I was working in the lumber department of our local big box home improvement store when I was flagged down by an elderly man in a rambler scooter. He had clear blue eyes that peered out from underneath a mesh backed hat. He moved and spoke at such a pace that when I focused on him the hubbub of the lumber department seemed to become a blur, like a photograph shot with a wide aperture.
“I’m looking for some one by fours to build a bird house for purple martins.” He said. It’s often the case with a customer like this that a simple, “Aisle forty-nine, on the right” answer will not cut it. So when he begin to describe with his arthritic hands how he planned to build the bird house I abandoned my original errand and gave him my undivided attention.
I showed him where we kept the cedar boards since he had explained that “Purple Martins won’t stay in houses built out of treated lumber.” Of course the cedar boards were outrageously priced and I eventually ended up selling him a bundle of cedar shakes for much cheaper. “Now I’ll need some finishing nails.” He said as he kept describing how he would drill a hole an inch and three quarter since anything bigger would allow other birds to come in. He kept right on expounding the virtues of purple martins the whole five minutes, four aisle trip. By the time that we got to the finishing nails I had almost decided to build myself purple martin house since purple martins eat mosquitos “by the truckload.”
I finally found some satisfactory finishing nails for him and I was afraid I was going to have to shop with him for the rest of the day when a spry old man with a flannel shirt and tinted faded prescription lenses walked up and started talking to him. They both spoke loudly to each other, although by the responses that I could hear I’m sure it wasn’t loud enough. As I walked away I understood by their conversation that they were next door neighbors. I almost made it to the end of the aisle when the newcomer hailed me for assistance. “Where’s your pressure treated one by sixes? I need to replace the fascia on my house to keep them cotton picking purple martins from roostin’ in there.”