Forgive Me Father (For my Language) 2/4/2022

Most of my working life was spent behind a desk in an office. Except when I was facing customers across their desk or dancing on a conference room table for some group of investors or another. So when we “retired” up here on the Northshore five years ago there weren’t too many desks or conference tables where I could work.

So what was I, an all-thumbs and unskilled handyman, qualified to do? Work in a hardware store, of course. Retail sales and helping customers get material for tasks I’d never done myself. Not wanting to scare off the DIYer who came into our store, I used my warped sense of humor to keep them from finding out how incompetent I was.

It must have paid off, because my unsuspecting employer, the Cook County Home Center in Grand Marais, got a positive Five Star review on Google a few years back. And here’s what it said, “Local old guy behind the counter was a hoot! Great local resource and great hardware store.”

Although I didn’t earn a raise after that, I did earn a new nickname. Henceforth I was “The Hoot.” My red Ace Hardware vest even had “Hoot” written in Sharpie above the pocket that contained my pens, post-it notes, and eyeglasses--if I remembered to put them in there.

There are lots of great stories from my days working in the store that will likely ring true to anyone reading this who has worked retail. And some are likely to pop up in this column from time to time.

I don’t remember the guy who dubbed me “The Hoot” but there are some others who didn’t appreciate my humor, or so it seemed.

.Working behind the sales counter, one of my favorite lines to use when ringing up a customer that was buying a sweeping instrument was, “That’s the same broom my wife flies.” Usually, that got a guffaw or modest chuckle from our guests, but one woman looked at me said, “Does your wife know you said that?”

“No,” I replied. “She knows I say it, she doesn’t know I said it just now.” She was obviously upset with me, so I rendered a half-hearted apology and said, “Come on, it’s just a joke.”

“Not a very good one,” she said. When her friend came to the counter, my attempt at humor was immediately discussed and it was decided my “joke” was bordering on sexual harassment. So, from then on, I was a bit more careful with people buying brooms.

Then there was the guy, slight of build and dressed in black, who was buying a fancy light bulb (I had no idea how many different kinds of light bulbs there are until I worked in hardware). He handed it to me and said, “We have a high ceiling that this needs to go in and I”m not sure this is the right bulb. If it’s not, can we bring it back for a refund?”

“Sure,” I said. “We’ll likely beat the sh… out of you, but we’ll give you the money back.”

“Okay,” he says. “Charge it to St. John’s Catholic Church.”

A moment of hesitation, and then I said, “I’m so sorry for my language, you’re the priest?” (In my defense, he was not wearing a clerical collar.) He nodded, and like a good Minnesota Lutheran I said, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”

Published 2/4/2022   Northshore Journal