Today I offended the regular cashier at my favorite hardware store. Favorite because it's not Home Depot - which, by the way, is about 30% more expensive than OSH, at least for joist hangers, post and and hurricane ties, and any other sort of hardware you might need for the underpinnings of your deck. I have neither done a comprehensive comparison of their other goods, nor am I saying that OSH has even close to the same selection. But I am saying that you won't wait in line for the half-life of the barium in the enema the worried GI doc gave you the last time you were inexplicably backed-up. I'm also saying that the likelihood of someone actually knowing something at OSH is as great as HD, but better to ask the old feller (who, like my maternal grandfather, is probably named Earle, Don, or maybe Roy), at your local family-owned True Value, because he's been sorting the hex bolts from the lag screws for, like, the last thirty years. That type of salesman is my personal preference, as opposed to the Home Depot employees, whose average age is young, dumb and full of...
Most of the staff at my little hardware haven have the conservative and rural everyman feel that can easily be found back home in Oregon, or anywhere else in this country once you slip out of the urban. It's more of a surprise to find it in LA, or even in liberal old Portland. But anywhere the blue collar work can be found, so shall these types of men be. The two women staffers there are sweet and hefty women, who probably get their hair poodled at the hair salon round the corner, because those are the only places that still administer perms, to my knowledge. They sip diet beverages, wear conspicuously colored eyeglasses, and are unfailingly pleasant to deal with. The other two men in employ are fortysomething long-haired fellows who give off that peculiar air of guys in bands. Maybe it's the marijuana they have undoubtedly sampled, maybe it's jocular Dave's pony-tail, or the more austere cashier's leather wristband. Something in their style and insouciant manner makes them misfits in this store, at least as career professionals. They feel more like adolescent summer help, though the cashier's too terse to be readily considered immature. And though they regularly jest with me, less the one who works the register and and more the one who went so far as to let me know he had, er, gauged my temperature, let us not confuse them with the rancid and megalomanical sorts of musicians who might viably be candidates for My Future Husband.
Well, while I was paying for my drywall, screws, Liquid Plumber (which I am loathe to use), Exit light, base trim, and toilet plunger, I asked if I should be worried that someone had made off with the latter item from our home.
He replied with a rather snotty, "Could we not talk about it?"***
Well, we really hadn't talked about anything, but I didn't wish to trespass -
"Sorry, I didn't know you were so squeamish as that."
"Well, there are things for which I have my limits."
Huh. I am not leaving anything out, except that earlier, when I had asked another employee where the plungers were kept, I told him that mine had gone missing, which I found rather perplexing. He laughed and said, "Yeah, that is a weird one." It's possible the cashier heard me then. Still, there was never any discussion of things plungers are actually used for.
Either way, I did not say anything directly distasteful, so what was so bothersome to this fellow was beyond me.
The irony of this is two-fold. One, for the most part I don't like poopy humor. I don't like the Farrelly Brothers much, plasticized joke excrements left on office desks or carpets are just dumb, and farts jokes tend to leave me cold.
I should make some exceptions here, however, though I couldn't possibly recount them all. It occurs to me that eighty percent of the time when my very close friend Stephen, who is all about this stuff, phones me and, say, insists on describing the loud, acrid and crouching gas he had while standing before a crowd at the ATM, I cannot help but laugh. He has also been known to detail the quality of his bowel movements, and at great length. I don't know why I indulge him in this, but it's always funny when he does, and it seems to make him feel better. He could make a kitchen table seem funny however, or even a rake.
Overall, scat humor is not upsetting or particularly offensive, it's just that for me, humor-wise, usually it's a blank stare, it's a brick wall. Maybe I made it through that particular Freudian stage a little too smoothly to find it very amusing. There's no anxiety at all - at best it's a cipher, at worst it's just annoying. That does not mean, however, that something circling round the poop, something telling about human behavior, is not funny. Quite the contrary. I laughed quite hard at David Sedaris reading his poem (too raunchy for NPR), about walking into a bathroom and finding that the previous guest had left an unflushable leviathan turd in the toilet bowl. Of course, someone was waiting their turn to get in after him. What could he do? The shame of leaving it there for the next person was too much for him, so he fumbled about the medicine cabinet and washstand drawers until he found an instrument that could take that monster down. A toothbrush.
That is a story coarse and unladylike, but it is funny to me. Why? Because it's a man in a pickle. It's about shame and tension and what lengths we'll go to just so we don't look bad. It happens to have feces at its center, but that's not the joke. Same with the plunger. It's potentially a nasty thing, an abject object. Why would someone take it? That's all I was saying.
The second irony is, having worked for a few years with a small crew of otherwise all male carpenters, as well as heaps of sub-contractors, I came to learn rather quickly that many many men LOVE to talk about shit and the like (women generally don't - same with not loving The Three Stooges). I cannot think of a single lunchtime conversation that, by its end, had not degenerated to the scatalogical. Whether we started out with international affairs, the OJ Simpson case, or the influence of traditional Klezmer on Jazz music, the end point was always the same. I do admit to being somewhat vexed from time to time, but this feeling probably owed more to my daily bouts of hypoglycemic post-meal food coma (we always ate too late), which must be something like what Gulliver endured, tied down by the Lilliputians.
I also confess to laughing to the point of near personal injury each and every time Garrett grossed out Matt enough to make him puke up his lunch. Matt was easily pushed to this point, particularly if any "bad dairy" cant were shared, or the famous "lancing of the horse's abcessed jaw" story. What was so beautiful about it was as soon as Matt, who was our foreman, hurled, Garrett, who was his best friend, would inevitably follow.
Anyway, today I was so taken aback by the cashier's reaction, I was offended he was offended. Where was his sense of humor? Even if he thought me rude, it seemed too much of a reprimand. Just a couple of months ago, I stood before him as the guy in line behind me looked at the miniature antique model car on the shelf (why they were selling this novelty item is beyond me), and said "You guys should really offer little Hummers."
Well, the cashier and I locked eyes and stared each other down. All the while I pressed my lips together as hard as if God himself had vised them. What finally escaped was an, "Um!"
The cashier chuckled, "I know, I'm really trying not to go there."
We bonded in that moment. So, was this the same man?
Someone, please explain.
* (What I told my pre-med roommate sophomore year when she asked what scatological meant)
**(Two types of plungers - know the difference?)
*** (Please note the use of ital html! Thanks Huck and Aytch!)