The very smell of a hardware store reminds you of physical energy and bustle. It breathes useful activity.
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The results of my own admittedly unsystematic study I asked my friends indicate that all men are vulnerable to the lure of the hardware store - not just those who like to work with their hands and would, given a little free time, rather knock together some bookshelves than go fishing or read the latest Elmore Leonard.
Even the clumsy and downright inept man finds something to like in a hardware store. Is this because, even though the profusion of the place looks thrown together, there is, upon inspection, an almost military display of order and rank? I think so. The hammers are racked according to size and quality, and the hammers lead the eye in logical progression to the mauls and axes and wood splitters. Wire nails grow up in easy visible stages to become hefty spikes. Is it because most men respect ability with tools the same way they respect physical courage?
I think this is true, too. Among people who know automobile racing well, a good race-car mechanic is regarded almost as highly as a championship driver. There is real status for the man who can put the tools to an engine and get that last fine fraction of performance from it. Men like to be able to fix things.
Those who don't enjoy doing the work itself like the idea of self-sufficiency, of not having to call in a professional. The array of equipment at the hardware store is enough to make a man believe he has ability with tools, even if he hasn't. For a long time, the hardware store has been playing upon the secret feeling of many men that the only thing that stands between them and expert performance is the right tool. Men with an 18 handicap almost always play with clubs that are every bit as good as Tom Watson's. Weekend tennis players carry Prince graphites. In the same way, the suburban handyman stands in the hardware store thinking that if he just had the right tool there would never again be a time when he would cut his hand and, at the same time, worm the head off a screw while trying to change a simple door latch.
Standing in the store, studying the piece socket set, the miter box and the apparatus that will hold a rattail file at exactly the correct angle, he can imagine himself capable, feel his ability. Because of this, more tools are bought than used.
I think the hardware store is a refuge. Many things are built these days so they can't be fixed - not by the capable amateur, anyway. The days of changing your own spark plugs and then setting the timing on your car are gone forever. You do not trouble- shoot an automobile anymore, you computer-diagnose it.
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You do not pull the back off a malfunctioning appliance and solder a loose wire, either. There are fewer and fewer things that can be fixed when they break, even if you are good with tools. We are moving into a maintenance-free, throwaway world, and this advances the general feeling of powerlessness another small increment.
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