Having boldly donned the mantle of geezerhood, it seemed incumbent upon me to demonstrate that my little girl’s faith was indeed not misplaced. What to do? At the ripe old age of 31, the rites and customs of geezerhood a bit foreign to me, how was I supposed to live up to the responsibilities now draped across my ancient and suddenly drooping shoulders? The road ahead now seemed a back-country horse path fraught with unimaginable dangers and not the super highway of life I had been safely cruising down only yesterday. But I would not panic. I did what men do. I went to the hardware store.
Now, before I proceed, I am compelled to make sure you understand one extremely important point. I DO NOT SHOP. That is not to say that I don’t occasionally browse …but I do not shop. And you guys reading this know what I mean. Whenever you get caught standing empty handed in a store and a sales clerk offers to help you, what’s your response? “No, thanks, I’m just browsing.” Yeah, you know exactly what I mean. Shopping is a feminine activity. Wandering aimlessly up and down hundreds of aisles of merchandise trying to figure out if that towel set will go with the shower curtain in the bathroom is simply not my idea of a good time. Get the white ones, they go with everything. If I need something, I go to the store, get whatever it is, pay for it and get the hell out. True, I might browse the turf builder or the power tools momentarily along the way, but only briefly and only to file away in my mind a possible future purchase.
Once inside my local Tru-Value, I was enveloped in the cool serenity and bold confidence that can only be induced by the gleam of fluorescent lighting reflected from chrome-plated hand tools and the pungent aroma of fertilizer emanating from the garden aisle. Man Mecca. Strolling through the paint section, I silently took a mental inventory, “Nope, don’t need any paint right now”, I thought to myself. “But that two-inch sash brush might come in handy when I get around to painting those shutters.” Filed that away as I continued down the aisle. As I rounded the end cap and started up the next aisle, I was suddenly gripped by the realization that…I had no objective! That “whatever it is” that I go in, get, pay for and get out didn’t exist! I didn’t know what the hell I was after. “Holy crap!” I thought, “I’m (I couldn’t squelch the word) shopping! Good Lord, this can’t be happening to me! Oh crap, shop, shop, shop, shop.” The ugly word bounced around my skull like a ping pong ball on meth. My brain began to short circuit, my vision blurred and my pulse pounded in my ears like Apache war drums. Then it got worse. Coming toward me from the opposite end of the aisle was Victor, the manager and sales clerk extraordinaire. “Shopping! Shopping!” the banshee screamed inside my head. “Oh, no. He’s going to ask if he can help me find something.” I knew this because that’s what he always said. And I always had an answer. But not this day. Today the chamber was empty, there was no bullet. Probably just as well because I most likely would have blown my brains out right then and there all over the attractive weather-stripping display.
“Can I help you find something?” Victor stood in front of me smiling. The banshee wailed in my head. I feared the morning’s Honey Nut Cheerios (yes, I’m cholesterol conscious) were about to make an encore appearance.
Victor’s brow creased, “Everything alright? You don’t look so good.” He seemed genuinely concerned. As my brain raced, I felt my lips moving and I think I heard myself say through clenched teeth something like, “Just pretty warm out there.”
Victor nodded and said, “Yeah, weather man says gettin’ over 90 this afternoon. Gonna be another hot one. Can I help you find something?”
Just as I was about to say I needed a two inch sash brush, (as if that would have fooled him, I’d been in his store a hundred times and he would’ve known I’d know where to find a sash brush) I spied the mailboxes over his right shoulder farther down the aisle. Next to the mailboxes were adhesive letters and numbers. There was one bullet left in the chamber, and I wouldn’t have to use it on myself! I had found my objective! The Holy Grail! Be gone, you banshee bitch! Not shopping! Sweet salvation!
“I was fixin’ to spruce up the mailbox a little with some fresh lettering,” I proclaimed. This seemed to please him as he flashed his pearly whites at me.
“No problem,” he said, “Got a bunch of ‘em right down here.” As he turned and shuffled toward the mailboxes, he bragged, “Plenty to pick from, too. You should be able to find something nice.”
I was slowly calming down, but my feet still felt like anvils as I followed him.
“Thanks,” I said as he turned away to track down someone else that he could assist in finding something.
I quickly selected a set of two-inch block characters, black on a white background. Simple, yet tasteful. Clutching my precious purchase, and having recovered most of my composure, I made my way to the checkout and got the hell out of there. What a close call!
I sat, still somewhat shaken, behind the wheel of the car for several minutes just thinking how close I had come to defiling the sanctity of the hardware store. Shopping? That would have been horrific enough. But in a hardware store? Ghastly. I had made a critical error by entering the store without a specific purchase in mind and solemnly vowed that I would never allow such an incident to happen again. Not ever.
Now, you’re probably thinking that I promptly went home and pasted my precious new letters and numbers all over the mailbox. Au contraire, mon frère. I had way more important plans for my black block letters. Rummaging through the garage, I finally found what I was looking for. It was an old plastic license plate, the cheap kind sometimes used by car dealers to get free advertising. Hey, buddy, I bought the car from you but I didn’t see anything in the sales contract requiring me to be a rolling billboard, so the plate comes off. It had been on the front of a used (oh, pardon me, pre-owned) 1976 Datsun B210 I’d bought a few years back. The car was long gone, but the plate remained. You might be wondering why I didn’t just throw the damn thing away. Get real. You just never know when something like that might come in handy. Justification is sweet. There are any number of other items littering my garage today, patiently waiting for their moment in the sun. Their time will come. The front of the plate had the dealer’s name and logo printed on it, but the back side was an unblemished, pristine white. It was the perfect place for my black block letters. I removed the three sheets of vinyl letters and numbers from the plastic wrapping. There were 48 characters but I would need only six. One G, three E’s, a Z and one R. The remaining 38 (I did eventually use four of the numbers on the mailbox) are probably still in the garage someplace. Separating each of the necessary letters from their neighbors, I placed them on the plate without removing their backing and used a tape measure to get them perfectly centered. Once satisfied with the placement, I stuck the letters to the plate and with a few turns of a screwdriver the plate was properly mounted to the front of my car. There it was for the entire world to see…GEEZER. I have to admit, though, that the word GEEZER stuck to the front of that glossy, black ’86 Mustang GT seemed maybe a tad bit odd. But I could see the humor in it. I could only hope others would too.
My daughter giggled when she saw it, but I could see in her eyes that it was much more than just a license plate with letters on it. I was a happy, if geezerish, Dad.