One of my very favorite recent acquisitions, this one also comes with an amusing story.
Margaret and I were walking out of the Home Depot in Southcenter one afternoon when I happened to spy this all-too-piquant arrangement of signs on their door.
The uppermost decal describes the Declaration of Independence Road Trip, a nifty effort to bring one of the 21 known original “Dunlap Broadside” copies of the Declaration of Independence to a number of towns nationwide.
I was immediately struck by the amusing juxtaposition of the word “LIBERTY”—illuminated as it was with the American flag, that icon of liberty—and the phrase “NO SMOKING” directly below it. And that was before I noticed the sign about drug testing of all potential Home Depot employees below that. Naturally, I had to get a picture of this tableau.
As I was snapping the photo, a thin, fiftyish man walking past the door abruptly changed direction and strode over to where I was standing. He raised his hand in greeting and asked what I was doing. I said that I was so amused by the three signs that I had to get a picture. His brow furrowed.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” he said.
“Well,” I explained, “It’s pretty funny that a sign proudly bearing the word ‘Liberty’ would be immediately followed by ones telling you that you can’t smoke and that you’ll tested for drug use if you apply for a job here.”
The man mulled this over for a minute, then a look of understanding came over his face. “Ah, I see; so you use drugs.”
This caught me a bit off guard. To my mind, there seemed to be little correlation between my desire to protect the rights of individuals and any predilection for controlled substances. If I were a quicker thinker I would have said something like, “If I’m for freedom of the press, does that automatically make me a journalist?” Instead, I said something to the effect of “No, actually, I don’t, thank you very much, but I don’t have to be a drug user to think that it’s against the principles of liberty to demand that someone pee in a cup for the privilege of applying for a job at Home Depot.”
This seemed to confuse the man even more. “People work with dangerous equipment in here,” he replied. “Heavy pallets, forklifts….do you think they should be allowed to use drugs while they do it?”
It finally dawned on me that this was not just some random passerby, but in all likelihood a middle-manager of some sort for the store. That explained why he responded to my taking a picture of his store like I was tagging it.
“I think that employees should be judged by their behavior on the job, not by the contents of their urine. If an employee is caught stoned on the job, by all means throw them out—”
“Oh, they do, they do,” he assured me.
“—but the idea that you should violate people’s privacy in order to preempt that sort of behavior is wrong. Furthermore, it’s ineffective, because it doesn’t provide assurance against the most commonly abused drug in the workplace, alcohol. Person A can binge drink all weekend, come to work totally hung over and completely unprepared to do their job and turn up clean on the piss test, while Person B who smoked a joint thirty days ago gets fired for drug abuse.
“And this doesn’t even cover the aspect of a sign that reads ‘Liberty’ directly over one that says ‘No Smoking'”, I added. “That’s pretty funny as well.”
“So you think people should be allowed to smoke in the store?” he asked.
I sighed. “No, not necessarily. It’s just another amusing juxtaposition.”
“Because that wouldn’t be good,” he continued, apparently ignoring my response. “I mean, I don’t want that, and I’m a smoker.” He pulled a pack of Marlboro Lights out of his pocket for emphasis. Once again, were I a little more on the ball, I would have said something like, “‘Ah, I see; so you use drugs.'”
I pressed on. “Well, I’m not saying that people should be allowed to smoke in the store. I just think it’s a funny coincidence.”
Marlboro Lights put his cigarettes away and scratched his head. “Why is it you’re taking this picture again?” Is this…for…something?” I think he was picturing the photo splashed all over The Seattle Times the next morning. As though photojournalists routinely use a mid-priced Sony digital camera for their exposés. I assured him that it was for my personal collection and would not show up anywhere….so don’t tell him, okay?
About three exchanges later the man gave up, clapped me on the shoulder and wished us a nice afternoon. I had long been in the habit of referring to Home Depot as “Home Despot” because I enjoy the play on words, but as Margaret and I headed home, I noted aloud that the phrase had taken on a whole new meaning that day.