New Construction

13 Feb


I got home from a run the other day to find six large, cardboard boxes outside my apartment door. I studied the information on them, mystified at who would possibly have sent me so much stuff.

In fact, my mom had sent me all my books from home. What a lovely surprise!

As a child and teenager, I was an avid reader (still am) and books were the only things I ever wanted for birthdays and Christmases. Accordingly, I acquired a large collection of books: first edition Harry Potters, Hemingway in hard cover, vintage children’s storybooks, French philosophy books sent from Paris, feminist fiction from Aunt Petra, classics that looked like they belonged in a dark library, and all the Shakespeare plays in leather-bound covers.

I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in their pages once again. I dragged the boxes into my apartment, and spent the better half of an afternoon joyfully opening them, rediscovering the books I hadn’t seen in such a long time.

Because many of them had been gifts, their covers were high quality, just begging for a prominent display. After studying my mostly blank walls, I decided that a full wall of books would be the most dramatic and elegant way to shelve them. Thus, I needed to build some shelves.

For a moment I considered hiring someone to install them for me, but then I realized how expensive that would be, especially after I bought all the shelving. I also considered buying bookcases, but I would have to buy too many of them to display all my books, and I just didn’t have the money for that, nor the space. I then sensed an opportunity to cross another item off my list. I would be resourceful.

So I got in my car and drove to Home Depot, certain I would have shelves up that night.

As I pulled up to the massive store, I prepared myself for the inevitable sexism I would encounter. There would undoubtedly be the alpha-male who would wink at me, who would patronize me with questions about whether I wanted a pink tool set, who would ask where my boyfriend was. I practiced my responses to those questions in my head: I already have a tool set, thank you very much. Women can wield tools too. The International Woman of Mystery is more than capable of figuring out how to hang some shelves.

Home Depot was relatively quiet that weekday afternoon, but it was no less overwhelming. The space was huge, with a ceiling several stories high, rows of wood and paint and hardware and piping extending so far I could barely see where they ended.

In my impatience to get my books on the shelves, I didn’t much consider that I had zero experience building bookshelves. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t even know what I was looking for.  

I’d only been to a hardware store a handful of times in my life. In the past, my boyfriends, my dad or Alec just took care of this kind of stuff. I never really thought about what it took to build something.

A guy in his thirties with a long beard wearing an orange Home Depot vest approached me.

“Can I help you?” He asked flatly, his eyes wandering to the direction of an announcement on the store PA system. Here we go, I thought, ready for the onslaught of judgment.

“Um, yeah,” I looked around. “I’m trying to build some shelves on my walls.”

“What kind of shelves are you looking for?’

“I’m not really sure. Just like, a wall of shelves for my books.”

“Do you know what design you want? Do you want one with brackets? Or do you want a floating shelf?” He looked at me expectantly.

I hadn’t totally thought about it. The only vision I had for this wall was based on that scene from Beauty and the Beast where Belle discovers the Beast’s library, where books stack seemingly to the sky, with spiral staircases to reach the high shelves.

I shrugged at him, hoping he might be able to guide me.

He sighed shortly, hands on hips. “Okay, well, is this drywall or concrete?”

I shrugged again and felt my face getting hot.

He asked more questions like this, the edge in his voice growing sharper with each “I don’t know”: how much weight would be on the shelf? How wide did I want them? How many shelves did I want? Did I want a decorative bracket or a metal bracket?

“I do have tools,” I offered hopefully.

“That doesn’t matter at this point,” he said. “Look, I can’t really help you if you don’t have all the information. Sorry.” He turned around and started walking away. “You’re welcome to look around if you want,” he called over his shoulder.

What terrible customer service, I thought. Aren’t these guys supposed to help people who have no idea what they’re doing? Instead, he set me up for failure by asking a bunch of questions he knew I didn’t know. I left the store without purchasing anything, mad that I wasn’t going to be able to put up my shelves that day.

On the way home, I hit a traffic jam on the highway. Cars were crawling by something up ahead on the side of the road. As I passed, I saw a sedan pulled over, and a woman was skillfully changing a tire, the blown out one on the road behind the car.

What an idiot I had been.

Instead of getting judged for being a woman in a hardware store as I had expected, I was rightfully judged for being ignorantly unprepared for the task at hand. I subconsciously thought I could rely on someone else to do all the work for me, because they didn’t expect me to want to try, anyway. If I had tried, I would have exceeded his expectation, but if I didn’t try, it wouldn’t matter. It was what I had always known, and I didn’t realize that until just then.

It is remarkably easy to lean on others’ stereotypes about you to justify your laziness. No IWOM, and no woman for that matter, should ever indulge in the feeling of helplessness because it’s easier than doing the hard work of problem solving. It’s a form of victimization. Even if these tasks are a pain in the ass, even if they are uninteresting, even if there is someone else willing to do them for you, we must learn to do these things for ourselves anyway.

When I got home, I immediately researched on YouTube. Watched videos about how to hang shelves. I poured over Pinterest boards and Ikea galleries to discover what I really wanted. I measured walls, calculated the weight of my books, sketched out a design, looked up how to figure out what kind of walls I had, took pictures. The next day, I marched back into Home Depot, confident and fully prepared. I still didn’t know where to go when I got there, but when a salesman asked if I needed help, I could say, “I’d like to install five, long white floating shelves on my drywall for a collection of books.”

The man smiled at me. “Great. I can help you with that.”

That night, I sipped a glass of wine on my sofa, admiring my books, now elegantly displayed on my wall. They were just some simple bookshelves, but I had never built anything like this in my life. I felt a small fire growing inside me as I basked in this pride at having done all of this myself.

With enough hard work and resourcefulness, what else could I learn to do on my own?




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