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The Do-It-Yourself Store

My husband and I went to one of those giant warehouse-sized home improvement centers on home leave. Now you are probably thinking, “What is so unusual about that?” Truth is, we had not set foot in one of those places since three years prior, when we transferred to Indonesia. Before that, we were downright regulars there.

Less than two weeks after we moved into our Jakarta house from the hotel, we often whined to each other, “What I wouldn't give for that do-it-yourself place!” We found ourselves making numerous trips in horrible traffic to tiny, dirty little stalls with one-tenth of what we needed. The language barrier made things worse. Unless we had a sample to hold up, (do you have one of these?) we never could communicate what we wanted. Sometimes it was easier to just give up.

Eventually, we became more comfortable with the shopping protocol and learned enough of the language to find most of what we wanted. It still isn't particularly easy or fast, though. Oh, how spoiled Americans are and most don't even know it. Living in a developing country changes one's perception of simple tasks, such as shopping.

Which brings me back to our visit. Although we returned Stateside several times before, we never had occasion to go to the home improvement store. This time, my husband remembered to bring the size of our obscure halogen light bulbs, so we could buy replacements. I felt no sense of anticipation as we drove up and parked. We were just ordinary Americans out on a summer afternoon in search of light bulbs -- or were we?

We had to walk past the exit door to get to the entrance. Just as we passed, a customer exited the store and it happened. Whoosh! I got a whiff of that new lumber smell. “Ummmmmm!” I moaned to my husband, “Did you smell that? Was it wonderful or what?” You would think I just had a big bite of my favorite Belgian chocolate by the tone of my voice. My husband rolled his eyes, a little embarrassed that someone might hear and think me weird. I quickened my pace so I could get inside and savor the scent more.

Through the electric doors we went and I verified my weirdness by gushing, “Oh, WOW, let's go up and down every single aisle whether we need to or not!” My husband found this most amusing, but I noticed he did not protest. We started our tour by making an inspection of new lawn and insect chemicals. We continued, looking at new weed wackers, rakes and wheelbarrows. It suddenly occurred to us how expensive setting up our household will be when we repatriate.

We could have sold tickets to the moment we surveyed a sample kitchen. We poured over new design features intently. My husband saw the “push” button along the top of a cook top and pushed it. We both reared back as the exhaust vent rose up from the stovetop, roaring with power. Our eyes opened wide and we leaned back in awe. “Ain't that just plumb faincy, Bubba?” I joked.

“Oh man!” I groaned when I saw the halogen torch we paid $70.00 for now selling for $20.00. I've heard New Yorkers can spot tourists by the way they stumble along the sidewalks, gaping up at the skyscrapers. That would just about describe us in the ceiling fan section.

My husband almost had to administer a sedative when we got to the storage aisle. I swear it has tripled in size since I last saw it. I was grabbed by the arm and rushed through that area before my impulses took over and I bought twenty things that wouldn't come close to fitting in my suitcase.

“Gaw-lee, Bubba, lookeee thar!” I said when I realized we must look comical to others who considered this an every day experience. Up and down we strolled for over an hour, gawking like a couple of yokels who had just emerged from the deep piney woods. I know other patrons must have thought that of us. I saw several looks of amazement pass over my husband's face and I know I was guilty of the same. The word “wow” easily passed my lips a few dozen times.

I have been asked by family and friends in the States what changes I notice when on home leave. Let me point out that folks back home absorb these changes bite by bite and they meld into everyday life. When confronted by three years' worth of changes, we felt a little like space aliens who just arrived on a flying saucer. Well, we are aliens of a sort.

We are still shaking our heads and marveling over the new sights we saw. We have laughed and jabbed each other when we realize we were acting like tourists in our own country. at a retail store. Our friends and family have found our recounting of the incident to be very entertaining. Imagine--two red-blooded Americans having culture shock right in the heart of suburbia.

Incidentally, after that extensive tour, we practiced restraint and checked out with our halogen light bulbs, two drawer pulls and a magazine.

© Susan McKinley