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Since it’s springtime in Arizona, I went to Home Depot yesterday for some yard and gardening supplies: potting soil, pansies, a gnome. I also needed to make an adult purchase: a wheelbarrow. My dad had told me several years ago that I wouldn’t have the strength to handle a real wheelbarrow, so I had taken his advice and settled for a hauling device he deemed more appropriate for his delicate girl: a gardening cart. This was basically the Big Wheel of yard work, made of thick green plastic with four thick wheels, very non-tippy.
My Big Wheel garden cart lasted about two years before the Arizona sun cracked it all to pieces, which I stuffed into my recycle bin because only bodies go in the Dumpster. I made do with a canvas tarp after that, tied to a rear belt loop and loaded down with mounds of clay and tools like shovels and spades. This I would drag between the front yard and the back yard, and sometimes out to the alley, fighting my way forward using all my strength. After a brief hospitalization I gave up this hauling technique, thus commencing my search for a grown-up wheelbarrow.
A very nice gentleman at Home Depot helped me look for one yesterday, which took a half-hour because as a new employee, he wasn’t sure yet where everything was located. I followed “Robert” from Lumber to Paint to Garden, and still we could not find the wheelbarrows. Finally we were directed outside to the front of the store where many wheelbarrows sat on display, chained together to prevent their escape. We couldn’t play with them until Robert found someone with a key.
With the wheelbarrows finally unlocked, Robert started to explain the positives and negatives of plastic vs. steel, wood handles vs. metal ones, a shallow basin vs. a deep one. “You wanna go with all-metal,” he said, pulling out the biggest and most expensive wheelbarrow of the bunch. “Wood handles will crack, and plastic is junk. Metal will last ya, especially if you keep it covered.”
My dad must have been napping back in Minnesota because his mind wandered into mine again. “Will I be strong enough to handle that without it tipping over?” I asked.
“I don’t see why not,” replied Robert. “Just put your heavy stuff towards the front and don’t go too fast.”
Then it was time for the question I hate but always have to ask, the question that sets me apart from macho guys everywhere: “Will it fit in my car?”
“What kind of car do you have?” asked the new employee Robert.
“A 2001 Hyundai Sonata,” I replied.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “I’ll help you load it.”
Robert pushed the wheelbarrow back inside the store so I could purchase it. I steered him away from the Returns counter when he tried to take me there and guided him towards the check-out area. “You really must be new!” I said.
“It’s only my third day,” he said, and it struck me then that Robert, in his late fifties, wasn’t used to working at a place like Home Depot. He didn’t look comfortable wearing the orange apron either.
Back out in the parking lot, Robert and I poked our heads into the trunk of my car and the backseat, looking for release levers and trying to determine which way the wheelbarrow would fit best. “Wow, your car is in really good shape!” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. I hear that a lot. “I think the wheelbarrow will fit in the backseat,” I said. “It’s amazing what I’ve gotten in there.”
“I think you’re right!” agreed Robert. He maneuvered the huge yellow wheelbarrow over to my open back door, lifted the tire onto the backseat, and pushed forward with all his might. The wheelbarrow got stuck about halfway in, so he made some adjustments and gave it another good shove, and then another. I stood and watched with a furrowed brow until I had to say something. “YA KNOW ROBERT!” I began. “ROBERT-ROBERT-ROBERT! I don’t think that’s going in there.”
“I think you’re right,” a sweaty and puffing Robert replied. “Let’s try the trunk.”
We worked together getting the wheelbarrow situated in the open trunk, where I held it in position while Robert ran to find some twine to tie it down. I expected him back in about an hour. As I waited, my gaze wandered from my shiny new industrial-sized wheelbarrow to my car’s back door, still standing open. Something odd caught my eye: my window appeared to have rips in it. Rips.
I disentangled myself from the wheelbarrow and rushed to inspect the inside of the window, much as a mother might kneel at the bedside of her sick child. The damage was obvious: Robert had scraped off some of the window tint, torn the rubber door seal, shredded the vinyl, scratched the door jamb, and chipped the paint. Numbers started battling in my brain: My car is over ten years old and not perfect, and this is only Robert’s third day. But before this there weren’t any nicks in the vinyl, and now there's a twelve-inch gash. I’ve been here for two hours and will leave with hundreds of dollars in damage. What price will Robert pay? I didn’t know what to say. I stood up to face Robert, who by then was standing silently behind me.
“Looks like I damaged your car,” he said quietly.
“I know. But it was my idea that you put the wheelbarrow in the back seat."
“I should have known better,” he said. “Let me get a manager."
He walked away and disappeared inside Home Depot while I stood in the parking lot and fretted. He emerged not long after with another man of about the same age. The manager did what managers do: frowned, pulled out his clipboard, and gave me some paperwork to fill out. As I did that, I overheard him say to Robert, “Wheelbarrows do not fit in the back seat.” Robert didn’t say anything. The manager added, “And neither do lawnmowers, if you’re wondering.”
There was no satisfaction in having to fill out a complaint form listing Robert as the culprit while he stood nearby getting scolded. He had only done what I’d suggested. But in fact it was his mistake, and he had caused this damage. It was simply too late for me to be a better person, if in fact I even could have been. I had missed my chance again.
I drove home slowly with a red hazard flag sticking out of my trunk, deserving of nothing more or less.