The story left off with me going out to the moving truck on my way to the hardware store to look for paint and things to help with our new home.
After a day of moving boxes and trying to get painted-shut windows to open, what I wanted was a respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. All day the sweat had been rolling down my forehead into my eyes, mixing with the dust we stirred up as we moved about the house. The bitter mix of salted sweat and acrid dust had saturated my t-shirt and left me wondering if I would be thrown out of the hardware store for looking so awful. I brushed off as much of the crud and debris as I could before getting into the moving truck.
As soon as the ignition started, I cranked the air conditioning on full blast. Half expecting it to already be cool, I instead was hit with a wave of hot plastic smelling air. With the windows rolled down and wishing for a cool breeze, I pulled away from our new house. I was pretty sure that the hardware store wouldn't be a long enough drive for the moving truck's AC unit to nullify the oppressive heat.
Part of my memory recalled passing a Lowe's hardware store on our way through town earlier that day. As I pulled into the vast parking lot, I was struck by the sheer size of everything. From the size of the building, to the massive emptiness of the asphalt parking area; I felt dwarfed before I even walked through the door. When the doors slid open, there was a quick scent of antiseptic which gave way almost instantly to the omnipresent odor of plastics and solvents that seem to accompany all of the plastic products these days.
Slipping into an almost familiar walk down the aisles of the hardware store, smells continued to pop up in the strangest of places. Standing near the electric fireplaces and the snowblowers, I was overwhelmed by the smells of kerosene fuel and potpourri trying painfully hard to be reminiscent of either balsam or cinnamon. Wave after contrasting wave of smells chased me throughout the store. With all the dust I had been breathing, I expected my allergies to be kicking in. Instead I felt as though I could see the smells before they made their way into my nose.
Somewhere between the plumbing section and the paint department, I suddenly smelled pumpkin pie. I don't mean that I smelled potpourri that tried to emulated pumpkin pie. I mean I smelled pumpkin pie, homemade crust, cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of cloves. I could smell the vanilla in the whipped cream. I could tell that the custard had been out of the oven only a few moments... all of this... just from the smell. Turning at the end of the aisle, I knew that someone had to be putting on some sort of cooking demo and I was certain there would be pumpkin pie for the sampling. I reached the end of the aisle, and there was nothing. The smell vanished and was replaced with the bitter scent of sweeping compound and floor wax. I turned around, assuming I had somehow missed the pumpkin pie, on some shelf... it had to be there. Looking back down the way I had come, the row seemed taller, colder and a touch darker. The smell was gone.
Trying to shake it off, I leaned into the next aisle, partly hoping to bump into someone working in the paint department. Instead I nearly ran into a pallet of gallon cans of primer, stacked right in the middle of the aisle. No one seemed to be working in this department so I wandered over into the electrical department. Surely there had to be someone around who could help me mix up some custom paint colors and help me find a portable air conditioning unit for our bedroom window. Maybe a fan or two?
Seeing no one in the electrical department, I started back towards the paint supply area. Standing in front of the cans of paint, leaning against the pallet was a young man. Obviously friendly and ready to help, he looked at me as though he knew exactly what I needed. I was taken aback by his extraordinary friendliness. He assured me that not only could he help me... but I would be so surprised.
I told him what I needed: Roasted Pumpkin paint from Behr paint, 4 gallons. One five gallon bucket of primer. Some TSP for cleaning the window trim and some stains on the walls. He suggested a dropcloth to keep the hardwood floors free from stains and spills.
I mentioned how hot it had been at the house and how much I missed the air conditioning from our old apartment. He asked if we had considered having AC installed in our new home. I grumbled something about it being an old home, not worth the effort and besides central air was expensive. I figured we could get by with just a window unit, at least for this summer. He looked up into my face and smiled. He made some comment about how we had suffered enough and that he had just the thing. He showed me a strange box which apparently sat outside, on the ground and once hooked up to power, would use small ducts running outside the house, and would then bring them into each room discretely. He said that if I chose to buy this unit today, they would be able to install it immediately.
I hemmed and hawed. I was sure it was more money than we wanted to spend right then. He didn't mention the cost for installation, so I assumed it was going to take a big bite of our move-in money. He put his hand on my list, folded the paper up neatly and tucked it away into his shirt pocket. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, clear as day: "by the time you get home, we'll be done and cleaned up."
I asked how soon they would be able to start, assuming he was joking about the speed that they would be able to do the work. He brought up his clipboard with a form to sign, took my credit card and walked to his terminal behind his desk. He made a quick call on his radio to the stockroom, ensuring that they did in fact have this unit, ready to install. I signed the forms and made my way to the front of the store. I felt mighty smart, having found all the stuff I needed and a nice little surprise for my sweaty dusty wife. Then it hit me. I had forgotten all the paint. I turned around to go back and the young man spun me back around almost as if I had been smacked. He leaned in close, pointed to a checkout lane and admonished me to go home. He reassured me that by the time I got home, it would all be taken care of.
I asked about the paint; he replied, "yep, Roasted Pumpkin, two coats of primer, got it."
Stepping into the checkout line I noticed that instead of lawnmowers and gardening impliments, there were plastic pumpkins and inflatable snowmen. Boxes of Christmas lights were stacked along the checkout lane, as though a last minute reminder of what one would need, spur of the moment. I chuckled and thought how silly that anyone would be putting such things out now, in the middle of the summer.
I made my way out to my rental truck, empty handed. As I left the store, I realized that somehow I had gotten turned around. I thought I was leaving by the same entrance I had come in, but as I walked through the sliding glass doors, I found myself walking through the Garden section. Instead of annuals, perennials and shrubs, it was filled with bobbing inflatable snowmen, snowglobes large enough for a child or two to sit inside, giant air filled christmas trees that glowed from inside. Just before I reached the exit I realized where the smells had been coming from. There were huge fans, probably six feet in diameter, each hooked to huge corrugated flexible tubes that were pumping incredibly strong scents into the building. From outside I could see the small gallon jars of flaming scented oil that had been placed so that the burning fumes could be drawn into the store.
Needing to reorient myself as I left the garden center, I finally found my rental truck and unlocked the door. Inside, on my driver's set, was the receipt I had accidentally left during my checkout. Quite taken aback, I tried to shake off the beginnings of a very strange feeling. Chalking it up to over friendly folks just wanting to help, I climbed into the cab of the truck. It took a few turns of the key to get the engine to start. With a grumble, a huff and chug, the engine finally turned over. The air conditioning was still turned on high, but the dust that puffed out was wholly unexpected. I coughed for a minute and quickly turned off the vents.
Rolling down the window as I got the truck rolling, I relished the cooler night air. It seemed as though the heat of the day had finally broken. It wasn't a long drive back to my house, but in a short while I had to roll up the window. It was actually getting chilly. Maybe not cold, but certainly cool. As I cranked up the window, the handle felt cold to the touch. I hadn't driven more than a block or two before I felt chilled. Probably just the sweat on my clothes evaporating, I told myself. That didn't stop the shivering from being very real.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART III....