I am banned from working on my home. I may mow the lawn, take out the trash, even tighten a minimally leaking faucet. But for all else, I must hire help.
In my heart, I know the ban is unfair. But even my best arguments in defense make me sound like Larry Flynt defending pornography’s right to exist. Yes, yes, it’s all logically sound but no one wants to hear it anyway.
It’s not that I’m a mechanical idiot. No, wait, it is precisely that I am a mechanical idiot that has prompted my ban from home repair projects.
I could detail (and defend) a hundred home improvement catastrophes, but the only one that is or ever will be needed to prosecute me was launched a few years ago as my wife, Cathy, and I were preparing to host a party to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from high school.
Actually, Cathy was doing all the preparing. A week before the event, over morning coffee, I was marvelling at her plans. It looked like it was going to be a sensational event. I was inspired to get more involved and asked how I could help.
Cathy thought a moment (mentally eliminating potentially explosive projects). “The thing I would really like for you to do is to paint the front door.”
I rejoiced. Indeed! That door was a mess! This was a project of great promise and prominence. I had a flash vision of myself welcoming our guests into the elegant portal of our home, “my word,” they would whisper to one another, “10 Downing Street has nothing on this place. Just look at the …”
“What color?” I asked. “Black?” Cathy thought a moment, “I’d love a nice, rich, burgundy,” she replied.
“… rich, lustrous burgundy lacquer and polished brass kickplates or whatever those decorative gimcracks are called. What a showplace.”
Two days before the party, I arose before dawn to look over the highly polished brass pieces I had slaved over, and then to run off to the closest big-box home-a-torium store to buy the paint.
In roughly 2,000 aisles filled with four quintillion different colors of paint, there was absolutely nothing even remotely close to burgundy.
There was flood rust. There was blood red. There was candy apple red. There was carnation and cardinal and crimson and copper. There was hellebore red and harlot rouge. There was scarlet and carnelian and fuchsia and fire red. There was magenta and coquelicot and cochineal (what the hell is that!) and Congo rubine and cinnabar and flame red.
There was ruby red and ruddy red and sanguine and psychotically angry red.
A pencil-thin young man, who looked as though he had just that moment fallen out of bed and onto his feet, walked by. “Excuse me,” I said, probably sounding a little desperate, “are these all the colors you have?”
He stared at me as though I had just spoken to him in Panjabi.
Suddenly it registered that my question was not ironic sarcasm. He frowned and replied, “uh, we have some different colors in the spray-paint section.”
I followed the aim of his bony finger to the spray paints and there it was. Rich, lustrous burgundy. I hadn’t planned to spray-paint the door, but I could tell by the shiny color of the plastic top on the can that this was the color she wanted. So lustrous and rich looking.
I bought six cans, just enough to put two coats on the Battleship New Jersey.
The sun was coming up as I finished carefully taping newspaper all around the inside and outside of my front door. The door itself had been thoroughly sandpapered and then steel-wooled to a perfect flatness.
The birds were in full morning song and a gentle Spring zephyr was moving through the doorway. “That will dry the paint quickly,” I thought to myself.
I vigorously shook the first can (making that resounding rattle of quality) and began smoothly, gracefully, spraying paint in great wide arcs, delicately depositing a layer of lustrous burgundy.
I was so focused on my work, I scarcely noticed Cathy moving down the stairs in her nightgown, though I did imagine her smiling approval as she passed by.
My work progressed for nearly 40 seconds until I heard this:
OH MY GOD! STOP! STOP! STOP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP!!!
The outburst was so startling that it caused a hitch in my smooth, graceful arcs and I scowled at the slight ripple in the paint. “I can buff that out,” I thought to myself, then turned to see what the panic was about.
I was immediately face-to-face with my irate wife. “It’s everywhere! What are you doing? It’s everywhere! My God! I can’t believe it, it’s everywhere!” She was hysterical.
“What is everywhere,” I asked, peeking over her shoulder into the kitchen, expecting to see who knows what? A flood of sewage? What could be upsetting her so?
“PAINT!” She screamed it, but I didn’t hear it. It made no sense. I had been painting for half a minute. There was no way that “paint was everywhere.” What in the world was she talking about? “Keep your voice down,” I commanded, “I think the neighbors can hear you,” I said, casting a look out the open doorway.
She rushed to our kitchen counter and pointed. “Look!” she cried. I looked. There was nothing. “What are you talking about, I said soothingly, “honey, there is nothing …”
As those words were leaving my lips, Cathy dragged her finger across the counter top. To my horror a trail of rich, lustrous burgundy paint globules bloomed in the wake of her finger.
She stroked the back of a kitchen chair. More lustrous burgundy. She dropped down and stroked the hardwood floor. More lustrous burgundy. She stroked the kitchen wallpaper. Lustrous burgundy. “It’s everywhere,” she cried. I stared alternately at the trail of burgundy blooming from the blue and white wallpaper and the despicable, guilty-as-Satan paint can in my hand.
Cathy grabbed a roll of paper towels, wiped the counter once and cried out again. The towel had simply made the paint mad. It now arose in huge smearing waves.
I’m really not sure what transpired over the next minutes. I vaguely thought of shooting myself, and wondered about the front door, which, with half a dozen strokes of spray paint on it, looked as though it had been vandalized by a graffiti artist with a fatal case of ennui.
I imagined greeting guests wearing expressions of revulsion and alarm… “My word, how inelegant, I’ve seen tidier front doors on crack dens.”
When I returned to my senses, Cathy was delivering orders. “Take the door off the hinges and finish painting it outside,” she said. Meantime, she had discovered that by loosely applying cooktop cleaning paste, then buffing it off, the paint was coming up.
I remember how attractive she looked in her nightie, vigorously buffing the kitchen floor, but my admiring gaze was returned by a ferocious scowl. I fairly tore the door from the hinges and took it to the top of our driveway, where I leaned it against a sawhorse and finished applying the first coat.
I went back in the house to offer support and encouragement. “Wow, looks great, honey. You can barely see anything. Well, a little pink, maybe but ….” Her expression encouraged me to go check on the door.
In a moment, I was slack-jawed before it. The gentle Spring zephyr that had circulated micro-droplets of burgundy paint throughout my house, had now blown my freshly painted front door over—wet paint side down—onto my lawn.
I considered weeping but instead screamed a profanity audible for blocks. Gingerly, I tried to lift the door with my fingertips. But it didn’t budge until I grabbed it fully with both hands and manhandled it upright. It made a sound like tearing carpet.
Then, there it was, leaning again against the sawhorse. My new Chia-pet door.
I glumly walked into the house. “How does the door look,” Cathy asked without looking up from her buffing.
“Great! Really, really great!” I was surprised at how facile a liar I was.
But nothing short of rushing out to the store and buying a brand-spanking new door of rich, lustrous burgundy would have protected me from the truth.
Later, after hours of scraping, sanding and repainting, she looked over the door. She kept pointing to specks and bubbles. What’s that? And that? Why is that there? What’s that? She kept asking until I could stand it no longer.
“The door fell in the grass!” I wailed. It was sort of a relief when she burst out laughing.
I thought then it was an example of her infinite good humor. Instead, it was simple glee at knowing that, from now on, till death do us part, she would be able to physically stop me in my tracks with three simple words:
Call a Professional.