Thursday, June 24, 2010

To Think That I Saw It on McGuckin's Shelf

Back when I was a kid and living at home, my Dad (who was not exactly Mr. Fix-It) would occasionally be cajoled by my Mom into attempting a home improvement project. Often enough, I'd tag long. If the job got tricky and it appeared that an exotic tool might be useful, he was wont to exclaim, "What we need here is a left-handed smoke bender."

Decades later, now I'm the dad, and I bump into my own moments where an unusual tool or fancy bit of hardware exceeds the capacity of our community's workshop to provide it. Last year, for example, I was replacing a gas line and discovered that the wingnuts on our flaring tool had been compromised beyond use. After some close reconnoitering, I ascertained that I was looking for 5/16" nuts with fine threads. While that's not common, neither is it unheard of and I was able to produce a couple of serviceable specimens after poking around in the odd lot bins of our implement shed.

While those makeshift nuts got the job done, they weren't elegant. What I really wanted was a pair of new wingnuts—not just regular hex heads—so that I could operate the flaring tool without resorting to a wrench. Unfortunately, it was far easier to find my resolve than to find the wingnuts. I struck out at all the area hardware stores; I came back empty from the holy trinity of Menard's, Lowe's, and Home Depot; I even started looking for wingnuts in my cross-country peregrinations, stopping in any large, old hardware store that still sported wooden floors—but all to no avail. If a place had wingnuts at all, they were invariably coarse threaded. Looking for a demonstration of service, I kept getting a lesson in supply and demand. Grr.

Finally, about two months ago, I decided enough was enough and I resorted to the Internet. To my shock, I still reported no joy. Sure, I found purveyors of 5/16" wingnuts with fine threads… but I had to buy at least a case lot, and I only needed two.

Coming In on a Wingnut and a Prayer
And then it hit me: why not try McGuckin Hardware in Boulder? They're a family-owned outfit in downtown Boulder with service as distinctive as its name—started by Bill McGuckin in 1955. (I think I love their improbable Dr. Suess-inspired name nearly as much as their commitment to what Larry the Cable Guy would style, "gettin' 'er done.")

I have several friends in the Front Range of Colorado and over the years I've had a number of chances to stroll down McGuckin's aisles, which are packed to the gills with both quality merchandise and knowledgeable, jocular clerks (their wait staff is into service, but not servile). While I'll admit to having a weakness for well-stocked establishments with old-time qualities and an up-to-date inventory (I'll go into hardware and stationery stores recreationally if they look old enough and have a reputation), I think McGuckin's is an experience anyone could enjoy, even if your wingnut collection is already complete. Shades of Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery in Lake Wobegone, if McGuckin's doesn't have it, you probably don't need it.

Knowing that my recent six-week sojourn around the country would end in Boulder (where I attended the national cohousing conference
last weekend), I was resolved to give McGuckin's a try.

Holding my breath last Monday morning, I walked into the nuts and bolts section and casually asked if they had any 5/16" wingnuts with fine threads. Without missing a beat, the guy looked me right in the eye and asked how many I wanted. He had more than a box and was happy to sell them to me by the each, at 90 cents a pop. As McGuckin's is located 800 miles west of where my flaring tool resides, I splurged and bought three. Whoopie!

As the clerk shook out my modest request into an equally modest brown paper sack and marked them up for the register, I shared how elated I was to have finally satisfied my heroic quest. He chided me: "You should have tried here first." I retorted, "But I live in a different time zone." Without breaking cadence, he rejoined, "The Post Office still picks up and delivers here, and I'll bet they still do at your place, too. Keep us in mind whenever you're having a bad hardware day."

Next time, I think I'll ask for a left-handed smoke bender. I'll bet they have that, too. (Can't you just see the image that Theodore Geisel would have concocted of the clerk pulling it out of a musty box on the fift
h shelf in the second attic? Even though the last time they needed anything from than aisle was 13 years ago, the clerk knew where it was.)


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SOOZ said...

I LOVE McGuckin's! I miss that place- I could get lost in there (on purpose) for an hour amazed at the items they carried I didn't know I "needed" until I saw them- very dangerous!

I am not the least bit surprised you found your wingnuts there....Boulder has such a lovely variety of wingnuts!