Carolyn White: Living the Good Life 1-3-11
Recently, my boss asked if I’d ever finished painting the house. For a moment, all I could do was laugh.
The original plan – to clean, scrape, caulk, and then update the colors of the window frames, doors, awnings and balconies of our two-story home – hadn’t seemed that big of a deal in the beginning. I figured that if I started in June, the entire project could be finished by mid-October. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was exactly how much time the prep work was going to take … and after nearly 20 years of standing in the desert sun (in addition to seven of accumulating our stuff) the place needed LOTS.
Everything that had been stacked, tossed, rolled or parked against the base had to be moved, first, including a large pile of bricks; a dozen sheets of plywood; five garbage cans; three barbecue grills; four tires; two lawnmowers (neither of which worked); several torn tarps; an astonishing amount of oil cans, water jugs, feed sacks, candy wrappers, rusted metal, and hay-baling twine; some mangled chicken wire; a rarely-used canoe; and an army trailer. Additional days were spent in knocking down dozens of spider webs and wasp nests (including screaming and running from the occupants) plus power-scraping bird droppings, dried-up praying mantis cocoons and, oh yes, old paint.
Once I’d actually gotten started with the painting part, a “necessities bag” had to be put together which contained suntan oil; dark glasses; a water bottle; lip gloss; Kleenex; extra disposable gloves; a hammer; a screwdriver; wooden stir sticks; a Swiss army knife; a ball cap; plus a battery-operated head set and some ’70s tapes. (The control unit was tucked into the back of my cutoffs to keep it out of the way. It shut off every time I leaned forward.) Eventually, I started carrying my cell phone, too. That came in handy whenever I needed Frank.
My husband has never so much as lifted a paintbrush to our home, indoors or out, and with good reason: secretly, I don’t want him to, for he tends to be a little messy. Secondly, as a plumber, he’s long since grown oblivious to where the back of his trousers fall whenever he bends over and … well … there are certain things that the neighbors just DON’T need to see. He’s good, however, at helping with “honey-doos” – even if he doesn’t quite do them exactly like I want.
Once, after knocking a paint can over while up on the roof, I frantically speed-dialed him. “Help! I need some rags! Hurry! “
Ever so slowly, he ambled across the yard towards the shop while I watched, cringing, as an oozing orange stream made its way down the tin. “Hurry UP!” I yelled, but his pace didn’t change. Eventually, he tossed up a single shop rag. After I’d pushed him for a second one, he flung it so haphazardly that I nearly fell off the edge while lunging for it.
Another time, I had him steady our ancient, wobbly, wooden ladder while I attempted to finish the steepest peak of an eve. This not only meant balancing precariously on the highest rung but also stretching as far as I could, on tiptoes. Literally hugging the exposed, second story support beam … inching to the right to reach a paint can that had been set on the porch railing … easing the brush behind my back and transferring it to my left … all while squinting against the sun and trying to keep from toppling over backwards … I nervously dabbed paint at that edge. Glancing downwards while going for another precarious dip, I noticed that my protector was casually leaning against the ladder with one arm while using the other to probe his mouth with a toothpick. “Frank! Both hands!” I scolded.
“You’re fine,” he replied laconically.
“OK, then, are you gonna catch me when I fall?”
He hesitated only long enough to remove the pick. “Nope.”
Later, when I was once again busy on the roof he took a digital picture, transferring it to our computer as a screen saver. It’s horrible: I’m sweating in a torn T-shirt and from the angle, my legs look as big as barrels. Immediately, I traded it for something else. He added it back. I took it off again, sighing, “Frank, I HATE that photo!”
“I like it,” he said innocently. “It’s about the only time you ever did any work around here.”
Still laughing, I finally managed to answer my boss. “No … no, I haven’t finished painting the house yet.” Maybe next year.