I Wonder as I Wander : A Visit to the Neighborhood Hardware Store

By Dave Zentner

Hardware Store Tools, Sketchbook, Dave Zentner
Dave Zentner, Hardware Store Tools (2019)

Wha? . . . where? . . . what time is it? Can’t see a window from here. All I can see are . . . Multi-Purpose Paint/Pry/Screw/Scraping Tools? Ahhh, I’m in the hardware store. How long have I been here? How long have I been staring at scrapers? It’s okay, no one’s looking at me suspiciously. Guess that means it hasn’t been too long, and none of my thoughts have been leaking out my mouth.

Should check the time. I must’ve stopped on my way . . . home? Do I need to call and explain? What do I say if Janet asks me why? I mean, do I say, “Nope, didn’t need anything, I was just . . . adventuring.” I wonder as I wander . . . that’s pretty ambitious. More like, I ponder as I putter.

How honest should I be? “Hi, hon, y’know how you always like a good amnesia story?” Nah, I’ll just text her that I stopped in at the hardware store but not to worry; I’ll be home by dinnertime. That’ll give me another twenty minutes here. Hey, it’s been a rough week. I need household supplies therapy.

I suppose I could find something I always need . . . screws? An entire aisle . . . hey, those are massive metal screws! Maybe I could give up my dream of welding a huge triceratops skull and just screw the thing together. Zentner, Willy Street Ace sketch (2019)

Dave Zentner, Willy Street Ace sketch (2019)
Dave Zentner, Willy Street ACE sketch (2019)

Is this how dinosaurs got made? “Okay, we’ve got plenty of normal creatures. Now let’s just have fun and make some huge, scary reptiles!” If we create because God created, do we also mess around because he did? (That would explain platypuses . . . platypi?)

Step one: find a city that’ll consider an enormous metal dino-skull Public Art. Steps two through nine: figure out funding and materials. Step ten: worry about fasteners.

So I’ll just get . . . whoa! Too many options. Does that wobbly screen door need a #6-32 Self-Drilling SMS Hex-Head Metal Screw? I’ll bet any second now the owner Bob is going to stroll over and ask, “What gauge d’ya need?” What’s a gauge? My train set was HO gauge . . . And how many threads per inch? This box says, “Mating Screws have a shoulder that matches the diameter of the corresponding Sex Bolts” Um . . . good to know… I’m getting out of this aisle before Bob asks me what I’m up to.

This is so weird. All my life I’ve done things with a purpose in mind. Right now I have none . . . Why does this paint brush cost over thirty bucks? . . . Do I have value if I’m not “Doing Something”? Does clearing my head count as “Something”? Ah, the ol’ Puritan Work Ethic rears its formidable head . . . look, that brush is hanging right next to a seven-dollar one that’s made of the same stuff . . . huh. I suppose it’s like the old general store guy says, “Reckon how one’s cheaper . . . an’ one’s better.” Probably so.

Zentner's ACE Hardware
Dave Zentner, Willy Street ACE (2019)

Should I ask about the brushes? Bob Ross would know. Bob Vila would know what screw I need. Owner Bob knows all of the above. Man, those People Who Can Fix Their Own Stuff . . . sigh . . . There should be a Learn To Adult class where pros teach people woodworking and home repair and how to keep the car running. I just need to take the time . . . well, after I’m done making art. But. I’ll never be done making art . . . will I? Crap, what if I become a handy hardware person who fixes storm doors but can’t make quirky art pieces anymore? Can one lose the ability to innovate? Okay, relax, I’m in a safe space. Deep breaths. It’s the good old hardware store . . . been here longer than I have, will be after I’m gone. Maybe when that time comes, the kids’ll spread a pinch of my ashes in the Rakes ’n’ Brooms aisle (next to the dustpans?).


Dave Zentner spent most of his life getting in trouble for doodling. He’s finally figured out how to make a career of that, as an artist and a Graphic Design/Illustration teacher at Madison College. He has a B.S. in Biology from Hillsdale College and has served as InterVarsity staff and an Assisting Minister at Luther Memorial Church. He and his wife Janet have two grown kids (a skateboarder and a nurse), on opposite coasts.


One Response to I Wonder as I Wander : A Visit to the Neighborhood Hardware Store

  1. Amazing! Thank you for the wonderful writing of thoughts, and heart. Thank you for the honesty, As a sculptor, I love hardware stores, but I share the same hesitations, and wonderings of David. So refreshing. I smiled all through the reading. Thank you, thank you!