Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Syndrome

I’ve been afflicted with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie syndrome. My most recent bout began with the I can’t stand this carpet any longer tear-out I blogged about last week. 

After I progressed from the outer corners of the room, I found not one, or two, but three different floor coverings under the carpet: raw plywood in a section that on the original blueprints was an observation deck, brittle green linoleum covering a portion of what was once the breakfast nook, and paint-flecked hardwood where the living room used to end.


I was prepared to live indefinitely with the plywood floor I uncovered the first day of my endeavor. I’d sand it, slather on a coat of Varathane, and move onto another project. But some of the tiles were loose (and probably made with asbestos) and the paint and spackle smearing the hardwood were unsightly.  Covering this hodgepodge became a priority, so Kevin began research. How much per square foot to use the underlayment we put on the walls in the writers suite? How much for the vinyl we’d selected for the floor?  Were there any other alternatives between those two numbers?

 My husband liked a particular brand of vinyl tiles.  He installed them in the apartment he built for his mother, easily clicking the squares in place.  So easy, I could do it, which I would probably need to do, since he’d procured a two-week consulting job. 

We went to Home Depot so I could see our options in person. Walking toward the flooring I came across a display of bamboo in our price range.  One of the cases was open.  I stroked a plank.  We bought ten cases on the spot.  Not only was it silky, it was one hundred percent wood and a renewable resource. After consulting a flooring associate, my husband determined that I’d be able to install the tongue and groove flooring, assisted by a nail gun.  

I skipped out of the store next to the cart he pushed, petting my sample square of bamboo, as if I were ten and had just been given my very own kitten. 

Poised to load the car, my husband said, “It doesn’t make any sense to install new flooring unless you paint first.” 

Paint.  First.  

That meant the ceiling, the walls, and the room divider I’d attempted to strip months earlier.  I slunk back toward the store, clutching my bamboo sample, as if to buy a litter box and claw clippers.  

I can paint.  I have been painting.  A lot. I enjoy paint’s results and forty dollars can transform an entire room. The trouble with painting is that it’s time consuming and I am lazy. 

This is how I am lazy: I learned to sew in earnest when I was twelve.  One of the first garments I made was a pair of shorts. It was 1974, and my shorts had a high fitted waistband and cuffed legs. The fabric was red and white striped with blue anchors.  

I cut the pattern, placed pieces along the straight of grain, matching seams.  I pinned the tissue to the fabric and carefully cut around notches. I used tailor’s chalk to mark rear darts and front pleats, wound my bobbin, threaded the machine, placed my fabric right sides together, sewed 5/8 inch seams, pressed multiple folds into the waistband and cuffs and steamed the front of the shorts, creating a flap to hide the zipper. 

I spent hours, days, my entire life, making those shorts, and when I cut the last threads and slipped them on, I discovered I’d sewn the zipper wrong side out.  I sucked in my stomach and pulled the zipper closed and wore those shorts for two summers, zipper head digging into my stomach, poking, itching and leaving red marks.  

I could’ve ripped it out and fixed it.  It wouldn’t have taken me more than thirty minutes.  But I was finished. 

Painting is like sewing.  So much prep work.  Stripping, sanding, caulking where surfaces meet. Washing, deglossing, spackling, priming, masking, tarping. Then there’s the actual painting: mixing, pouring without spilling, using the right brush or roller or both, cutting in, using uniform strokes, rolling evenly, dragging ladders around, climbing up and down, refilling. 

I am alternately critical and lazy when I paint. I spread color at close range, careful to saturate but not splash, and a few minutes later, a few feet away, I look back, noticing every imperfection. There are fresh drips too late to smooth, and old drips from earlier coats I hadn’t noticed before.  

I tell myself I will sand them once they dry, but rarely do. I want one coat to be enough.  It never is. I want to be done, to say I’m done, but unless I’m willing to grimace every day, like I did in my shorts, I have to pick up the brush the next day, and even the next.

During dinner a few days ago I remembered when we first looked at the house and how we envisioned opening up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, inviting conversation and expanding the view from the narrow galley out toward the garden and water. 

“Do I have to paint all the walls?” I asked, reminding Kevin of our plan. 

He considered and then knocked out the wall the next day.


Now like the mouse with a cookie, we have a whole new set of considerations: where to run wiring, where to install the cabinets he took down, what to do about the ceiling, what type of counter to install over the exposed wallboard and how to accommodate our refrigerator, which is still too large for the space we created. 

These are exciting but purely temporary distractions from painting. 

I start on my second coat tomorrow.


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