In spite of the fact that they say a conversation becomes boring the moment the topic turns to weather, I'll say it anyway -- withering heat. I'm sitting in the sealed-up house, with a fan opposite me on the table, while I write and try to gear myself up for the test of installing the air conditioner in the bedroom. It's not a difficult task; I'm mostly worried about marring the newly-painted window sill. Which, as it's on the second floor, behind the fifty-foot-high yew tree, I doubt anyone on earth will ever see, until the house is painted again. And the painter will never tell, I guarantee it.
Yes, the house has been painted, top to bottom -- it was a ten-day process, more or less -- it might have been a month, for all I know. The only things I had to do were to move the recycling bins and the trash can out of the way, and sweep up some leaves that had accumulated by the side door -- the one we use on a regular basis. The house had to be open, though, to give the painters access to all the doorway surfaces, and to make it possible for them to use the basement restroom, and the wash-up sink, for cleaning brushes and rollers. I think we also ran a few extension cords into various outlets, when the sanding was in progress. Which was fascinating -- it was like being at the dentist's, with the piercing whine and lower-pitched burring, but I could get up and walk around! After a couple of hours of the steady grinding drone, I fell asleep. Without Novocaine.
My major responsibility was to be on hand, in case a question came up (in which case I could show off my appalling Spanish) and to be here when the day's work was done, so the house wouldn't be left standing open just as the sun began to fall. God forbid someone should walk in and begin to put things in order, if only to be able to decide what might be worth stealing. I also realized, as the job progressed, that this was the first time I'd ever lived in a building that was being painted on the outside. Interior painting I know about -- it would be the first thing we would do, when we'd made one of our regular household moves. 'You always said you wanted to be an 'artiste'', my father would inevitably say, in what he seemed to think was a joke, 'so here's a roller and some paint. Get to work.' Why did that perennial comment always give me a flash of shame, somehow? I mean, it's not like he walked into the room with a sledge hammer and broke my ankles, but there was still a gratuitous meanness there somehow.
Oh, but back to the transformation of the outside of our house. And the workers that were swarming all over it -- layers of ladders on one side and then on the other. Clomping on the roof that wasn't squirrels for a change. Old gutters coming down, broken panes of glass replaced. The four fluted columns on the front porch stripped down to the bare wood, whereupon I realized that what I'd thought were probably some plywood imitation structures, cleverly joined to make a convincing vertical tube, were actually solid wood, tooled to have a slightly wider base than crown -- I could see the knots where the branches had been. And knocking on the bare wood gave that satisfying 'clonk' of respectability. They could actually hold something up, if it came to that.
There was our one moment of panic -- and I wish I were exaggerating -- when the trim color was first applied to the front door sill, and the living room window sill too. On the window, it didn't look so bad, but at the door it looked lurid and candy-like -- akin to grape kool-aid (is that a trademark?). I tried to calm the queasiness in my stomach, assuring myself that, from across the street, it wouldn't look quite so ridiculous. Then John saw it, and reacted even more strongly than I had, and I realized that, no, I wasn't imagining things -- it really was that bad. So we had to ask the painters to stop, while we adjusted the trim color. We looked through the paint chip sampler, and found an ever-so-slightly darker, less glossy purple-brown, and settled on that. Me apologizing all the while, feeling like the ultimate suburbanite, with yet another First World problem -- like not being able to find fresh raspberries at the market, or discovering that my eyelashes were too long. While most humans are spending their day looking for clean water within a day's walk.
First World or not, the painters were placidity itself; they got the new paint mixed, and let us see a sample of it, beside the original choice, and -- hey presto! -- we were back on track. Except for the window sills that had to be repainted, for a minimal additional fee. Now, though, it's as we had envisioned -- to the casual passers-by, the house looks white with black trim, but on a closer look, that 'black' looks just a little more alive. I was so thrilled by how well it all turned out (well, one column has to be repainted), and so moved by the improvement, that I cleaned out my underwear drawer.
Tomorrow, another crew will show up (in this heat!), to install new gutters along the front of the house, and part of the back. Compared with the painting, this should be a snap. But, with the outside of the house looking so spiffy, I'm concerned by the generous amount of flaking I see on the living room ceiling -- oh dear. Which flaking is happening (as I discovered when we painted the music room, to make it ready for John's new piano) because the ceiling has only been painted twice, and the original paint is oil-based, and the newer layer is latex, which just doesn't stick over the long run. So it's scraping all the old paint off, and at least two coats of primer, before we repaint, to make it look as though nothing has happened at all. I don't expect that I'm going to be able to pull any clever Tom Sawyer-like tricks, to rope in unwitting help -- all my adult friends are far too smart for that, and the children I know are too short. And in all likelihood, the project will be expanded, to include the front stairwell, and upstairs hallway. My back is already sore, and that's just from thinking about it.
© 2012 Walter Zimmerman