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This is nothing personal, so I shouldn't be so upset. And yet nothing-personal is exactly the upsetting point.

This is about windows. Double-Hung, Energy Saving Low E Glass (Recommended), Wall Depth: 4 9/1 6 inches applied. I am looking at the order sheet. I ordered seven of these things, certainly the biggest window purchase of my life thus far, which I must have gone over 100 times with Lindsey, the salesclerk. Right here on the order sheet it says, "Hardware Color: Champagne." Does it say, "Hardware Color: White"? No, it does not. I keep looking at this thing with the oddly disconcerting hope that the mistake is mine.

If the mistake is mine, I'll have to eat the cost or else learn to live with this cheapo white plastic hardware instead of the cool-to-the touch, dignified champagne-tinted metal I so definitely chose. Would that really hurt so bad? Would that hurt as much as the notion of Lindsey falling from grace?

I am really not sure.

Lindsey works in the Millwork department of the humongous home improvement store nearest me. It is one of those stores you have long since gotten used to hating and loving. Just walking into the place makes you miss the hardware store back in town where you know Al is sitting right now with his dog, Mitzi, wondering where everyone went. With Al, you could just walk in and say, Hey, do you have any elbow joints that would fit this pipe? And Al would go find you something while you stood there petting Mitzi and telling her she sure was putting on the pounds.

It doesn't work like that anymore; it hasn't worked that way for a while now, not since the big boxes with their competing orange and blue roofs started dotting the land. You are on your own now, lucky to find a salesclerk at all, let alone one who can spell PVC. Sure, you still stop in to see Al now and again, maybe pick up some mousetraps. But Al doesn't stock bifold doors and power tools and 50 styles of ceramic tile. He just doesn't.

You've gotten used to it. This is how America works now. You have touch screens to help you now, and the occasional teenage clerk who won't look you in the eye and who wants like anything to just go home and eat some Doritos.

"Ask for Lindsey," a carpenter told me, when I started my search for windows. He was the third person to tell me this. "She'll set you straight. She knows this business better than anyone." Lindsey would not only get me the best price, I was told, she would personally see to it that the order was perfect, complete and on time.

The first time I met Lindsey, I loved her immediately. She's about 50 and wears bifocals, and she has long white hair clear down to the middle of her back. Half her pinky on her left hand is missing. This fact is accentuated by the vining tattoo swirling around it.

Lindsey, I thought, has a story.

"You're doing the right thing ordering from Lindsey," a contractor in line said to me when Lindsey went in the back to check on something. He told me she writes country music songs. She sings about love and heartache, loss and forgiveness. One of these days she hopes someone will buy one of her songs and make it into a record.

It hit me, then. In a way I felt like bonking myself on the head. The clerks who work under the giant blue and orange roofs, they are people every bit as real as Al, who, let's face it, with Mitzi by his side, is so much easier to romanticize. Lindsey is real, and the teenagers are real, and it's you who turn them into stock characters who can't spell PVC. You aren't helping the situation. You are contributing to the alienation. You have a part to play, too.

I want to believe in Lindsey as a mythical hero of personal responsibility. I want to believe it can be true. Because if it is true in Millwork, chances are it can be true over in Shelving and way over in Lawn Care, too. This could be a revolution!

But here I sit. My windows are in and the hardware is wrong and no, Lindsey didn't catch the mistake, as promised. I suppose I'll have to send these back and wait another five weeks, delaying the whole project. It feels like a sad day for us all.

"Lindsey messed up," I say to my contractor, who seems genuinely surprised. I show him the problem, all these white handles and locks on my new windows. He surveys the landscape of boxes that came with this order, picks one up, jiggles it. He says that when you order champagne they send it separately; the factory just puts white on as a default. He opens the box, and there it is -- all my beautiful champagne hardware.

"Never," he says, "doubt Lindsey."

Washington Post

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