Going through high school and college, I probably had one of the best jobs a young man my age could ask for: I worked at the local hardware store. There was really no better job in the world. I was able to learn to thread pipe, operate a forklift and fill propane tanks. Every day working at the hardware store, the mind and body were engaged in problem-solving of the highest degree. And even though it has been 15 years since I have worked there, I am still fairly confident in my ability to gauge the thread count on a bolt simply by touch.
And more than the practical aspects of working at a hardware job, there were the soft skills of developing relationships with those who came through the store. As much as the hardware store was a place of commerce, there was also a strong social component to the place. Many times, folks of all sorts of backgrounds would come to visit and hangout. The combination of good people and tools and trinkets made this store a magnet for people.
At the end of each day, as we were sweeping the floors, taking out the trash and doing the other nightly tasks, the store staff often talk about the “golden sombrero.” Now, there was no hat with the golden sombrero, but rather it was a recognition of customers we saw multiple times in a day on one project. The golden sombrero was a takeoff from the old baseball play-by-play guy Harry Caray. Harry would adorn the golden sombrero to that player that would strike out three times in a game.
Our purpose in the golden sombrero wasn’t to poke fun at the folks who came through the door. On the contrary, it was just to empathize with those who just weren’t having a great day. As with many projects, one thing leads to another; next thing you know, you are solving problems you never saw coming.
Such was this past Sunday for myself. I woke up determined to figure out why the bathroom drain was slow. With snake and wrench in hand, I tackled the bathroom lavatory with gusto. Looking down the drain pipe, I saw a collection of goods that looked like something my 7-year-old daughter would take delight in. A small spool of dental floss, a toothpaste tube cap, and 17 cents that have become heavily corroded. As I carefully disassembled the trap underneath the sink, the trap somehow disintegrated in my hand. Oh, the beginning of the adventure.
And of course, it was getting the old pop-up assembly off that was the most difficult part. For the uninitiated, the pop-up assembly is that oh-so-necessary plug that allows the sink to fill with water. I am going to guess this pop-up assembly was a first-run model and hadn’t been touched in decades. It was a true challenge getting it off.
After getting the assembly off, I stared at the sink and just wanted to give up. I was mentally exhausted and after battling for an hour on a stupid pop-up assembly, I was physically tired as well. But I knew I was only halfway through.
Fortunately, the second half of the project of getting everything back together went much smoother. Yes, it still took time, but at least there was no battle of trying to figure out how to get a pop-up assembly out of the sink.
So, one trip for the snake. Another trip for the pop-up assembly and the trap. The third trip for plumber’s putty. A fourth trip for slip washers and nuts that somehow got miscounted in the mess of wrenches, plastic bags, wrappers and everything else this job required. Four trips and four hours of my life gone forever.
As I look back, I’d like to think the moral of the story here is to never give up. Even in the middle of our mess, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. And in my case, if I would have just given up, the problem wouldn’t have been solved. Even when it’s tough, we just need to keep on moving.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.