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Sunday, Feb. 13, 2005
It ought to strike someone as a scandalous thing to be thinking of work topics on a perfectly good Sunday morning, but there’s no getting around it. I spent a good portion of my Saturday researching and shimmying around on the net until the research was becoming as dull as cereal left too long in the bowl.

It all started with a comment from someone, I don’t remember who, suggesting that if the Outfoxed Crew really wanted unlimited work, we ought to join with the vast resources of the orange clad minions at Home Despot.

For, you see, the Despots have decided that selling you grab bags of cabinet knobs and riding mowers and faucets just isn’t enough. They want to go the extra yard and come out to the house and set it all up for you. Installations by Despots. Followed up, I suppose, by lifetime warranties for your new garage door or washing machine or any one of a thousand building products that will at some point fail, and leave you with no other recourse than to call in the orange brigade for a free fix. Strictly not including the service call fee, of course.

I don’t know, things weren’t always this way. If you’re of an age to remember the days gone by (1975, let’s say) this big box era of home products twern’t always here. Used to be if you wanted a new front door, you went to the local lumberyard where men in flannel lounged, comfortably, and either took what they had or ordered something special for eventual delivery. You either knew the local carpenter, or knew somebody who did, and in a gradual sort of way the door would have its coming out day and there would be little talk of warranties, or backorders, because things just didn’t happen that way. The carpenter probably lived a few blocks over, the lumberyard was just a mile up the street by the railroad and the two coexisted in perfect harmony. The lad selling you the door wouldn’t think of actually coming to your house and installing it, that would take food from the mouth of a perfectly capable carpenter. And if the carpenter/contractor heard any talk of such a thing, he’d most likely be taking his lumber business somewhere else.

But this whole thing has been stood on its ear. In 2005 the contractor has evolved to someone in a spotless SUV with a cell phone and a laptop, whose only tool might be the tire iron hidden under the hood. He is likely able to diagnose the needs of your house and begin the whole awful process of modern contracting which smells suspiciously like delegation. A call to various hungry youths with the lure of making $8 an hour to run to the Despots for a homogenous door stashed with a hundred others just like it, meet homeowner and jam it into the frame with all the finesse that $8 an hour can muster, ensure that at least half the provided hardware actually works, that it might not fall off in a slight breeze and voila! We’ll call it done. Homeowner ponies up a check guaranteed to cover half the monthly payment of one spotless SUV.

Now I’m sure the Despots noticed this (after a day spent reading up on it, I can assure you they did) and figured, “Dayum, why can’t we get a chunk of all that? Why, surely with our resources we can snag a lot of this right where it starts. Customer hit’s the front entrance, buys a sink and the first thing they want to know is who’s gonna come out and whip it into place. And how soon. Surely we don’t have a moment to lose here. There‘s a sale in every one of those Birkenstocks.”

In a way the Despots are right. They do have the resources, and the draw of the Big Box. For every contractor coming in their store for cheap lumber stacked to the roof there’s fifty homeowners getting a flyer in the Sunday paper with unbeatable cabinet deals in four color magnificence, and best of all, you can get it financed and installed! It’s a one stop deal folks, put your kitchen in our hands and relax with a martini. We’re friendly, we’re knowledgeable, we’re the biggest and brightest, and best of all, we’re orange. Care for an orange twist in your drink? We’ve got that too, and the special orange extractor tool as well. Aisle ten, look for the WD-40 display.

{Speaking of aisles, and I say this with the embarrassment of someone who rails about the Despots while still spending chunks of change there, what the hell is up with those aisles? And what lunatic is in charge of stocking them? It’s bad enough that the whole store is laid out to achieve the maximum amount of aisles, leaving barely enough room to squeeze your (orange) cart betwixt stacks of garbage bags and light fixtures. But why put the bags and lights in the same space? What do they possibly have to do with each other? Wouldn’t sanity gain a measure of advance by displaying light fixtures with, say, wire? Or light bulbs, for that matter. Why put the bags in electrical when the aisle to buy garbage cans is two city blocks away? And no, walking is for jobsites. I don‘t need the Despots getting me into an exercise routine.}

They claim if the Outfoxed Crew were to sign up for installing kitchens we’d have years of fodder in front of us. Years, I say. Which I don’t doubt. Judging by the quality of installs performed by the more sedentary of the rank and file, I’d say years might be cutting it a little thin.

And for what it’s worth, we wouldn’t need to stock up on the proferred (orange) tools. Got a truck full of ‘em. Come to think of it, we’ve got two trucks full.

I just can’t get that picture out of my mind though, the one with the old carpenter getting a call from the lumberyard. “Hey, fella down here wants a front door installed. Mind if I send him your way or are you too full up? By the way, thanks for that lumber order last week, we appreciate it.” I can’t imagine the Despots calling with that kind of general humility in mind, or having any recollection of what I did for them last week. I can imagine a nasty email about needing to stuff one more install job in a bloated schedule since the in-house designer screwed up the order and now there’s a Birkenstock couple who’ve been waiting and waiting and, you know, we don’t have a moment to lose here.

Things change, I know. Like as not the Despots are gonna claim this chunk of real estate, they’re determined and have a bottom line to think of, not to mention a couple of stockholders who’d be more distraught over losing revenue than keeping alive the small business owner and his pitiful quest for a livelihood. The Orange Machine is marching, marching to Zion and Jackson Hole and Pensacola, and those who sit along the road shall soon be squashed by a steamroller (orange).

But I swear. I don’t want to sell power rakes or chimney caps. Not at all. You’d think they’d respect that and leash their enthusiasm for peeing on my sidewalk.

Maybe it’s envy, the sort of envy (green) you get from not having a piece of a very small pie. That would flatter me. The very thought that I could get a Despot all in a lather over my appetite for labor. Imitation, and the flattery thereto.

And we haven’t even talked about Slowes yet.

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