I was in high school when this happened. To be specific, I was a senior at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities in Muncie, Indiana. We had a solar car team. As in, a professor at said Academy had gotten the bright idea to give science credit for our attempts to engineer and build a car to race in the Solar Car Challenge. After much discussion, we'd decided to build the car out of angle steel, the kind that's punched every inch. The building of said car is cause for another rant entirely, boys and girls. After two years, when we completed our prototype (using a list of all the triangles we could think of that had integer-length sides within 0.1 inch), we wound up with something that, from the front, looked something like
With 0 being the driver, and /\ being the wheels. Which were supposed to be straight, mind you.
For the driver to sit in, we'd decided to put in a hammock-style seat, made of durable canvas and attached to the frame using some extra bolts. After much discussion, we came up with the idea of strengthening the seat with grommets. Also known as hole-reinforcers, for the uneducated. See, if you have a tarp....But we'll get to that. The important part of the story at this point is that "grommet" is pronounced identically to the aforementioned "Gromit". Thus, when someone (maybe it was me, I forget) suggested grommets, Mike piped up with "Gromit!" in a high-pitched, positively atrocious British accent. This was funny of its own accord, let alone once he'd -explained- who Gromit was. Thus, every time someone said "grommet", the entire Solar Car Team would echo with a chorus of "Gromit! Gromit!" like some sort of deranged murine choir.
One fine spring evening we headed out to find some grommets (Gromit! Gromit!) for our solar car. We drove up to the northern end of Muncie, where there are quite a few stores all set up together, and surveyed our choices. "Lowe's!" it was suggested. "Lowe's has hardware!" So we went to Lowe's.
Being the President of the Solar Car Team, I assumed my duties and went up to the service desk. "Do you have any grommets?" I asked the person behind the desk ("Gromit! Gromit!") I was rewarded with a blank look.
"What's a grommet?" ("Gromit! Gromit!")
"Well, you see, if you have a tarp..." I began with things I hoped he would understand.
"A tarp." Good.
"A tarp. And it has holes in the edges...."
"Holes in the edges." It was like Simon Says, only with a grown-up.
"And there are metal rings around the holes, so they don't rip."
"Metal rings." He nodded.
"Those are grommets." ("Gromit! Gromit!")
There was a long silence. "Oh," he says at last. "Why don't you go look in the aisle with the tarps?"
After getting directions to the aisle with the tarps, we trooped the entire Solar Car Team dutifully over. In studious silence, interrupted only by the occasional outburst of "Gromit!" from an overenthusiastic member, we surveyed the contents of the aisle with the tarps.
It took a full ten minutes to find one tarp, hanging on a peg, behind the concrete urns. Its grommets were firmly attached.
So, fearless leader that I was, I turned to the Solar Car Team. "Where to now?" I asked. The answer was clear.
Because Wal-Mart has everything, right? So we trekked next door to Wal-Mart, where I promptly led my group to the Customer Service desk. "Excuse me, ma'am?" I asked politely. "Do you have any grommets?" ("Gromit! Gromit!")
"Grommets?" ("Gromit! Gromit!") "What's a grommet?" ("Gromit! Gromit!")
Repeat conversation, as above, with chorus. Finally, she says "Let me call hardware." Before I can explain that we don't think grommets are hardware, she's on the phone.
"Hi, this is Beth up at Customer Service...Yes, and I've got a group of kids looking for grommets." ("Gromit! Gromit!") A pause.
"Well, if you have a tarp..." Pause. "And you have holes in the edges..." Pause. "And there are metal things in the holes so they don't rip...." Pause. "Yes, those. Grommets." ("Gromit! Gromit!") "Oh, okay. Thanks." She hangs up the phone. "No, sorry, we don't have any." Her voice was positively imbued with suspicion.
So what to do? Lowes apparently only carried concrete urns, and Wal-Mart apparently though that we had ingested some sort of illegal substance. Then someone, whose name is lost to posterity, said "Hey! I've got an idea! Canvas is fabric...why don't we go to Jo-Ann's Fabrics?"
We piled into the van and took off to Jo-Ann's. On arriving, I led the group into the store and smiled at the salesclerk. "Do you have any grommets?" ("Gromit! Gromit!") She hesitated, and took a deep breath.
"Let me ask JoAnn." So she turned around and yelled toward the back of the store. "JOOOOOAAAAANNNNN!"
We, the Solar Car Team, are standing there, glancing at each other in surprise, when an ancient, wizened old grand-dame of a woman hobbles out of the back of the store.
"That," someone whispers, "must be the original Jo-Ann..."
"Do we have any grommets?" ("Gromit! Gromit!") the salesclerk asks. JoAnn nods with a sagely smile.
"Yes," she says, addressing the Fearless Leader (me). "Look to your left."
We got our grommets, and a grommet-punching tool, and that Saturday the Solar Car Team had a field trip: into the lobby of the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities. And we watched Wallace and Gromit and the Wrong Trousers. And laughed.