UNALAKLEET — I'll admit that I, for a long time, felt uncomfortable walking into a hardware or building supply store. But after living in Nome for 16 years, I got over it. While Charlie wasn't very talkative, he was helpful with any questions I had from framing a shed to painting my bathroom. His longtime employee, Dave, helped too. They were nice guys.
But last summer was Phase 1 of a project called Building Our House. It started out fairly smoothly. I designed the home on graph paper and sent the sketches to the framer, who gave me a materials list. I called Donnie in Seattle and had the two-by-eights, plywood and the rest of the material shipped via barge to my little coastal town. I felt independent, strong and able. Like a person taking care of things that need to be taken care of.
Thankfully, I had lots of help from friends and loved ones. My dad, brother and sister-in-law helped clear the trees where the house would sit. Our family friend, Dave Cunningham, built the driveway with rock from a nearby hill and leveled the rocky ground for the foundation. Even my ex-husband pitched in and worked as the foreman constructing and leveling the foundation pads. A moment of slight panic came when my nephews, my son Joe and I unloaded material. The framer was flying in soon and I hoped to the good Lord all the material he needed was there. Living 500-plus miles from the nearest big-box building supply store adds complexity and a need for preparation. Not my strength.
But Al arrived, the house was framed in less than two weeks, he went silver salmon fishing and we ate lots of fresh blueberry pie. While a lot of work remained after Al took off back to California, I was beginning to see my house as a home.
This summer brought Phase 2. It turns out good things take time. And then, maybe, turn you into a steely feminist.
"Can you please not talk to me like I'm an idiot?" I stated, more than requested, after asking which fasteners worked with our screw gun. "I am simply asking a question," I said to the salesman on the phone.
He did stop, but then spoke exaggeratingly kind, trying to make up for his fat-witted customer service. Having been taught to treat people with kindness even when others are rash, I thanked the man, but didn't buy the fasteners from that place. I turned off my phone, not feeling independent, strong and able — but frustrated. Yet again, I was on the phone with a man in a hardware store who felt he could talk down to me simply because I was a woman with a question.
"Why do men feel the need to talk like that to women?" I exasperatingly asked the air when I got off the phone. "Charlie and Dave need to teach these men how to talk to other human beings who happen to have a vagina," I told my husband. "Like they're human beings!"
So here's the thing. If you happen to work in a building supply store. Or you are an attorney. Or a pilot. Or an executive, a doctor, a school administrator or an architect. And you are a man. Think about the way you talk to others. Are you talking down to them? Or are you talking to them like they're a person? Like a person who has a lot of work to do, who needs to take care of things that need to be taken care of?
That's all we're asking for. Just talk to me like a person. Because I'm not just going to say thank you and shop elsewhere next time. I'll ask for your supervisor and then shop elsewhere.
Today the house is insulated, with siding and windows. We just got the bill from the plumber and next is the electrician. Once he's done, the work comes down to me and my husband doing the interior finish work. I'm glad because in moving forward there's one thing I know for sure: My husband is man enough that he doesn't need lessons from Charlie and Dave. He knows I'm just another human being taking care of things that need to be taken care of.
Laureli Ivanoff is a freelance writer based in Unalakleet.