[Read James Wagner’s first, second and third dispatches from the hardware store.]

- - -

CENTRAL NEW YORK — Sometimes I work with a guy named John. He’s pretty sarcastic and, I figured, sort of young. He somehow got onto talking about his kid and asked me if I was going to have a kid.

I said, “No.”

He said, “What? No!? You got to have a kid.”

So I explained that, no, I really didn’t have to have a kid.

And then John went on this bit about how I’m just scared and don’t want the responsibility, and that I’m selfish. (He’s sort of making fun at this point.)

But then he kept pestering me, and I said, “Well, it’s also because I don’t want to bring anyone into this world.”

John said, “Whoa! What? Huh?” Then he shouted to another employee, “Hey, man, come here — this guy’s nuts. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

On and on.

John went on telling me what he thought I was really thinking, which I found sort of amusing and asinine all at once. Finally, I couldn’t take much more of it, and I asked how old he is.

He said, “Why?”

I said, “Because you’re obnoxious.” (I’m kidding him a bit.)

John told me he’s twenty-three.

I said, “Oh, well, you seem to have it all figured out. I wish I had everything figured out when I was twenty-three.”

Then, instead of hearing any sarcasm to what I said, John explained to me, “Yeah, you may find this corny, but it’s the truth, I have a very high I.Q., and it can really alienate me from people. It’s tough having a high I.Q.”

I said, “Oh, yeah, I understand.”

John went on talking about his high I.Q.

Finally, I again couldn’t take it anymore, and asked what his I.Q. is.

He said, “135.”

I paused and said, “Yeah, that’s around where mine is.”

Really?” John said.

- - -

Last night, John told me he works as a loss prevention manager during the day. (He works with me part-time, as a second job.) After he told me this, I remembered he graduated with a degree in criminal justice and has hopes of becoming a police officer.

I asked John if he’s ever had to become physical with someone. He said, yes, at times, he had.

I asked him if he’s ever had to tackle someone. He said, yes, and acted out a tackle.

I asked if he’s ever had a gun pulled on him. He said, no, he hadn’t, but that he’d had a few knife incidents.

I was eager to hear the knife stories, but, unfortunately, a customer interrupted us at this point and asked if we had any septic tank cleaner. She said hers was clogged.

- - -

I was approached by a father and his son in the plumbing aisle. The father pulled out a picture of a PVC bunk bed they were going to make together. The father said he wanted to know how much the PVC parts would cost. The son kept looking at me strangely and would begin giggling. I was disconcerted by him and wondered where John went to, as I don’t like dealing with kids too much. I was half-paying attention to what the man was talking about and half-looking for John, to pass these two off on him.

The man was talking about how wonderful the bed was going to be.

I should admit here that there are some times when the customers talk and I drift off a bit. I pretend they’re not really talking to me. Unfortunately, they think I am listening intently, because I do make and maintain good eye contact, but my head is elsewhere. This was not occurring, however, with the man and the boy. I understood they wanted some figures to add, so we proceeded to do this.

Along the way, for some reason, at some insignificant point in the counting, the boy said to his father, “You know, you know more than he does. He doesn’t know much at all.”

The man turned to his son, smiled, and said, “You shouldn’t say those things. That’s not nice.”

I began looking for John again.

John walked by, but he was with another customer.

In the next hour, I saw the father and son three or four more times. They were walking down different aisles, looking for other things. I was always busy putting things away or concentrating on something. Each time, when they drew close enough for me to notice them, the boy looked at me with this sarcastic smile and then said, “Hello, Jaaaaames.”

I wanted John to be there for one of these encounters, but he never was. I wanted to point out to him that this kid was an example, albeit a small one, of why I didn’t want to have children. I wanted to explain to John that I believed my child would end up very much like this boy, and that I would come to despise him, and myself.