The Colonel’s Plan – The Blue Bathroom – Part 4

September 15, 2017 (Continued)

Dear Daddy,

So the guy at Kendall’s told me that no hardware store could rip tile, and I’d need to spend $25 – $50 to get one tile ripped by a home contractor.

I believed him, but I was headed to Catonsville later anyway, to meet Ethan. You probably never knew that Ethan, Christian and I have, for years, gone to Cosmic Comix in Ellicott City, and later in Catonsville, every Wednesday. That’s the day new comics come out. You never understood my love of comic books. I remember proudly showing you a stack of seven of them that I’d bought with my allowance. “Look at all these great comics,” I said. Or I said something like that.

You frowned, and said in that voice, “That is extravagant!”

And then you told me what “extravagant” meant, and I sadly rolled up my comics and crammed them into a compartmented Coke box and walked away. My sons, decades later, would be more in tune with my obsession.

Anyway, I was headed to Cosmic Comix that afternoon, and there was a Lowes nearby. Ethan was going to Towson to pick up his newly minted college-freshman brother for the evening. I had some time to kill before they could meet me. I headed to Lowes.

I confess that I judged the young man at the Flooring desk by appearance. He did not look like someone who would know much about cutting tile, about customer service, or about thinking outside the box to get a job done. (Really, should cutting a piece of the currently most-popular flooring material on the market require “thinking outside the box?” You wouldn’t expect it to.)

And yes, I hear your voice in my head, asking, “Why do they call it ‘thinking outside the box?’ Is that a polyscience term? Does it have something to do with the New Math? What sort of material is this ‘box’ manufactured from?”

It’s just a box. And thinking outside it means being creative in solving problems. Like tearing the wiring harnesses out of a crashed Mitsubishi Zero to fashion electrical door controls for your B29’s bomb bay; because you don’t want to rely on the pneumatic controls and wind up forming a human chain to drop out of the plane in flight and grab the doors and pull them shut.


That was “thinking outside the box” you did back in 1945. That’s what we call it in 2017.

This kid didn’t look to be someone who would want to get out of his box and help me. Boy, was I mistaken. When I showed him the tile planks, he sort of cringed. “That’s gonna be tough,” he said. “Did you buy that tile here?”

Here we go, I thought. We can only cut tile that we sell.

“I did not.”

“Did you buy it at any Lowes?”

“No, sorry. It came from the Orange Store.”

And we’re done.

“Well… I hate to mess up your tile if I can’t replace it.”

Maybe not?

“I got a whole box of this stuff at home. Please, try messing it up.”

He laughed and took the tile. Before we got to the saw, a fellow employee came and asked him if he could order some stock, because she wasn’t sure how to do it, and his orders always went through. He promised he would. “Leave me a note on the register.”

While he set the wet saw to start cutting, he explained that the problem with ripping tile is that you’re supposed to have a guide.

“Don’t you have a guide?” I asked.

“You know, we used to.” He started digging through the messy cubicle around the wet saw and produced a chunk of metal that didn’t look big enough to command the respect of plank tile. As he attached it, another employee came up to ask him what aisle held some sort of cabinet hardware.

Really? I thought. This guy is flooring. What are the odds—?

“Aisle 43,” he said without looking up. “Bay 19.”

(I don’t know if it was cabinet hardware, and I made up the aisle and bay. The point was that this kid had merchandise locations outside his area committed to memory.)

He was about to start cutting the tile when a third employee came up to him, customer in tow, and asked where to direct his customer to find yet another item distinctly not located in Flooring. He looked longingly at the tile-cutting challenge I’d handed him, then looked at the customer with guilt. He wasn’t sure what to do first. At this point, I was ready to pull out my phone with the Lowes app and say, “You finish here, I’ll take this customer.”

I don’t know if that would have been well-received.

The customer said, “You were already helping someone. I don’t want to hold you up.” Rare consideration for others in this day and age. I liked this customer.

“No, no,” said my helpful young friend, and he proceeded to give suggestions to the other employee, who finally got the idea that maybe he could assist this customer solo. During this, a female customer approached, and my guy asked her to please wait while he cut this tile.

“Looks like your days at work go a lot like mine,” I said to him.

He rolled his eyes. “It never stops. They ask me stuff all day long.”

“Me too,” I told him. “I guess it means we know too much for our own good.”

The kid went on to finish the tile on the first try, breaking only the last two inches of the waste piece. Before I could say, “What do I owe you?” he had wished me a good evening and run off in the tow of yet another employee who needed his help. I decided the kid would probably be CEO before he was done.

As I left, I saw the poor lady who had waited patiently while my tile was cut. She had moved to the Flooring desk to wait for help.

“He got away,” I told her sadly. “Sorry, but it looks like he’s the busiest guy in the store.”

She sighed and said, “I guess I’d better chase after him.”

I nodded. Looking back, I should have also let her know he was worth chasing after. If you need something done right, they say, ask a busy person. You know how that feels, don’t you? For 52 years I always asked you how to do things right, and you were always busy. You didn’t finish a lot of the things I asked you to help with, but you sure were quick to volunteer time to help. It just came on your own schedule.

“Ask a busy person,” catches me a lot too. Indeed, I had to sit through four solid hours of listening to people ask me questions today before I could find 15 minutes to finish this story. Whoever “they” are that keep saying to ask a busy person, I sure wish they’d stop.




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