There are times in any relationship when your partnership is tested. In this day and age of technology and constantly connected communications, partners are able to stay informed and aware of the other's mood, status, and progress, even when significantly detached from the situation or event. It's a blessing and a curse that previous generations didn't need to be bothered by. But what would possibly lead to the following question and answer text exchange over the weekend? The root of the scenario may surprise you.

One would think, given our 11 plus years of frequenting the various aisles of the several area big box stores, that we've accumulated an aptitude for their layout and function that places us beyond the intimidation litmus of their ways. From plumbing to hardware, tools to lumber, we've been there, done that, and have been back again. We've even gotten to a point where we can walk into a store we're not familiar with and navigate their labyrinth of aisles, end caps, and cut throughs in an efficient, calm, and collected manner.

One would think this is all very true, and we are beyond basic intimidation or frustration when we are within the walls of the big boxes, but one would be incorrect if this assumption was granted to the store as a whole.

Nay, there is still one section of almost any store that takes the normal sanity of a shopping experience and somehow transforms it into something more fitting of a padded room and straight jacket. I'm referring to the large fenced-in outdoor garden centers tagged onto the side of the stores like a grotesque boil on the face of a model. 

This weekend marked our annual obligatory gardening center adventure. The one weekend a year where we must face our fears and tackle the intimidation headlong. The goal is simple, pick out a few essential gardening supplies, a handful of plants and herbs, a couple of bags of mulch and dirt, and bring it all home in one piece. Simple enough? Yeah, it always sounds so "simple enough."

While we normally attack this project as a team, since teams have twice the mental fortitude, we have an injury on our hands preventing this. Wendy pulled a muscle in her back this weekend...while seated at a table eating chips and guacamole...and was out of commission for the trip. She sent me off to the big box with a post-it note shopping list, a smile, and a nod of her head wishing me luck and the desire for me to pick up the right stuff for our garden to make it look something like this...

Simple task, no? No.

I arrived so innocuously and began my expedition, dropping by the home and garden section to purchase a new hose and hose winder. Our old hose had seen better days and had been tossed at the end of last season.

Though I innocently expected to waltz in and out without a single issue, my first update to Wendy (who, I remind you, was lame and in bed), came only a few minutes after my arrival when trying to decide on the hose winder house to purchase. During this call I got the information I needed, but also learned that she was on the phone and text messages would be easier moving forward if I had additional questions/concerns. Such a simple instruction, but neither of us knew what lay ahead.

After loading up an entire rolling palette of supplies, including dirt, mulch, pine bark, hose paraphernalia, and a few garden tools that I swear are necessary, I reached the point of plant selection. Fear, loathing, paranoia, and frustration rapidly descended on my shopping trip.

Selecting the variety of plants for the summer's garden is not my strong suit. It's actually not my any suit. At no other point in my experience at any big box store do I ever need to worry about how much direct sunlight a purchase needs. I am never faced with the fear that I may kills a sheet of plywood if I don't water it enough or put it too near a power tool. Not to mention that I simply don't have a clue about what I'm doing in the garden. This is Wendy's realm (although I think she hates it as much as I do). But, as I've said, she was lame and in bed.

My shopping list was "simple."

  • 4x Tall Colorful Plant
  • 4x Medium Colorful Plant
  • 4x Trailing Plants
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Cilantro
  • Anything else pretty

After some grotesque amount of time, I began to reach my breaking point. The plants, herbs, and everything else was scattered all over the place. From the standard garden center are to the makeshift pontoon in the parking lot, hastily thrown up to meet the needs of the throngs of garden shoppers. I sent the following to Wendy.

Not realizing the extent of my unravelling to this point, Wendy attempted to send me a constructive message, in a simple attempt at helping me to discern the information I was in search of. Her simple and very reasonable message was not met with an evenly tempered response from my side of the loony bin.

At this point our give and take begins. My crazy response is then met with a solid push back, reminding me that Wendy is, as I mentioned earlier, lame and in bed. Point taken, my fault...we're in this together, even if we're apart.

I quickly begin to get more and more irrational. Wendy is my audience of one, and I'm trying to remain calm to the people at the store, so she lucks out and gets all of my crazy. This, my friends, is what true love is actually about.

Over the next several seconds I get to vent. I vent about whatever I want to vent about, and Wendy gets to read it. Whether you're faux wood outdoor furniture or inflatable yard decor, you draw my ire. There's nothing off limits. At one point, I even crazily try to get back on topic in order to understand my task with a ridiculous question.

"Are annuals trailing?" What kind of moron question is that? It's a moron question I'd ask, that's what.

Then the unthinkable happens. I'm probably an hour invested in this shopping trip, and though I'm having difficulty, I take solace in the fact that I have a large push cart set aside with my successfully gathered items, just waiting for checkout...or so I think. When I finally decide to throw in the towel on the plant purchases and retrieve my spoils for checkout, I realize the gravity of the situation.

OH NO THEY DIDN'T! This caps lock yelling was real caps lock yelling, not like my insane ramblings from earlier. This. Had. Just. Happened. Wendy's outrage in her simple "Wtf!" was spousal support. It told me I wasn't crazy, this was an atrocity, I was justified in whatever response I might bring. So I channelled my inner Milton, from Office Space, and responded in the most level headed way I could think of.

As I tempered my outrage and collected my thoughts as best as I could. I'm not sure why, but I started to dwell on random things related to plant inventory availability. I also tried my best to leverage my random ranting in an attempt to get more of a rise out of Wendy, who was lame and in bed.

Wendy then reminded me how we've not had a functional master bathroom bathtub for a mere four years. Flustered by her retort which I have almost no defense against, I continued to make very little sense.

Note: the name of the store as well as more colorful language has been redacted by means of cute icons.

Feeling defeated, I checked out with the plants and items I had collected for a second time and headed home. After unloading everything from the car I had a terrible realization. The bag of small items I had picked out two times and then finally purchased was not in the car. These were the only items that were bagged, and it seems the cashier failed to transfer the bag to either one of my two large rolling carts full of junk. I had also failed to realize this. Angry as I could possibly be, I climbed back into my car and drove back out to the big box that was in possession of my merchandise.

Can you believe it? They had put the bag away, had no record of it, and were now giving me a hard time about allowing me to pick up the stuff I had paid for. Words can't even describe my frustration.

The customer service manager finally stepped in and eased the situation, allowing me to simply grab the things I had purchased but left behind. I then headed home, exhausted and defeated by another year going to the garden section of the big box. I hope Wendy's back is healed sufficiently so that she's able to ensure this disaster is never faced along again. I wouldn't wish the level of confusion I had in this scenario upon my worst enemies. 

Do you have a particular section of any home stores that give you a sense of paralysis and fear? If so, do you end up in a random text conversation with your significant other in order to cope? I sure hope so, it would make me feel better about my disaster.

Comments 23


5/12/2014 at 1:31 PM

I love a good story that shows Alex in Hulk mode.


Glad you enjoyed. They don't happen often, so it's good to document them when they do.

5/12/2014 at 1:55 PM

I'm sorry to have a laugh at this, only because it hits close to home whenever my other half and I have to enter into the lumber section of said box box. All those angles and measurements and fractions of inches make me break out in a cold sweat when dealing with carpentry/woodworking. So I can totally relate.

I agree, big box garden centers are the equivalent of plant hell. I'm married to a Landscape Architect and even we get frustrated with the selection (or lack there of) of big box garden centers. Equally frustrating is the lack of knowledge of Mr/Ms orange/blue apron.

I'd suggest going to a smaller independently owned garden store that actually employs horticulturists to answer any questions you have relating to matters of the garden. They are knowledgeable and will ease any anxiety you have about choosing the correct plant material. You may end up spending slightly more than the big box, but in the grand scheme of things it's a small price to pay for your sanity. And you will actually get what you want and no one will steal your cart!

Leah M.
5/12/2014 at 4:20 PM

This makes me feel SO much better. I thought we were the only ones who gave up on life in those stores! I swear they incite madness! "FINE. I'll just stay here and sleep on the rug samples. Tell the dog I love him."
I agree with the advice to go to a local garden center. They always have more plant varieties and usually said plants are hardier than ones from the big-box stores.


The lumber section is less intimidating for me now only because I've learned a few tricks. Especially that I can sit there for 30 minutes and lay every piece of wood on the ground until I find the ones that are not warped.

We tend to mix up going to local garden stores and the big box. You're right, the local stores definitely are more laid back, more helpful, and an overall friendlier experience.

5/12/2014 at 4:59 PM

This may be exactly the same text-conversation that Grant & I have every time he goes to the grocery store. It came to a peak when I sent him for Kalamata olives for olive tapenade. He couldn't find any, so just came home with olive oil. The next time he went, I sent him a list with photos. Alt stuck<em>out</em>tongue<em>winking</em>eye


Hahaha. I've had similar messages with Wendy while at the grocery store, mall, or any other place that requires me to search for something among a sea of people that I simply don't want to be near. The photos are an excellent idea. FaceTime also tends to work well, both to show what I need to buy and to share my rage in a visual manner.

5/12/2014 at 6:53 PM

My husband would have ended up in jail. His tolerance for people's stupidity and big box stores is almost nil.


If that ever happens, he can call on me as an expert witness for his defense. I can convince them it was all justified.

5/13/2014 at 2:22 AM

Ha ha! You're kind of a big baby. I try to write my hubs super detailed lists so he won't completely lose it. Photos are a great idea! Good luck with the gardening.


I can't argue with this, I definitely am.

5/13/2014 at 1:54 PM

This was hilarious, and I think Big Box Store is incredibly lucky you were restrained enough to censor their name, after they basically accused you of being a thieving blankety-blank.


Well, if you can't say something nice... Alt wink

5/14/2014 at 9:39 AM

LOL - this was me last weekend in the electrical supply department. I had a picture of the old switch on my phone - which was a GOOD thing, since the teenaged Skippy on duty at the big box was clueLESS! I still had to text my son three times (he was at work) to figure it all out. My last text was rather like your "personal hell" one. I think I said something along the lines of "I hate this place."

I hope your garden is lush and lovely this summer since you've paid your dues so hard already.

5/14/2014 at 3:57 PM

I agree with Phyllis. Next time, go to a smaller place and ask for help. You'll have a much better experience.

5/15/2014 at 9:56 AM

Oh, wow. I think I would have lost it on someone!!
I once left a bottle of wine in a cart in a parking lot. Not only did someone return it to the store(!!!!!), the store held it for me and didn't ask questions when I came back (THE NEXT DAY) looking for my wine.
I'm glad you got your stuff back, I can't even believe they implied you'd be that dishonest. Your reaction was perfect, though, "Because I'm not a degenerate!" Hahaha!!!!!!!!

5/15/2014 at 1:51 PM

Yup - switch out a few words and that same text exchange has been had by couples all over North America. We generally don't send one of us alone (unless we were in the same "man down" jam as you), then we use a LOT of picture messages.

Our other trick is to send at least a kid with the other person - they are really good at sitting on/with the cart. Maybe take the dog?

5/17/2014 at 8:46 AM

Have you ever tried going to Greenstreet Gardens (Braddock and Quaker) instead of a big box store? That is where we go for our garden stuff and it is more local, friendly, and we always come out of there feeling confident and like we learned more about gardening. They are super helpful with picking out plants!

5/20/2014 at 8:56 PM

Wow. Shitty SHITTY customer service. You would think that the cashier would remember a bag that was left behind. Don't they usually just set those aside, assuming that the person will come back?

5/23/2014 at 10:38 PM

I'm so sorry about your trip to hell. But thank you for such an entertaining post. Still laughing.

Max Hallmark
5/23/2014 at 11:10 PM

One of my favorite posts... its nice to see I'm not the only one lost when it comes to plants. We also go to a nursery for 80% of our plants and trees. Much more knowledgeable and they've even answered questions after we have the plants and given them a call (they actually remembered who we were.)

Seeing the texts was priceless, I think everyone has had similar texts when dealing with situations such as this. Oh and forgetting a bag is the worst... thankfully the one time I did it, the girl still had it at her register.

5/27/2014 at 10:08 PM

Lololol. I believe my husband has also threatened to "burn this motherf*er down" in a similar situation.

6/15/2014 at 10:21 PM

My husband and I just had a similarly difficult experience picking out flowers and gardening supplies at a big box store a few weeks ago. After reading your account, I realized that we've had this same, rather negative experience each year when we plant our garden. I guess I never really thought about it, but there's always a level of frustration that accompanies that shopping trip. I think we'll plan in advance to go to a locally owned nursery next year - hopefully the customer service will be better at a smaller place.

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