Seemed simple.

We’d selected a Smart TV on Amazon. It would ship to arrive at our home within 24 hours.

Easy so far, right?

Yet 36 hours later we were staring at the existing monitor still stubbornly mounted to a wall in our living room.

Ready to swallow my pride, I said: “Let’s call the handyman.”

Thom would have none of it. “I won’t pay someone to unscrew a TV from a wall, Bobby.”

I understood. It wasn’t about the money. It was about pride.

I left the room to give him space to battle the beast while wondering if the beast wasn’t, in fact, inside of him.

Upon my return I found Thom wedged between the monitor and the wall beside it with enough leverage to dislodge the unit from its mounting hardware.

“We’re on our way, Bobby,” he announced, dignity intact. Five minutes later we lifted the monitor from its mount and removed the piece that would ultimately retrofit onto the new equipment.

Man conquers machine. Fantastic.

But unfortunately not the end of the story.

Thom had already done what he calls the heavy lifting.  It was now my job to screw the old mount onto the new set.

Easy, right?

“Where’d you hide the screws, Thom?” I ask.

“Use the screws I took off the old monitor.”

That made sense. But I soon find the old screws and they don’t happen to fit into the predrilled holes of the new monitor.

“No worries,” he said. “Give me a sec. I’ll get the screws from the garage.”

God, no. Not the garage screws.

In a moment he was back with The Magical Box of One Thousand Screws. Each screw, a revered piece of the past that seem to hold a special memory for Thom.

Gingerly placing the clear plastic container on the coffee table between us, he slowly and carefully lifts the top, as if disarming an atom bomb. He removes a screw and holds it up to the light, twirling it slowly between his thumb and forefinger. Satisfied this first pick is the winner, he places it in the center of cupped hands and extends his palms toward me as if presenting a gift.

A gift from a universe where every orphaned screw finds its rightful home.

Quickly eyeballing it, I break the spell.

“Too big.”

Two minutes gone. 999 screws to go.

“Try this one,” he said, handing me a bolt like the one protruding from the side of Frankenstein’s forehead.

“Baby, that’s not gonna work, either. Come on. At least take some hints from the original screw.”

More searching. More twirling. More –

“Found one!”

With great deference, I say: “This one’s even larger. We’re not trying to mount the TV to Apollo 13.”

He immediately shut the box to prevent the screws from hearing my blasphemy.

“Okay, Mr. No Patience,” he said. “We can go to the hardware store. What’s the model number of the screw we need?”

Seriously?

I locate the information in the instruction manual with font the size of a newly hatched ant.

A few minutes after that we’re pulling into the parking lot at the hardware store.

“Mind going in alone, Bobby? I’ll wait out here.”

Payback.

I’m a feeding frenzy for mean customer service people. And in this hardware store – everyone is mean. Resolved to conquer my phobia, I pull myself up by the bootstraps and walk into the store, sporting – if I might say – a severely butch attitude.

No one’s gonna mess with me this time.

Within seconds of walking inside I hear a crash and a metallic scraping noise, followed by an announcement from a paging system with enough voltage to fill a small stadium.

“Cleanup on aisle 3!” came the shout.

Hmm. Interesting. I was the only person on aisle 3. Nothing seemed out of place.

But when I look behind me there’s a mess of candy and gum strewn out over the floor. Apparently my severely butch attitude had knocked down a display rack.

And I’m now sensing I’m no longer alone on Aisle 3.

A 360 scan shows the announcement had attracted the stares of half-a-dozen of the aforementioned mean people, their crazy eyes wide with anticipation of new meat having been thrown into the forum.

One of them – from the store’s hire a scary ex-convict with tattoos program – approaches me.

“Find everything you need, friend?” he asks.

Yes. It was a simple question. But a question fraught with darkness and innuendo.

Maintaining firm eye contact despite being betrayed by a voice sounding much like a frightened four year old girl, I say: “Not yet. I’m looking for M4x12 screws.”

Without response, he turned and walked away from me. 

I followed.

Four mini-aisles at the back of the store held what must have been every screw and nail in the universe. Scary ex-convict knew exactly where to find the merchandise. He removed a small box from a stack of shelves, then turned toward me while hand-combing his shoulder-length unwashed hair behind his ears.

“Hex head okay for you?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, praying this was not some sort of prison-code.

Now holding the four screws, I practically run to the cashier.

“You got a price on these?” she asked.

Is it not her responsibility to know the price?

I return to screw and nail universe without being detected, then hasten back to mean cashier with the price per screw, then offer-up my debit card to pay the $1.85 charge.

“No cards for a purchase less than $10. No exceptions.”

“But I have no cash.”

She stared me down until I said: “I can call someone.” 

I dial my life-line, Thom.

He doesn’t pick up. Why, is anyone’s guess. He can see my name on the screen of his phone when it rings. 

I dial him again. This time, he answers.

“Do you have cash, Thom?”

“Yes.”

Long pause. It’s one of his voice-activated days.

“Okay…can you come in here with said cash?”

“Where are you?”

“Inside the store, Thom. Remember?”

The insinuating eyes of the cashier never once left me. Who was this, Thom, she must have thought – and how far was he from the store?

I had a compulsion to grab the screws and makea run for it, but Thom arrived in the nick of time and plopped a $20 bill down onto the counter.

Mean cashier glared at him. 

“I just started my shift. I can’t break a twenty.” 

We could see a load of singles, fives and tens in the register drawer.

I fought the urge to strike her. Somewhere deep in my psyche I knew I’d later learn that mean cashier was married to scary convict with tattoos.

Thom reached deeper into his pocket and pulled out a folded single and four quarters. He looked the unpleasant woman straight in the eye and said: “Please make sure to add the purchase to our store points.”

Someone, just kill me.

We arrive home without injury. I attempt to screw the mount onto the new monitor. But no –

“The new screws don’t fit, either, Thom.”

“That’s impossible,” he said. “Let me try.”

And there it was again, a tiny inflection in his voice – too slight for anyone else to perceive – that infers, you’re bad at the man stuff. Let me make this right.

I’ll keep you posted, but as of this moment there is still no working television in the living room.

And I have no idea where Thom has gone.