Home Depot

I got lost at the Home Depot the other day. For some reason, it’s always Home Depot. What should have been a routine visit turned into a two-hour session in social anxiety, an exercise in the many subtle social interactions that in thirty years on this planet I’ve yet to learn. I could be feeling at the top of my game, like I’ve got everything figured out. And it only takes one trip to Home Depot to make me feel like a little kid again. A little kid who has no idea what he’s doing in life, just wasting everybody’s time with his presence.

hmdpt

It should have been simple enough. I wanted some cedar to build a vegetable garden in the backyard. The wood comes in these twelve foot long planks, and I know that they’ll cut it right there for you. But figuring out how to get them to cut it, it’s crazy. It’s not like the Home Depot commercials, where everything looks so easy. “You’ve got a project but you don’t know how to start?” the faceless announcer pegs me right away, “Just come over to Home Depot, where we’ll tell you what you need, and how to do it.”

But what they don’t tell you is, there are like three hundred people also shopping at the Home Depot, and while most everybody knows what they’re doing, like they’re able to navigate the maze of endless choices of tools and equipment, instantly zeroing in on precisely the right product that they need for the job, there are always at least ten or fifteen people per aisle doing exactly what I’m doing, staring ahead blankly at the walls, unable to even think about how you’re supposed to start doing whatever it is what you want to do.

Sure, it should be as easy as just grabbing someone in an orange vest, “Can you help me out for a second?” But each orange vest is always helping someone else out. Not only that, they’ve got like two or three other people waiting in line to be helped out. Only, there’s not really a line. You’re just supposed to kind of hover around the orange vest, hoping that whenever they’re done helping whoever it is that they’re currently helping, they’ll turn to you next and go, “OK, so what can I help you with?”

Nobody’s taking numbers, it’s always a free-for-all. You’ll be awkwardly orbiting an orange vest, you’re clearly next in line, in fact, you’ve gone above and beyond what should have been necessary to secure your spot. You might have started out in the tool aisle, you’re waiting as the orange vest helps someone pick out a choice screwdriver, and all you need is some help picking out your own screwdriver. But no, after this guy gets his screwdriver, he’s like, “Also, can you help me pick out a good doorknob?”

“Sure! Right this way!” And then it’s crazy, you have to follow them to the doorknob aisle. You’re lost, very far away from your intended goal, and for all you know, there might be a new orange vest in the tool aisle, someone ready to help out the next tool-seeking customer. But you’re invested. You’ve waited. You’ve tried to give these two enough space so as not to intrude upon their moment while also remaining close enough that everyone knows that you’re there for help, that you’re next.

But how many times does it happen, when you should be next, but maybe you’ve got like two or three other hangers-on, waiting for the orange vest’s attention. It’s your turn, but right before you can jump in, someone else cuts the line, “Hey sorry, just real quick, can you help me pick out a doorknob?” And what are you supposed to say? “Excuse me, I’m next, and we’re going back to the tool aisle.”

No, you have to sit there and wait, and then other people see that you’ve just given up your turn, so when that turn is over, it’s like you’re labeled, go ahead and cut me, I won’t say anything, I’m not going to protest.

That’s what it was like for this wood that I needed cut. I found the wood, right, and I found the cutting machine. “Hey man, do you think you could cut some wood for me?” and he just kept saying, “What? What?” Like, was I not speaking properly? Every single question I asked, “What? Huh?” Finally I had to spell it out, “Can. You. Cut …”

And then he was like, “OK, yeah, fine, go get the wood, I’ll cut it.”

So I got the wood, eight pieces of cedar. I loaded it onto this awkward lumber shopping cart, and I waited by the machine. Only, he was gone. He disappeared. I waited for like fifteen minutes, tried to go on my phone to make the time go by, tried not to look impatient. Finally I felt like I was being had, I stopped some other orange vest, someone walking by with his own posse of hangers on. “Excuse me,” I said really quickly, “I’m not trying to interrupt, but do you know where the wood cutter is? He was here like fifteen minutes ago, but I don’t see him anymore.”

And everyone gave me that stink eye, like what the hell man? Don’t you see the vague circle-like amorphous blob of a line? Nobody here knows exactly who’s up next, but it’s definitely not you.

This orange vest looked around, he told, “I think he’s at the other cutting machine. I can hear it cutting.”

“Thanks,” I told him, leaving my wood behind to go investigate this other cutting machine. Of course there was another cutting machine. And of course there was a new line of people all waiting to have some wood cut. I waited, and by the time it was my turn for assistance, some other Home Depot employee had returned all of my lumber that was waiting at that original cutting machine. I had to start all over again, lifting the wood off of the shelf, trying to get the cutting guy to stay with me, having to speak really slowly all over again so he could understand how long I wanted each piece to be cut.

Does it have to be this hard? Why can’t they make it easier to get help? They should have like a structured system, like you need help, you go find someone at the front, all of the orange vests could help people on a first come, first serve basis. You won’t have to wander the aisles and worry that you’re bothering the wrong people. “Oh sorry, I’m just stocking, I’m not doing customer service.” OK, well how am I supposed to know that? You’re all wearing identical orange vests. And everybody looks like they’re doing something else.

Fix it, Home Depot. Don’t you want me to spend money at your store? Don’t you think I’d be more inclined to visit more frequently if I didn’t feel like such an amateur every time I walked through your giant warehouse doors?

You’re not supposed to hang out on the stairs

I was taking the train a couple of weeks ago. Where I live, the subway is aboveground, so if you want to take a ride, you’ve got to walk up these two flights of stairs to get to the platform. And exactly halfway up, I ran into my old friend Greg, he was coming down the opposite direction, man, I hadn’t seen him in probably like five years, maybe longer. We caught each other’s eyes right away and stopped to say hi.

ntrnabvgrnd

A lot of the time it’s a pain to have to stop and say hello to someone when you’re just trying to go about your day. But this was different, Greg used to be a pretty good friend, at least for me, this wasn’t your typical “hey how’s it going,” I mean, maybe it was a chore for him, but if it was, he was doing a good job of not letting me know it, trying his best to seem genuinely pleased to see me.

But after maybe fifteen seconds of pleasantries, right after we got the “It’s been such a long time!” automatic intro sentences out of the way, but right before we could really get into any specific “Where are you living these days?” advanced conversation points, this MTA employee comes up from behind me and gives us this really curt, “Listen, you guys can’t congregate on the stairs, OK, you’ve got to move.”

And yes, it wasn’t the ideal spot to catch up with an old friend, but it wasn’t super crowded, and we both made sure to move as far to the side of the staircase as possible. People were going around us. I’m very aware of whether or not I’m causing a traffic jam, and this was definitely not at all impeding the flow of foot speed.

So I kind of motioned to the MTA employee, like I didn’t say anything to him directly, but I made eye contact, I nodded, and then I looked back toward Greg with renewed urgency, like, yes, let’s continue what we’re doing here, but let’s maybe speed it up a little bit, because we are on the stairs, we can’t very well stand here for too much longer.

But the MTA guy wouldn’t have it, he wouldn’t even let Greg and me get in another back-and-forth, I was just about to ask what he was up to these days, but this guy shouts, “Look, I can’t let you just hang out here. OK, you either have to up the stairs, or you have to go down the stairs, but you can’t just stand here on the stairs.”

And I instantly got kind of annoyed, like yes, I know that we shouldn’t be standing here, but this is where this conversation happened to take place, OK, it’s not like I was like, hey, Greg, do you want to get together this afternoon to catch up? Yeah, great, meet me at the Broadway stop of the N train, the Northwest staircase, about halfway up.

Also, I resented this guy’s message, like, here, let me spell it out for you, let me give you one of these long detailed overly worded I’m-in-charge ways of communicating to you what could easily be said in three or four words. So I turned around, I looked this guy in the eye and I said, “Thank you,” while trying not to appear visibly pissed off, like I tried to smile, and I hoped to get the message across that, OK man, I hear you, we hear you, but thank you, now please go back to doing whatever else it was that you were doing before you came over here to start vigorously enforcing the no-standing-on-the-staircase rules.

So Greg and I kind of continued talking, but it was only like a word, maybe two words, because the MTA guy in his orange neon MTA worker’s vest was not having it. “Gentlemen,” he interrupted. And now I thought, OK, this guy’s not going to let up, maybe we should move? But where? Was I going to go all the way back down the stairs? Because Greg didn’t look like he was willing to walk all the way back up. What if one of us made that effort and then the conversation fizzled out? What if it turned out to be nothing more than a heavy initial dose of nostalgia before we both realized, wait a second, there’s a reason I haven’t seen this person in years, it’s because whatever it was that we had in common wasn’t strong enough to sustain a lasting friendship?

And this got me even more annoyed, like what the hell man, you can’t just let two people run into each other and say hi? Can’t you just take a hint? OK? I took your hint, right, you don’t want us standing here anymore. Hint taken. Can you now take my hint and leave us the fuck alone? Just for like a minute? How long do you really think we’re going to stand here? Is it that important to you that we move right this second?

And so I turned my attention from Greg toward the MTA guy, I started giving him the business, throwing out stuff like, “Why don’t you just back off, all right?” and more stuff like, “You’re not a cop, OK? You want to call the cops? Call the cops, because the last time I checked, MTA guys don’t really have too much in the way of actual authority.”

Which, I don’t know what I was going for here, it was a pure reaction. If I was thinking that my display of defiance might have somehow bought Greg and me a little more one-on-one time, I was wrong. Because even though this MTA guy might not have had any actual enforcement abilities, he was still wearing that vest, he still had a few non-arresting powers at his disposal.

Like getting-in-my-face powers, asking me if I was aware that threatening an MTA employee was a felony offense. “Who’s threatening? I’m not threatening?” I shot back with my hands in the air.

At this point Greg started heading down the stairs, “All right man, it was great to see you. Let’s catch up soon!” and I thought about going down with him, continuing the conversation at on the sidewalk, but that was it, the goodbye was said. And would our forced continued discussion be required to talk about the sort-of argument I had just engaged in with this total stranger?

Yeah, that conversation was over, I’d probably never see Greg again, not that it really mattered, not really. I was already feeling that nostalgia buzz start to die down somewhat. And then it was just me and the MTA guy, he was just staring at me, sort of smiling, like, ha, there goes your friend. I just turned and headed upstairs, muttering, “Asshole,” under my breath.

“What was that?” he screamed out after me, I guess I muttered it a little louder than I thought. But just as I considered saying something else, I realized, no, I muttered that exactly as loud as I had intended, just loud enough for him to hear me say it, and now I’ll just slip back into the background of the city, paying no attention to this crazy guy in an orange vest yelling up at some other guy already disappearing into a crowd of people waiting for the N train.

My heart is bleeding

I just don’t feel safe anymore. Ever since the Internet found out about that huge security breach, Heartbleed. It was something to do with https, right? Whatever that means. I’m not too sure about the specifics, but all I know is, everything’s different now. Nobody’s safe.

mhrtsbldig

When I first heard out about the breach, I thought to myself, I got this, I know what to do. And so I took out a fresh legal pad, I started coming up with all of these new passwords for all of my various online accounts. I try to do it like once every six months anyway, but I thought at first that this was a good thing, that I was ready, like my Internet habits were already pretty solid, you know, at least in terms of security, that this gaping hole the online force field was exactly what I had prepared myself for.

I do all of these crazy passwords, all sorts of acronyms with numbers and letters and random capitalizations. And I keep them all on that legal pad in front of my desk. And each different password is sort of its own separate sentence that, when combined with all of my individual online accounts, turns into this semi-coherent narrative.

It helps with the memorization process. At first I rely on it pretty heavily, reciting to myself the sentences and what keys to press for each word. And after a while, a couple of weeks or a month later, I’m not even thinking about it anymore, it’s like my fingers incorporate the keystrokes into their muscle memory.

This all takes a while, coming up with new passwords, playing them back over and over again in my head. But I did it, I finally came up with the perfect change of online locks. I was actually a little disconcerted to find that, when I attempted to change all of my passwords, my accounts had all told me that it had been over a year since my last password reset.

Had I really let a year slip by? What happened to all of that six month stuff that I was talking about earlier? It’s like the dentist. They call me up every six months to schedule a cleaning, and each time my phone rings, each that I see that 1-800-SMILE-DR pop up on caller ID, I think, what? Six months already? It just doesn’t mesh with the rest of my life. I’m usually a great judge of time, of how long things take. Like if you put a bag of popcorn in the microwave, I can usually predict within ten seconds or so when the timer is going to beep.

But whatever, I changed everything and made it a point to not forget about it again six months from now. Only, and this kind of caught me by surprise. I started getting emails from all of my online accounts. And then I started reading in the newspapers about just how severe this security breach actually was.

“Don’t change your passwords just yet,” was the message I was getting, “because until they figure out how to patch the flaw, you’re just going to be feeding a new password to any potential hackers.”

So that sucked. I had just spent like a good two hours coming up with my own personalized encryption. And it was all for nothing? It’s the worst, because there’s no way I’m going to be able to get myself to commit a similar amount of time to passwords anytime soon. Can you imagine leaving the dentist only to have him call you up a week later?

“Hey Rob, it’s the Smile Doctor. Yeah, I’m actually going to need you to come in for another cleaning this week. Yeah, I know it’s really soon, but trust me, OK, you’re going to want to do it again.”

I’d be like, “Yeah, OK, let me get back to you once I have an idea of what my schedule looks like.” And then I’d hang up and I wouldn’t answer the phone for the rest of the month.

So it’s like, what, now I’ve just got to be resigned to the fact that hackers might have access to my Instagram? My Twitter? That’s terrible. Jeez, I’m just imagining all of my photos and Tweets, and to think, all of that content might be compromised. I don’t know what I’m going to do. How am I ever going to get myself to open up and trust the Internet again? And this blog? How do you even know that I’m the one writing right now? This could all be a sophisticated network of hackers trying to copy my writing style in hopes of luring you into a sense of futility or complacency when it comes to cyber-security.

How can you trust me? How can I trust myself? What about Pinterest, have the hackers gotten into my Pinterest yet? What if they tell everybody that I’m using Pinterest? I feel like I’m looking into an online mirror, and I don’t even recognize my online reflection anymore. What’s happening to my online identity? When is the Internet going to be safe again?

Say it like you mean it

Can we stop fake cursing? You see it online, on message boards and Facebook comments. People get animated, they want to express themselves, but instead of saying what they really want to say, they use code words to get at what they mean. But the code words are very loosely disguised. “I’m so freaking sick of the government telling me what to do!” or “When are these freaking idiots going to stop acting like such gosh darn jerks!”

wmncrsing

You want to say fuck, you’re thinking fuck, but you type out freak. You’re not fooling anybody, and you’re not making the world a nicer place. You’re just making it a faker place. What’s the point of saying freaking? What do you think you’re accomplishing by peppering every noun in your vocabulary with the lamest of all adjectives?

I just get so fed up with the insincerity. And I hope I’m not coming across as too big of a dick here, I mean, I’m not trying to attack everyone guilty of using these unfortunately sugar-coated non-words. I get it, you might be just trying your best to be civil, to mind your manners. You probably grew up in a house where if you got caught cursing, your mom might chew you out for being a potty-mouth or whatever. And so now you’re an adult and for some reason those lessons stuck, like you can’t curse.

Or you can’t “cuss.” Again, maybe it’s just a regional thing or whatever, but whenever I hear or read someone use the word cuss, I just know that they’re probably the biggest freaking offenders. You can’t even say the word curse? You’ve got to come up with some fake word that kind of sounds like curse? You just sound like a little kid, worried about talking too loud because their mom might come over and start yelling.

And more often than not, the freaking people trying to be civil by not cursing, it’s just a big joke. You ever witness an online flame war? People hurling insults and invective across the Internet? I’ll see something like this:

“You FREAKIN idiots think you know so much better than us? Are you FREAKIN stupid? Open your FREAKIN eyes!”

I mean, maybe you technically didn’t curse, but the all caps gives it away, the sentiment is there. You’re telling somebody as strongly as you can, without actually saying it, fuck off. Fuck you, fuck your idea, go fuck yourself.

If you’re going to say fuck, just say fuck. What’s the big deal? Why are trying to cover it up? If you don’t want to curse, just find some way of saying what you want to say without saying fuck. Just replacing fuck with freak, that doesn’t count. Any sentence where you can seamlessly interchange freak for fuck or vice versa, I mean, come on, who are you kidding?

It’s like when you’re a little kid, and you don’t want to get in trouble getting caught giving someone the middle finger, so you extend the ring finger. And you do it and you make that “fuck you” face, like seriously, go fuck yourself. And then maybe you were being careless, and a parent or a teacher catches you, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing!” And you try to defend yourself, “No! No, you don’t understand! I wasn’t giving the middle finger! It was the ring finger!” You still got it trouble. The teacher was like, “I know exactly what you were getting at, and that is unacceptable.”

It’s the same online, when you write freaking instead of fucking. Don’t be a baby. You want to keep conversation civil? No fake middle fingers. No fake go-fuck-yourself. Either say it, or don’t say it. Like, here’s an example. Instead of saying, “Are you FREAKIN serious?” you could maybe say something like, “I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think your argument is crazy.” That’s pretty strong right? See, there are ways to go about expressing the same sentiment without having to succumb to fake curse words.

Or, just say, “You’re fucking crazy,” but own it. Just be an adult about it. You want to curse? Fine. Like I said, who cares? Honestly, who really cares about curse words anyway? Don’t you ever think that they’re only powerful because we give them power? If moms and dads didn’t warn their kids never to curse, do you think there’d be such a strong desire to curse? Especially when those kids then turn around and hear their parents saying stuff like freaking, or frickin, or friggin.

Friggin drives me nuts, because it’s just ridiculous, it’s not even a word at all. You’re just spewing gibberish. And when people write it out like freakin’ or friggin’ and it’s like, look, I’m not adding the g at the end of the word, but here’s an apostrophe. What’s the point? I just don’t understand.

It’s like when people write ‘em instead of them. “Just pop ‘em in the oven!” Why don’t you just write them instead of ‘em? Why do you have to type out apostrophe em?

Now I’m getting off topic. It’s just, I get so sick of seeing stuff online, fake words, fake sentiment. Just own it. If you want to curse, curse. If you want to avoid cursing, don’t use fake curse words, because it’s obvious that you’re just trying to curse without getting called out on cursing.

You want to say something, say it, but say it like you mean it.

Whatever it takes

People ask me all the time, what are you willing to do to accomplish your goals? And I always give the same answer, every time: whatever it takes. It’s the perfect response. It’s like, back off, OK? Stop asking me any more questions. But at the same time, don’t worry about it, OK? Because I’ve got it. So just leave me alone.

plcts

Like every once in a while my wife will get on my case about something, “Rob, what are you going to do about that giant pile of unfolded mismatched socks?” and I’ll stop whatever it is I’m doing, but only for a second, just enough time to make really solid eye contact, and I’ll say it, “Babe, whatever it takes,” and then I’ll go back to playing video games or surfing the Internet. And it always works. Because how could I express it any stronger that, listen, I got this, don’t worry, stop interrupting my nap time or TV time to ask me about socks?

You’ve got to follow through though, eventually. Like one time, it started out as just socks, “Honey, whatever it takes,” and it just kind of snowballed into underwear, t-shirts, “Baby,” after a while it was like every single piece of clothing that I owned lay crumpled up in this gigantic pile that totally dominated our second bedroom, “Whatever it takes,” I kept saying it.

But I could tell that it was losing its effectiveness, there was definitely one night where she was like, “You keep saying that, but what does it even mean? That you’re just going to keep saying ‘whatever it takes’ without actually doing anything about it?” And I took the bait, I said, “End of discussion,” but I shouldn’t have engaged. The whole point of saying, “Whatever it takes,” is to say it, and then go right back to your business.

Hint: Don’t say “end of discussion.” I don’t know why, exactly, it must have something to do with the intricacies of the English language, but where “whatever it takes” evoked that image of a man ready to do, well, whatever it takes to get the job done, “end of discussion” just comes out making you look like a dick, and all of the sudden the two of you are in a fight, and about what? I have no idea.

But like I was saying before, that time with all of my clothes, I was at the point where I had to do something, so I said it one final time, “Babe …” and I said it, and then I left the house, I took the dog for a walk, and when I came home, I took two Benadryl and went straight to bed. And then when I got up that next morning, I had to figure something out.

“Whatever it takes,” I said it to myself as I made a move to start folding clothes. But I couldn’t do it. It was too much. The job was a lot larger than anything I could handle, and so I went online. I searched craigslist for housecleaners. All of the ads looked identical, so by total chance I had this Russian lady at my house a few hours later.

“I want you to clean the whole place,” I told her, thinking that I’d show my wife, like look, baby, don’t bother me, OK, I told you I got this, and I got this. “Also,” I said, “I need you to fold all of these clothes.” She just kind of stood there in the doorway to the second bedroom not saying anything. “They’re all clean, I promise. I just haven’t folded anything in a while.”

“I’m going to need to call in for some help if you want the whole house done plus these clothes.” And I just looked at her and I said, “Whatever it takes.”

I came home like five hours later and the place was spotless. “How much?” I asked her, and she said, “Two-fifty.” I said, “Are you kidding me? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That’s insane!” And she shot back, “You said ‘whatever it takes,’ remember? This is what it took, two hundred and fifty dollars.”

So I had to go to the bank, only, and I don’t know how I didn’t think to plan this out a little better, but all of money was currently off to the side in one of these online savings accounts. My direct deposit wasn’t supposed to show up until Saturday, and so I found myself kind of begging the branch manager, “Isn’t there any way you can get some of that online money out of there and into the checking? I really need it, right away.”

And he was like, “I mean, we can make it happen, it’s just a matter of bank fees, there’s a lot to process, I hope you understand it’s …”

“Whatever it takes man, make it happen.”

And then when my wife came home that night, she took one look at the house, totally spotless, she was like, “What the hell, did you have someone come and clean the house? Is that why the bank called to approve a twenty-five dollar emergency transfer fee? What the hell Rob?”

After she calmed down, I really did want to make things right. I sat her down and said, “Sweetie, listen, I’m sorry, I know I let you down. And I just want to let you know that I want to do whatev …”

“Just shut up Rob, stop saying ‘whatever it takes,’ OK? Is it like a tick? Don’t you get bored saying the same thing over and over again? What’s it going to take to get you to stop saying it? Huh? And think really hard before you answer that question.”

“Look …” and I didn’t say it. But I thought it. In my head, I was screaming it out loud. “I’ll do whatever it takes, you hear me? Whatever it takes.”