In Praise of Usefulness

I spent the weekend refinishing a table that I bought on Craigslist.

My dad gave me a one-and-half-page list of instructions for the job, including half a page of things to buy. Buying the stuff seemed like the least exciting part of the exercise as all the stuff was really specific and I kind of didn't know what I was doing. But I found a really good local hardware store. If you've been in a really good hardware store, you know what this means: incredibly narrow aisles with stuff stacked to the rafters, people there to help you who have bifocals and the creased, hardened fingers of workers, and a lot of built-in grime (at my BC Ferries job, our old terminal building before they knocked it down had an amazing amount of built-in grime -- counters with the laminate worn down to the wood and everything so smooth and dirt worked into all the crevices -- I liked that building a lot better than the new one they built).

There is no substitute for a good hardware store: it has no aesthetic other than sheer utility, which becomes its own aesthetic. This hardware store was in the middle of West Hollywood too, so that's saying something. I walked past a very old man who could hardly stand up wearing a store apron who shouted out hello. His store?

I had to go way in the back to see the guy about screws for the arms of one of the chairs. The screw expert guy was so satisfyingly expert that he spent 25 minutes focused on figuring out how the hell the screws would work for the arms (and was not distracted by his coworkers' repeated requests to "explain Groundhog Day") and then sold me two pieces of hardware at the total cost of a dollar and ten cents. And said, "Bring in one of the other chairs and I'll have a look at it and we'll figure it out."

I had a closer look at the chairs when I got home: the puzzle is that they are designed for a long screw to go in one direction that has two holes through it for other screws to screw into perpendicularly. Seems weird. But I'll bet they have that piece of hardware somewhere in a creased cardboard drawer with a masking tape label ten feet up the wall.

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