Every two to four years, my friend Birdie flies into town to stay with us for a couple of weeks. And every time, her migration sets into motion home improvements for me and Flash. It’s the company-is-coming-so-let’s-do-all-the-things-we’ve-been-wanting-to-do-for-years-in-record-time phenomenon. Suddenly, sitting on the couch every evening, binging on our latest sitcom, is moved to the back burner. Every day, trips are made to Home Depot and Lowe’s to get whatever items were forgotten the day before, or to return items that were not needed. If those stores offered frequent shopper miles, we’d be set for life.
This year, once we knew the exact date of Birdie’s landing, Flash announced, “We need to finish the bathroom.”
The bathroom. The room that Flash decided to paint late one night, six months ago; I was horrified the next morning to see dark gray trim around our white bathroom.
“Oh my gosh! What have you done?”
“I like it,” Flash defended.
“It looks like you colored outside the lines a lot. There’s paint on the floor, on the mirror, on the window, on the tub.” I looked at him suspiciously, then asked, “Did you take your sleeping pill before painting?”
“Yes, but it hadn’t kicked in yet.”
“The heck it didn’t. This is a mess.”
Prior to the late-night painting spree, I’d told Flash it was his and Cowboy’s turn to pick the paint color for their bathroom. I’d decorated in A Bug’s Life when Cowboy was little; Mom made my shower curtain, wall hanging, and valance from a sheet and two pillowcases. I loved it, but the guys were ready for something different.
I hadn't known, however, that Flash would choose the color of a burnt match.
“It looks too dark in here. And it looks smaller,” I continued. “It’s your bathroom, but I have to look at it. I thought y’all wanted blue.”
“The dark gray is left over from trimming the workout room, so I thought I’d save money and use it in the bathroom.”
“Let’s spend the money on what looks good.”
So, we trekked to Lowe’s and agreed on bright sky blue for the trim.
Flash, stone cold sober, painted over the gray trim. The blue was pretty, but life got busy, and nothing was finished for another three months.
When we gave the wheels of progress a swift kick in the motivation, two weeks ago, I told Flash, “I think maybe dark gray would better than the blue in the bathroom. I don’t like the blue as much as I thought I did.”
Flash agreed, of course; the bathroom would be dark gray trim with gray-so-light-it-looks-like-white walls.
“I asked Red to paint the bathroom on Saturday,” Flash told me the next day. Red is my Practically Perfect Painter friend; she’s quick and talented.
“What? You don’t think I can paint our bathroom? You don’t trust me? Don’t you think I can do a good job? What’s the deal? That almost hurt my feelings. You didn’t even ask me.”
“I didn’t think you’d want to.”
“Well, maybe I do,” I protested.
“Okay, do you want to paint the bathroom?”
Silence ensued for at least two minutes.
“Not necessarily. I just wanted you to ask.”
The truth is, I don’t mind painting. The prep is time-consuming, for those of us who tape off before painting. Even clean-up takes less time than prep. Still, it’s not that bad. My biggest struggle is the fact that painting’s never perfect. I see every little mistake along the way. And, while I’m striving to be the world’s next Picasso with a roller, I’m the World’s Messiest Painter. Years ago, I opted to quit using rags to wipe my hands or to clean up drips. Instead, I use the clothes I wear while painting: my once-white t-shirt and my old bike shorts that are decorated with 1,000 dried paint splotches from projects gone by. And, invariably, I end up with paint on the soles of my shoes, and track colorful dots throughout the house. It’s safer for everyone if I paint alone; even our dogs end up a different color if they stay near me.
“And we need to paint the outside of the house before Birdie gets here,” overambitious Flash added.
“We don’t have that kind of time.”
“We can do it.”
So, we commenced The Great Painting of 2017. In July. In Houston. When the paint melts off the house as quickly as it’s brushed on.
“Denver is coming over too, on Saturday, to help me paint outside.” Denver is Red’s overly energetic husband; he and Flash, combined, are the Dynamic Duo of home improvement.
“We’re paying them, right?” I asked Flash.
“Absolutely. We want to keep them as friends.”
“Because friends don’t let friends paint, in temperatures of hell, without paying them.”
I was in charge of paint samples for the house. After five trips to the store, I was still undecided on the color for the house’s exterior. Of course, I’d told Flash that he and Cowboy could pick our house color. They had indulged me six years earlier, when I selected Rum Raisin. They’d helped with the selection, but I had greatly influenced the voting.
Over the years, neighbors would say, “You have the only pink house on the street.” But I’d quickly correct them, explaining, “It’s not pink. It’s Rum Raisin.”
“Looks pink to me,” colorblind males would respond.
So, this time, I painted 15 color splotches on my window sills. And, because I’d made the executive decision to paint our front door a bright color, there were 25 different splotches on our door.
We narrowed the choice for the house trim to gray or tan, to complement the brick. But tan blended in with the mortar too much. Rather than making a statement, it merely whispered, “Don’t pay attention to me. I’m boring.” So, we were leaning towards gray. And, apparently, there are over 20,000 shades of gray, not just 50. Light gray, dark gray, blue-gray, green-gray, metallic gray, elephant gray, storm-cloud gray, etc. Finding the right gray took four days.
When Red came over a day early to start on the bathroom, I showed her my polka-dotted house. After staring for a few minutes, she said, "What about white? You can do anything with white, and change up your accents."
I was elated. She had read my mind.
"I love white. I've always wanted a white house. It’s a blank canvas, just waiting to be decorated. But I don't think Flash will vote for white. It's his turn to pick the house color."
I ran to my phone and texted Flash, “What about white?” Previously, his response had been, “It’s hard to keep clean. If you want to keep it clean, that’s fine.” This time, he responded, in all capital letters, “I don’t care. Just pick a color. Anything is fine. I need to pick up the paint tonight, to start in the morning.” After days of The Paint Debate, he didn’t care anymore.
“Okay,” I texted back, “we’ve picked purple and yellow. Thanks.”
He came home with huge buckets of paint the color of clean, and he and Denver began painting outside at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, while the temperature was a cool 98 degrees. Red worked her magic, transforming the bathroom. And I was the runner, fetching tape measures, fetching water, fetching rags; I was quite fetching, in spite of sweat drowning me with each trip outside.
When Red and Denver left, we had an updated bathroom and one coat on the back of the house. It was a great beginning to the Longest Painting Project in the history of our marriage. Since we always begin improvements with the added excitement of tight deadlines, there’s no time for sanding, priming, or taking off doorknobs. The name of the game is speed and accuracy, the latter being more difficult.
Flash was a madman, working every night when he got home from his day job. I labored in the mornings and evenings, working on the front of the house, including painting the front door bright red - the color of power, or murder, depending on your mood.
After my first red coat, I was disappointed. When I asked Flash for his input that evening, he said, “Probably would’ve looked better if you’d sanded first.”
“You didn’t sand it when you painted.”
“No, and it would’ve looked better if I had.”
So, I sanded. Then I washed it. Then I painted. Then I sanded, washed it, and painted. For two days, I lived my life in front of that cursed door. And every day, I saw mistakes.
“I see drip marks, Flash.”
“I see dead people. Who cares?”
“I care, Flash. We always do things in a hurry. But I want everything to look great.”
Our conversations for a week consisted of my whining about imperfections and Flash saying, “Who cares? It doesn’t matter.”
But, dear reader, it does matter. With age, comes obsession. And mine was in full bloom. While waiting for yet another coat to dry on the door, I started scraping dried paint off of surfaces where it didn’t belong, in the bathroom. The remnants of the Sleeping-Pill Escapade. After spending hours with a razor blade in my hand, I informed Flash, “From now on, we will always tape off. No more trying this free-handed. I’m the one who gets stuck scraping.”
“I’ve painted most of the house, and you’re worried about paint being in the wrong places?”
“You’re doing a great job, but it hurts me to look at this.”
After I completed my fifty-third lecture on taping off, he shook his head, as he went outside to start the third coat of white.
After a healthy dose of caffeine, I returned to the bathroom for more scraping. But first, I thought I’d sand down a couple of rough places on the wall. Caught up in the fervor of the moment, my hand slipped, and I chipped the dark gray trim below. To cover my flaw, I sanded more of the trim, to smooth it out. One thing led to another, and soon I was sanding the entire trim with coarse sandpaper. Paint flecks practically jumped off the trim. Soon, it was back to its original white, from 1996. After removing multiple layers of paint, it would now be smooth when I repainted it.
Not being one to preach and not practice, I taped off above and below the trim. I found a small paintbrush from an old art set, and started with smooth brushstrokes. It looked great. I took a break while it dried. Then I did the second coat.
At 10 p.m., I peeled off the painter’s tape. It was looking good. Until tragedy struck. Right before my horrified eyes, the tape ripped a huge chunk of dried paint from the wall.
I ran to Flash, screaming, “The tape is peeling off the wall paint. Why would it do that?”
“I don’t know.”
But, deep down in my soul, I knew. Earlier, in my OCD state, I’d used a razor blade to remove a small speck of dark gray off the beautiful light gray wall, slightly nicking the paint. The tape stuck to what had been raised up, and the rest was horrible history.
As I continued to remove tape, the tape continued to take fresh paint with it. In a frenzy, I stepped away from the bathroom, went to the couch, and sedated myself up with two episodes of a murder mystery, to cheer myself up.
The next day at church, my friend Lola told me, “You know you have to take that tape off right after painting.”
“I’ve always waited until the paint was dry to remove the tape.” Then my mind flashed back to years before; I remembered removing it with wet paint still on it. I’d forgotten the most basic rule of taping off.
As I continued to lament the imperfections of my work, Lola said, as she smiled sweetly, “It’s okay. Painting is a reflection of us; we’re flawed human beings, so it’s flawed.”
Clearly, she’d forgotten who she was talking to. And if her appearance is any indication, she has a perfectly painted house. Doesn’t she understand? The drip marks, the uneven lines, the lack of smoothness. It’s all too much. I wanted to scream. But I was in a church building, where my insanely loud screeching might have hindered worship. So, I just stared back at her, realizing we live on two different planets, hers being the more peaceful one.
I got home from church, put on my painting garb, and quickly painted the bathroom wall where the paint had torn; my efforts were successful. In a hurry to be done, I didn’t tape off first, so I accidentally got a little light gray on the dark trim. Then, I used a tiny brush to touch up the dark trim. But a little dark gray got on the light gray wall. So, I used another brush to touch up the wall. And so it went. With each dip into the paint, my psyche quaked. Mentally, I was on the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride. I knew if I continued this path, someone would get hurt. For the sake of your family, Kim, walk away from the paint cans. I thought about some of the mass murderers down through history, sure that they were once painters. I taped off around some of the trim to straighten lines. But the more I tried, the more crooked my lines became. I ran out of the bathroom and straight into Flash’s paint-speckled arms.
“I can’t do it anymore! I can’t take it! The trim is killing me. I taped off. Then I touched up. It won’t make straight lines.”
“I know. That’s what I dealt with when I painted it.”
Yes, but your paint was all over the counter and floor. Don’t put me in that category, Messy Man, I thought. This is different.
“I wanted it to look perfect, Flash. But it’s stronger than the both of us. I see paint blobs when I close my eyes. Last night, I dreamed I was in a giant paint can, and nobody could find a key to let me out. I’m starting to break out in dark gray and light gray spots. Our front door is the color of murder, and that’s what I’m contemplating.”
“It looks great.”
As quickly as possible, I gathered drop cloths, rinsed brushes, and closed up paint cans. I was done.
But all I can think about as I write this, dear reader, is the tiny spot of red paint on the doorknob that won’t scrape off. And the touch-ups needed on two bathroom cabinet doors. And the nightmare that is called “Trim,” mocking me when I walk past the bathroom.
My friends Captain and Rosebud sometimes hire a professional painter to do their dirty work. I’ve met him. He’s handsome, dresses impeccably, is skilled at his craft, and has one of the sexiest accents ever known to mankind. It’s a win-win-win-win situation for Rosebud. I don’t care how much he charges; my sanity is worth his price. I’m putting him on my speed-dial for our next painting project.