I wrote this essay back in ’08. It was my first foray into creative non-fiction. Enjoy!
Today started out as innocent as you would expect any Sunday would. Clouds gave way to clear skies as I rolled in to Sears on my day off to crank out a quick 3 hour power shift. Being short-staffed that day I agreed to come in for a few hours to fill in for a few employees that requested, like me, their Sunday off. I figured being on a commission basis I would make some sales in the morning and then go home early in the afternoon and enjoy the rest of my Sunday with a little extra cash in my pocket.
The doors opened at 11 A.M. to a frenzy of activity. There was something slightly off about this sunny Sunday morning. I noticed people seemed a little more tense than usual. I chalked it up as anxiousness to get what they wanted and to get on with the rest of their day. Like me they didn’t want to spend their entire day at Sears.
I fielded a phone call shortly after open from a lady that was interested in finding a patio umbrella. She was particularly insistent that this umbrella be at least 9 feet and a burgundy or maroon in color. I, being a guy, see the world in primary and secondary colors. When a seemingly heterosexual male describes a particular colorway as being a broad stroke of poised taupe with relaxed beige accents there is curious questioning about his sexuality by his peers. “That’s brown and tan, sir.”
Wanting to divert this phone call and make my way back to the sales floor to capitalize on some perspective lawnmower gawkers. I replied, “We do have umbrellas that match that description and size. I am not able to correctly identify the exact accent of each color we have on the sales floor because I’m a guy.” From the long pause and a brief chuckle I gathered that this lady had not discovered the wonders on the World Wide Web. Nor the fact that we have the entire catalog is available on Sears.com for viewing enjoyment in as casual of attire as her underwear.
When I finally hung up the phone I was quickly sidled by a distressed lady in need of help in the Paint Department. The Paint Department is the most dreaded department for any Sears hardware associate. There is a steady stream of neophyte DIYers looking for advice on which finish to use and which color compliments their shutters. In case you have short term memory loss, reread the above paragraph for why I am not thrilled at the prospect of helping a lady with this.
This particular lady was in a hurry and explained to me that her house is going on the market at the end of the week and she is looking to do some touch up work on her exterior paint job. Her request was simple enough, “I need a gallon of white and a gallon of black.” I thought to myself, “Hey, colors I know and I can identify with.”
I quickly grabbed a gallon of Sears White Premium Exterior Satin and set it in her cart. We rolled around the corner to the long section of color swatches. The swatches are sorted by color and arranged from light to dark from left to right. I quickly shuffled down to the end of the isle and picked a color sample that looked black in the low light. “Hmmm… Not quite black.” I grasped at another, “Neither is this one.” I had swatches with names like Black Bear, Little Black Dress, and Love Bites Black. I handed them to the lady with urgency, hoping that she would quickly pick one and I could have this done and get back onto the sales floor. She said, “Well this one has too much blue. This one looks almost purple and this one almost brown.” Among the multitude of colors that Sears offers, they do not carry a color swatch that will produce the color black. She settled for one of the colors and said that it would be close enough.
I took her color swatch over to the Sears AccuTint paint mixer that was purchased sometime between the fall of the Roman Empire and the first successful lunar landing mission. The screen on the machine features the same highly technical features you would find on a digital alarm clock displaying it’s red digits illuminated in the classical “8” pattern.
Anticipating a quick squirt of mostly black colorant into the semi-filled paint can and a quick shake, this lady would be on her way out the door with her project laid out for the afternoon. I quickly pried the lid off of the paint can to add the correct amount of colorant. Much to my chagrin I realized that the paint machine needed to be both purged and colorant added to the reservoirs to produce the desired color. After I successfully purged the lines of each color and added some colorant we were finally ready to get started.
I placed the can underneath the nozzle and pushed the start button. A fury of color shot from the machine’s nozzle into the pale pool of tint base set directly beneath. The other color jets quickly cut off which left only a solo nozzle firing a steady stream of black colorant in to the quickly filling can. Something diverted my attention for a fleeting moment. My eyes returned to the filling bucket now overflowing with paint streaming down from the sides of the can. The nozzle had failed to shut off, and the black colorant continued to fill the bucket while more paint streamed down the sides. I quickly hit the cancel button and every other button on the key pad until I found the now faded and paint caked “Stop” button on the antiquated panel.
I ran back to our receiving area and grabbed a garbage pail with a fresh liner. I wheeled it over to the paint area. I dropped the can of overflow paint into the trash can and proceeded to clean up the mess that was left.
After cleaning up the area under the paint mixer I decided I would try one more can and manually shut off the black stream by using the freshly found “Stop” button. I filled the can near the brim and cut the paint mix off. I shook up the can of paint, cracked the lid and presented it to the her. It was close enough to the elusive black shade for her liking.
I grabbed the trash can that was still on the sales floor that was now holding the sullied paint can as well as the paint soaked paper towels I had used to clean up the mess. I rolled the trash can into the back room when I felt my shoe slip then squeak on the ceramic tile floor. I looked back at the floor and the path I had just traveled to realize to my dismay that the paint had leaked out of the bottom of the garbage pail and pooled up in a nice pile of black paint followed by a blood trail-esque splotches that snaked across the once white floor into the back room.
After the additional half hour of cleaning up paint on the floor, enduring ridicule form both co-workers and customers alike. I realized the nugget of age old wisdom that God may have had in mind that day atop Mt Sinai. God must have visualized this distant day at Sears as he told Moses to carve these words into stone, “Always keep holy the Sabbath day.”