Practicality and the Rocking Chair

This past Sunday evening my wife-to-be Kestrel, our son Lucas, and I escaped our little home for a short shopping respite at a couple of the big-name stores in our small city, not the least being the fiery and attractive Target. Although, I usually scoff at such shopping traps (horrid memories of being trapped in such stores with my parents for what seemed like years rush over me – all under the rouse of a Taco Bell trip), I was actually glad to enjoy the packaged ambiance of a shiny store with my loved ones and there were a few things we needed. For a few months, Kestrel and I had dreamed of having little solar lights to light our dark door path when we returned home later in the evening. Target offered a wide selection of such lights and we compared the pros and cons of each from price to aesthetic appeal until we decided upon the very best solar lights for our modest door path. During our discussion, I started to notice a comfy, yet durable looking patio rocking chair behind me and, when our light decision was made, I vouched that we consider buying the chair. I pulled it off the stack and saw that it was on clearance for only $28 after the tax and such. Kestrel handed me our little Lucas and I gave the rocking chair a test sit. Forgive me but . . . it totally rocked! Comfortable with a nice precise rock. Just the trick for Lucas as he had taken a liking to the outdoors and always enjoyed being bounced or rocked. The decision was made and I carried the slim rocking chair overhead as we walked to the front. Kestrel stopped for some toiletries along the way giving me another opportunity to sample the wares while she compared hair gel prices and options – it totally rocked!

While we waited in line for the cashier, I set it down and rocked again – I believed in this purchase, I was basking in its goodness as it was rung up. Not a tingle of buyer’s remorse inside.

About ten minutes later, the contents of Kestrel’s Honda Insight were piled in the space adjoining ours and I was cooly playing the angles of the trunk and backseats (reclined forward) in order to find some way to fit our treasured purchase into the vehicle. It was in all ways a no go. The rocking implements on the bottom were too wide to fit into either the trunk or backseat and the seating of the rocking chair was a titch too high to fit in any other way. I set the rocker down, determined to make this work, and I examined it for possible dismantling. At first glance, it seemed the chair was welded at all the joints and, therefore, impossible to take-apart, but, after a third look, I discovered four plastic caps, surely meant to protect the screws from moisture, which covered four screws. If these screws were removed, the seat would come right off and the rocker would make the journey home. Kestrel settled into the passenger’s seat to nurse Lucas while I hustled inside optimistically to see if I could borrow an allen wrench to remove the screws. I also brought with me the receipt, in the unlikely case that the employees at Target would be unable to produce the needed tool to help their customer ferry the already purchased rocker home. It was going to work out.

Manning the returns counter was a homely, elderly gentleman named Ed (nametag). I gave him the situation holding the receipt in hand, making it clear that I really liked the chair and wanted, if there was any way I could borrow an allen wrench, to take it home. Ed, who reminded me of other people’s grandpas – dignified yet harboring a good humor – walked a bit glumly over to a junk drawer hidden behind the counter and narrated his search for the allen wrench, “screwdriver, hammer, tape, ehhhh , no, wait, no, no allen wrench.” His voice had the sound of such finality in it. Was this the end?

I asked Ed if he could check if someone in the back (there’s always a bunch of hardy, fix-it-up guys in the back right?) could find an allen wrench. Ed flashed his eyebrows as if to say, “oh, you thought of that, well, I guess,” and he called the “back” asking for an allen wrench. He received an incomprehensible response and translated for me, “they’re gonna check.” We stood there for a bit waiting. I took a seat in the rocker and explained how I intended to rock my son to sleep with it. Ed seemed to be a father-of-the-era, the type who recognized the existence of his children only once they could form intelligible sentences. Another employee joined us and asked if she could help. Ed explained that I needed an allen wrench to dissassemble the rocking chair or else I would have to return it. Ed received a flash of inspiration – “we could hold it for you over night!” I had thought of this and didn’t think it was a very good solution since there were so many rocking chairs still available – I might as well return it. The young lady erased all hope from Ed on this note, “is that clearance?” It was clearance. “Then we can’t hold it overnight.” And that was that.

Perhaps, I thought aloud, you sell allen wrenches here at Target? Ed and the young lady looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, “maybe,” she said and found a reason to wander off and watch the barren check out lines. Ed looked at his watch. I wanted to ask him to call the “back” again but I already felt like I was infringing upon him somehow, rocking in my chair right in the middle of his returns area.

“No allen wrench huh?” I offered. “Yeah,” he returned, “they’re probably not getting back to you because they don’t have an allen wrench. Those chairs come to us all assembled, we don’t do that here.” “Well, do you sell allen wrenches here?” My eyes indicated his computer terminal and more specifically, the capability it had to locate any and all merchandise offered in this store. “You can check.” I sat there for a split second, thinking about, well, you know what I was thinking about. “I’ll check, ” I said.

Target is a very pretty store. It has videogames, cute shirts with soda brand logos, lots of toys, food – there’s food at Target now – , and just about any product that can be described as superfluous. I looked up and down the aisles of designer stools and air freshener’s until I found the half-aisle which represented Target’s version of a hardware section. There were a few drills and screwdrivers and stud detectors but no allen wrenches. No allen wrenches. It was over.

Ed had moved onto some lingering product scans by the time I returned half expecting that a miracle allen wrench from the “back” had arrived. He gave me a smirk, “any luck?” The ass, he must have known they didn’t sell allen wrenches or he had thought to look it up in my absence. “No, no allen wrenches,” I reported, “I guess I’ll have to return the chair.” Ed gave a fraudulent, “I hear ya man,” look to me and enthusiastically took the receipt from my hand. In a minute, the money was credited back to our Mastercard. “Where do you want me to put the chair?” I asked as I carried it around the counter to the opening where Ed met me. He took my coveted rocker in his hands, felt its convenient lightness, the cushioned mesh, and the durable frame. “Looks like a comfortable chair,” he said. “It is,” I said back. “It is.” And thought of strangling Ed, the image was funny.

And why am I writing this? Well, I have to learn from this, I have to. Everything, especially the really dumb things, happen for a reason.

There is no way that there wasn’t an allen wrench in the back of that Target and there was no way that it was impossible for me to be sitting in that wonderful rocking chair right now. Ed, and the copious other employees rambling about the store looking to the displays and otherwise appearing busy, just didn’t really know what to do once a task outside their assigned roster of duties presented itself. Like how if a computer were acting up and I wanted to buy gum but they couldn’t register the sale I would probably not be allowed to buy the gum. But wait a minute. I have money, they have the gum, can’t something be worked out here? Uh, well, no. Not usually. At least at Target.

I realized that this happens at school all the time. There are always options. Like how many teachers just can’t rationalize treating students differently in the defense of fairness. But it wouldn’t be fair. Well, Ed was very fair to me. He did all he could within the parameters of his assigned duties. None of those duties, however, was able to give me what I needed. And now I have to sit on crappy lawn furniture until I can go back to Target with my own set of allen wrenches.

We teachers are very fair to students, within the parameters of our assigned duties. They walk in the room, we do stuff, and we give them grades. We prepare them for tests and they take those tests. Those are our duties. We are being fair.

Or are we? What allen wrenches can we have stowed away?

I’m not exactly sure, but, on my walk out to the car where our beach chairs still lay on the pavement, I stopped mentally strangling Ed and I started to smile. I’ve been Ed so many times to my students, able to offer them everything but what they need, what they want. And I skipped a little thinking excitedly of what little tools and skills I was going to get ready for those situations which arise that are outside my particular set of duties. I hope Ed’s working the day shift tomorrow.

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6 thoughts on “Practicality and the Rocking Chair

  1. Mike Brown says:

    Michael, interesting observations. Some of the best times to learn are when we are in that position. It is so true that Ed was doing the the best that he could, and so few of us are able to understand that. Are all of us doing the best we can with the education and experiences that we have to work with? Kudos to you to foe adapting that to your teaching methods and wish we had more teachers like you! Rock on!!

  2. Julianna says:

    Le sigh, I remember working at Target during Christmas season. The Orange Crush Tees were a huge a seller. I had similar sentiments for a cashier who worked beside me, as you did towards Ed initially. She sang Christmas songs while scanning Elf dvds and Hersheys’ Kisses, while working her 8 hour shift in my relative area, while wearing an elf hat, while I was lost day dreaming of her slowing losing the ability to sing any longer. Oh, those were the days.

    Mike, thank you for your beautifully illustrated experience.

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