Musings on Life: My Trip to The Electrical Supply Store

Even as I got into the car I could feel the attitude in place. I knew even before I pulled into the parking lot of our local electric supply store they wouldn’t have my 400 Watt bulb and even more than that they will be rude and condescending.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

On March 1st my Mom and I went to the electric supply store (which shall go unnamed, as this could happen to anyone, anywhere) amidst a few different errands. I needed a few different supplies   at the store, but it is the large indirect light bulb that burned out in the Art Center ballroom, where I work, that is my reason for being here.  With the dead bulb in hand, I entered into The Electric Store.

Tacky shiny chandeliers made for the finer homes of Aston or Ridley dangle down from everywhere. Forcing me to stoop and dodge as I make my way to the register.

Behind the counter is a large black man. He awaits me.

He is tall and heavy and burly. Much like his thick coke bottle glasses…is dense, “Can I help you?” His voice is thick and raspy, a Camel man would be my guess. Immediately I feel like I am inconveniencing him.

“Yes, I need to order some bulbs, 6, 60 Watt standard bulbs, a dozen exit sign bulbs, and two of these.” I show him my 8 inch long monster bulb. Confident now because with bulb in hand we will have no confusion.

“What kind of bulb is this?” He has taken the bulb from me and is holding it like it is the turd of an alien.

“Let me look in back, and see if I can find them.” I smile at my Mom. She looks dismayed and annoyed.

Coming up to the counter again he says, “We don’t have any in stock, but I will order it if you like.”

“Okay, when will they come in?” I didn’t expect them to be in stock. Everything is right on track.

“Ten days. We’ll give you a call.” Yeah Right!

“Do you want me to throw this out?” He is dangling the bulb over a 55 gallon trash can. In his thick calloused hand the bulb doesn’t look so large.

I am frozen. Sure the bulb is ordered and I am in the clear, and yet acknowledging their incompetence, parting with this bulb separates me from my life line. The serial code and bulb are in plain sight. In quiet confidence (I am not screwing up) I say, “Okay, heave it!”

He then begins to write up the slip for the bulbs I do have. When he is halfway through he notices that I’m not making any gesture to pay. “Is this on account?” Now his annoyance is gurgling to the top.

“Oops Sorry,” again for the 6th or 7th time I remember when you pay at the time you get the little slip and when you pay on account you get the big slip.

He looks at me. His pupils are large and imposing through his thick glasses. “You forget every time, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” sufficiently chastised. Smirking inside though that I have left an impression, albeit a negative one, the only kind I would want to leave in this   ugly room. In his remembrance of me he doesn’t have to ask me whether or not the listing in their records is under Wallingford Community Arts Center or Community Arts Center in Wallingford. I have been spared from wallowing completely in my stupidity.

We leave.

Twelve days later I return, two extra days for their own margin of error. I have doubts about their having the bulb and am frustrated with myself for letting him throw it away. Behind the counter this time are a pleasant younger man who waits on me and an older white man with short greased back hair and angry eyes. I recognize him.

Of course they don’t have the bulb in stock but the young guy assures me that by the end of the month they would have the bulb in and they will give me a call as soon as it comes in.

Somewhere around April 3rd or 6th I was back again, eager to buy and install and be done with this bulb.

No bulb. The real frustration is beginning. They as­ sure me that they will order it and that it will be in by the end of the month.

Time elapses now. I don’t intend to make a special trip there and have the bulb still not be in yet.

I am back to the beginning of my story. As I got out of my tan ’83 Subaru station wagon, I can hear it­ An imaginary Sergio Leone soundtrack is playing in the background of my mind.  I feel detached and prepared.

After stooping and dodging my way through the chandeliers, I am at the counter again. The nice young guy is in again and I feel some relief. He looks at me. “I ordered a four hundred watt bulb and I want to know if you have gotten it in yet.” I am talking to the pleasant young man. A  small favor.

“Let me look in back” I doubt he will find the bulb and now I am cursing myself for permitting this unusual bulb to be thrown away.

A couple of minutes later the young guy comes back from the warehouse area.

“Exactly what kind of bulb was it?”

A warm wave of frustration washes over my body. The frustration is coming and I am not in the mood to be upset, but it is unavoidable. “The day I ordered the bulb I brought it in and it was thrown away.

He reaches under the counter and pulls out a whole bunch of back orders. The old man with the Brylcreem hair and the angry eyes is now alert to our conversation. With the wad of back orders in his hand, he says to me “When did you place the order?” The anger is rushing up, a late evening high tide.

“I placed the order 3 1/2 months ago” A Pause…

He puts down the thick collection of back orders. “We won’t have that on record anymore. Do you have any idea what kind of bulb it is?”

Alert to the story and with an agitation to his voice the old man says, “You ordered in March and we won’t have any record of it.” Pausing he looks at me.

“I have no desire to go into all the details but rest assured that I came in on at least three different occasions to get the bulb you said would be in.”

“Let me look in back again.” He is probably just trying to placate me.

The old man says, “We probably called you when the bulb came in and you just never came in to get it.” The nerve, the gall, to suggest they had called, and to call me a liar.

I am angry now and in my anger I feel a detachment. Part of me is aware of the scene, my anger from above seeing the stupidity of it all. Often I feel this detachment…it helps but does not end the flood of anger. “You certainly never called to tell me the bulb was in and I don’t understand how any store can be so incompetently run and stay in business.” I can feel his anger and I didn’t doubt it was as much my condescending attitude as what I was saying.

The young man comes walking back. “We don’t have it anywhere. If you place your order again I will personally make sure that it is ordered. ”

The old guy says to him “We probably placed the order already.”

More digs at me. So often when people are rude we aren’t ready to respond. Today I was ready. His last comment made me angry again and with it came the same feeling of detachment, the sense of viewing the scene and. keeping a scorecard, a blow by blow. Again it is my turn. “How does this place stay in business when it has no regard for the customer?”

I’ll just bet the old guy is glaring at me but I keep my focus on the young guy.

He says to me “I am sorry about not having the light in stock, I will make sure you get it.”

I am not angry at him, but hostility is on the loose now. “You mean you want me to get out my 20 foot ladder, put it up, climb 20 feet in the air, take out a bulb that works perfectly, write down the serial number, and bring it in for the bulb I bought in here 3 months ago.

He nods his head.

The old man is really agitated now. I can feel it like an open flame warming my hands and face.

Still looking at the young guy I say, “Well, there are some other things I need; a dozen 75 Watt indoor spot lights, a dozen standard sixty watt light bulbs, and a case of 4ft, cool white fluorescent lights,” He heads off to the backroom to get my order.

The old man and I are the only ones in the room now, the silence like February wind. It appeals to me perversely like picking at a scab, reveling in your own tolerance for that good pain.

The old guy gets out a slip and begins to write up the order. “What did you Order?”

“A dozen 75 watt indoor spot lights, a dozen 60 watt standard light bulbs, and a case…”

He stops writing and looks at me. We lock squarely, looking right at each other’s eyes. “Is this on account?”

As he says this I realize my mistake again. They write the orders on account on the large slips. “Oops, I forgot, sorry.”

“You forget every time, don’t you?”

I am wrong and have no smart rejoinder for my error.

He lifts the half-finished slip up off the counter and rips it into sections and drops it into the big black trash can. Our gaze remains. The display is unnecessary, but I say nothing.

The young man has returned by now with my order and starts to look me up in their records. “What is the name of your place of business?”

“The Community Arts Center in Wallingford.” As I say it I feel a twinge of anxiety. Damn, I can never remember if they have it listed as the Wallingford Community Arts Center, or The Community Arts Center in Wallingford. The latter being correct, but what did I tell them? They aren’t the only idiots in the room.

“I don’t see it in here.” Damn, I’m busted!

The old guy walks over to the book, and says to me, “Don’t you even know the name of the place you work?”

“Look under Wallingford Community Arts. I know damn well the name of the place I work, but I don’t know how you have it written up in your books.”

He yells out to the office behind a half closed door to my left. “Is it The Wallingford Community Arts Center, or The Community Arts Center in Wallingford?”

“The name of the place is the Community Arts Center in Wallingford. God only knows how you have it written up in your book.”

He stomps off to the office to ask them. I hear the question being repeated. The young man finds the account in the book and begins writing it up.

As the old man comes back from the office he says, “So you found it!”

Finally I am done. I sign the receipt. The young man tears the yellow copy off, hands it to me and says, “So you’ll call with the serial code and I will order the other bulb.”

“All right.” With a big box in hand I weave and dodge my way back to the bright sunny day on the other side of the front door. Reaching the door, I reach out with my free hand. Just as I have contact with the door, I hear a word-one word-sharp, crystalline, piercing,


Torrents of anger rushing over me with the sound of the word, warm chills running up and down my spine. This old geezer had stepped over the line. This word was intended to hurt me. Again I can feel some rational part of me detaching and observing, also everything slows down. Actually everything isn’t slowing down. I am speeding up. I guess this is an adrenaline rush.

I take my hand off the door handle. My mind is racing for the right thing to say. We are 20 feet apart. It needs to be short and I want to hurt him. A word comes to mind. A response. I turn and we are staring directly at each other. The showdown on the barren streets of “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly” or “A Fist Full of Dollars.” Cooly, calculatedly, I chose my word. Softly, but with a deep diaphramal oomph I say it. “ASSHOLE”

One word. I know it is the right one. Even though I am angry and frustrated, this last word will make me feel better about this conclusion.

“What did you say to me?” Stunned, his face appears momentarily vacant/no longer smug.

“You heard me.”

“How dare you make a comment like that from across the room. Come say that to my face.” The metaphorical pot of coffee has come to a boil and the top is about to blow. “You were the one who made the snide comment from across the store.”      I am keeping my voice intellectual and matter of a fact. I am sure this increases his rage. I too have stepped over the line and now I just want to get out of here.

“You were the one who made the snide comment from across the store.” I am keeping my voice intellectual and matter of a fact. I am sure this increases his rage. I too have stepped over the line and now I just want to get out of here.

As I head out the door I can’t help but consider whether I will come back here ever again, and I know the answer. This is a big puffy pale and thick scab. I will have to pick it again.

I toss the box of bulbs in the back seat and open the front door to my car really eager to leave. Suddenly he is standing at the front door. “Come over here and say that face to face.”

“NO” This guy is ready. He really wants to go.

“I am going to call the place where you work. Tell me your name.”

OUCH! I know he is angry enough to do it. Looking past the old guy through the front door I can see the young man laughing. I wonder who he is laughing at.

“You know where I work so go ahead and call, but I am not going to give you the satisfaction of me telling you my name.”

His look is incredulous.  He clinches his hands into fists. His eyes are blazing now. He says, “You are feeble minded, feeble minded.” The threat of a phone call was a good one and I will not engage him again.

Now the detached observer in my mind is having a moment. When someone who you are thinking is not altogether there, someone playing with a short deck says you are feebleminded, and seeing the situation from their perspective you can agree that this is a humbling and humorous moment.

I say, “Okay.” I get into the car and drive away.

Immediately I begin to entertain the question…will he call.

I think I know the answer. Will he get Mimi, office secretary, dear friend who understands me, who also refuses to do business at The Electric Store. Will it be Linda, my boss, whom I have a great working relationship with and who also will not do business with them?

Or will it be Bea, Executive Director of the Arts Center, who rarely answers the phone and whom I have had a periodically turbulent relationship with?

Oh yeah. I know who it will be.

I run a couple of other errands before returning home.

I am onto a whole new set of thoughts when I enter the office.

Linda has a coy expression when she says, “You bought some lighting supplies?”

I can tell the jig is up. The call was made.

“As a matter of act I did.” I sit down in one of the receiving chairs. I say to Mimi and Linda, “You both know I have had difficulty with The Electric Store in the past. Well, I have forged a whole new relationship. Any other problems I may have had with them are a thing of the past now.”

“Is that so?” Linda says and although I am looking her directly in the eye, I can hear Mimi’s muffled tittering.

“As a matter of fact, I’m going out for lunch with the guy from The Store on Thursday…as long as I’m not busy.”

They both laugh now.

“Well it would have been better if Mimi or I had answered the phone, but I had stepped out of the office and Mimi was on the other line.”

“What did he say to her?”

Mimi said, “Bea really defended you, saying things like he is a very polite young man, he is a very nice person, and actually he is quite bright.”

Oh great. I explain my side.

Bob Deane 10/17/95

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