paint rules

The first rule of painting a room is: Cover the floor. Your superpower is not painting without drippage. You will drip. Even if you could be as careful as you think you are, nobody has the intensity to be that careful for the hours and hours it takes to paint a room. You are going to drip. A lot. Cover the floor.

And I know I said this before, but it bears repeating: There’s a reason that some paint costs ten bucks a gallon and some costs forty dollars a gallon. If you go for the cheap stuff, you’ll have to slap on four times as much paint. You don’t think you will. You think you can lay it on thick enough the first time that it will cover any color, even traffic orange, but you’re wrong. Put a crowbar in your wallet and buy the expensive stuff. You can’t go wrong with that, but you can go way wrong with the cheap stuff.

Our bathroom used to have bright blue walls but the paint faded and grew splotchy in places. We’ve been thinking about painting it, which means that My Darling B was thinking about it and I was going to do it. Well, about two weeks ago I finally got up the motivation to schlep my hinder down to the hardware store to buy a can of paint. That’s when I bought the cheap paint. I slapped on two coats of that crap as thick as I could lay it down but the blue paint underneath still proudly showed through, bright as a neon sign.

So last week I schlepped myself down to the hardware store again to buy a bucket of the most expensive interior paint they had in stock. Easier said than done. There was no one at the desk when I got there and, no matter how long I hung around looking impatient, there continued to be nobody at the desk. Eventually I headed down the aisle to the desk where they sold window blinds to ask the guy there if he thought he could find someone to help me out in the paint department. He put a call out over the PA. Five minutes passed. Another member of the “Customer Courtesy Team” wandered past and asked me if I was being helped. “Not yet,” I answered, with what I hoped was a patient smile on my face. Another page went out over the PA, and several more minutes passed.

Finally, a gal identified by her badge as Katie P dragged herself in behind the desk. “Help you,” she sort of asked. Her attitude was Surly Teenager but she appeared to be a nearly full-grown adult. I pushed the bucket of paint I had across the desk toward her and handed over the paint chip I’d picked out. She took the bucket and the chip from me without a word, mixed the paint and stuck it in the paint shaker, then went to help the next person. She literally never spoke to me after those first two words. And yes, she was wearing a blue “Customer Courtesy Team” vest.

Back at home I scrounged a pan and a paint roller out of the stack of supplies in the garage. There’s a reason we keep this stuff, although I could tell from the color of the residual paint in the pan that I hadn’t used it since about 1997 or 98 when I painted the interior of our bedroom in the last house we owned in Aurora, Colorado. I still miss that house.

The expensive paint didn’t cover the bright blue paint in one coat. By this time I was pretty sure that a bucket of black driveway sealer wouldn’t do that. But it looked a hell of a lot better than the cheap stuff, and after the second coat went on the walls were pretty enough for company again. I have an “after” photo but I can’t figure out how to get it off my camera, so you’ll just have to imagine our bathroom with walls painted beautifully in antique white.

I’ll tell you the story about the furshlugginer camera later.


I love yard work! Wow, do I ever love yard work! I love yard work so much, I did it all Sunday afternoon, and man did I have a good time! I wish I were doing it right now!

This just in: The power of positive thinking is a load of crap. Yard work sucks, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise.

As originally planned, I wasn’t going to do much more than mow the front yard. As it turned out, though, I painted the walls of the bathroom in the morning, then had to wait for four hours to hit it with a second coat, and mowing the yard only took an hour and a half. I suppose I could have taken a nap but I was trying to make that positive thinking thing work, so I got a few tools and implements of destruction from the shed and went after a few things in the yard that I’ve let go a little too long.

Like the weeds growing through the joints in the driveway. There was so much of that going on that the driveway looked more like a row of stepping stones, if you can imagine stepping stones that big. The joint across the middle of the driveway is almost an inch wide, wide enough to support its own ecosystem. I dug enough purslane out of that joint to make a salad that would have fed a family of four, and there were so many rolly-pollies it looked like one of those “what does one million look like?” school projects.

Digging all this up should have taken no more than fifteen minutes, twenty tops, but I made the mistake of using a weed eater that wasn’t sure it wanted to eat any weeds that day. It was much more interested in eating its own floss. An hour after I started, I was still trying to get the last clods of weeds out of the joint at the end of the drive. When the floss broke three times in less than five minutes, I threw the weed eater down in disgust, fetched an old toothy steak knife from the garage and sawed off the last of the weeds by hand.

Then I cleaned off the driveway with the garden hose. I tried to tell myself at first that this was the best way to do it, because the green leaves of all those dandelions and purslane were going to be impossible to sweep aside with a broom until they dried out and I didn’t want to leave the mess laying around that long. I didn’t try to tell myself that for too long, though, because I knew, deep down inside, that I was just a boy with a garden hose playing in the water, and I let it go at that. Driveway looks really nice now, and I had a little fun cleaning it up.

Finally, there was a row of bushes along the front of the house that were looking pretty sad on account of the hot weather. They were mostly tumbleweeds, really, and I knew from experience that they were the kind of bush that would grow back if I just hacked them off at the base and let them start over. I tried to get rid of a row of similar bushes in the back yard by mowing them to the ground with the lawnmower, but they kept popping back up and eventually I had to dig the root balls out with a pick and shovel. I didn’t do either to the row in front; instead, I gave it a crew cut with a pruning shears. That was the worst part of the afternoon. There was a murder of mosquitoes hiding out in those bushes.

When I was done with all that, I had enough time to surf the internet for some Mars porn and drink a couple glasses of water before I went back to painting the bathroom.


I’ve been trying to paint the walls in our bathroom since Sunday.

It turns out there’s a pretty good reason some paint costs thirteen bucks a gallon and some of it costs over thirty bucks a gallon. I also learned that you should always buy the expensive stuff when you’re painting your bathroom, unless you’re painting the inside of an outhouse. The cheap stuff would be all right for that.

Anybody painting an outhouse? I’ve got about a gallon of paint you could have. No charge.


A few words about shellac, in case you think you might ever use it to finish and unfinished item of furniture: Don’t do it. But, if you do, don’t underestimate its power to frustrate you.

First of all, it takes forever to dry. The label on the can says you should wait an hour for it to dry before you apply another coat. This implies (at least to me) that it dries in an hour. Not even close. It takes days for shellac to dry enough for you to even touch it without leaving fingerprints all over it. Ideally, you should leave it alone for at least a week because, if you shellac your desk, then wait only a day or two so that it feels as though it’s dry, you will probably make the mistake of setting things on it, things like your computer keyboard and your telephone, which will then become much more permanent parts of your desk than you ever intended. You will become become part of your desk, if you casually lean on it with your elbows while pondering a news article or chatting on the phone, which, after sitting on the desk for a few days, had to be separated from the shellac with a good, strong jerk. I had to stand up to get enough leverage.

The long drying time highlights one of the other problems with shellacking anything: You’ll need a place where you can leave the shellacked item standing out to dry for at least a week. If you’re applying more than one coat, you might as well clear a spot for at least a month.

Another thing that kind of sucks about shellac is that you have to use denatured alcohol to clean up your brushes after you’re done brushing it on. That can be a problem because the can that denatured alcohol comes in looks just like the can that mineral spirits comes in. (Mineral spirits come in? Is/Are mineral spirits singular or plural?) Mineral spirits have no thinning effect at all on shellac. You might as well use water. If you mix up the two cans and use mineral spirits by mistake, and you will, you’ll end up with brushes so firmly shellacked that they could best be used to scrape ice off the windshield of your car once the shellac dries. It dries pretty damned quick when your brush is soaked in it. Go figure.

On the plus side, I very much like the look of a desk finished with shellac, but I would rather have my teeth drilled than use it again.


I just finished flushing out the plumbing from the basement sink again. Thought I’d mention that and get it out of the way. The rest of this post is free of plumbing emergencies. No, really.

I should have gotten my hair cut on Saturday but I didn’t because I was too busy doing other things. I wish I could remember what they were now. The first thing I remember doing on Saturday morning is riding my bike around the lake. It was such a beautiful day I couldn’t pass it up. I pedaled really slow, too, so the trip would take longer. I got at least an hour and a half of sunshine doing that.

Then I got another hour or two when I painted part of the siding around the back door. I was planning to paint the back of the garage, too, but I found so much peeling paint on the garage that it would’ve taken me all weekend just to scrape it off, and then were would I be? I’d have a scraped garage and no time left to paint it, that’s where I’d be. And I didn’t have all weekend to scrape it anyway, so I let it be. It’s taken this long to get to the back of the garage. It can take a little longer.

Saturday afternoon I jumped in the car and drove an hour or so to East Troy where I volunteer at the railway museum. The dinner train was running that evening so I hopped aboard to help take orders and serve drinks for the bartender, and after the train pulled back into the station and all the passengers disembarked, I stayed behind to help clean up. I ordinarily would do everything in my power to avoid doing scut work like that, but when I get to ride a train while I’m doing it, it’s fun somehow.

I had so much fun that I went back the next day to ride trains from noon until four, helping the motorman and conductor where I could and, when they didn’t need help, just leaning out the door and watching the countryside roll by.

And that was my weekend. And it was good. How about yours?


image of me painting the house

I didn’t intend to spend all afternoon painting the house but somehow that’s what I ended up doing.

It started with the gable over the garage roof. I’ve let that go for quite a while, under pretense of various excuses too ridiculous to try to explain, but because it’s already the third week in September and I’m running out of excuses, I’ve suffered just a few panic attacks from thinking I might not get the painting done before the snow flies. I had another one this morning when I saw what a beautiful day it was today and tried to think of doing anything but yard work or home maintenance, but eventually caved in and started looking for a can of paint and a brush. It wouldn’t be so bad with the sunshine and the cool breeze. More importantly, My Darling B was home so that, in case I fell off the roof, she might come investigate the dull thud I made when I hit the recycling bin on the way to the ground.

I gathered up my tools and went to work. The first thing to do was make sure I could get up there and stay up there, something I wasn’t entirely confident of. I’d spent way too much time on the roof of my boyhood home, shooting at starlings and stacks of beer cans with an air rifle. Don’t ask why it’s important to be on the roof when you do that. I couldn’t give you an answer that made sense. It was thirty years ago, which not only affects my memory, it makes me a tad uncomfortable about walking around on rooftops now. However, once I made myself go up there, check out how steep it was and work out a way to keep the paint can from tipping over, I felt a little better about putting my mortal self at risk for the sake of making Our Humble O’Bode look prettier.

To keep the paint can from tipping over I scrounged up a slab of particle board and three pieces of scrap lumber to shove underneath it until I had achieved a relatively level platform. Before I went with shoving scraps of lumber under the board, I had planned to work out the angle of the roof, cut some wedges from scrap and screw together something a bit more stable, like somebody who knew what they were doing would use, but my jerry-rigged platform worked just as well and I didn’t have to fire up a power saw or try to hit a nail with a hammer.

The most difficult part of the gable to paint was the part that was furthest back, because I had to sit on the garage roof to do it. Even though the weather was rather mild, those black asphalt shingles were hot as an iron skillet. I burned a couple inches off my butt while I sat there, painting as fast as I could. After the back corner was done I was pretty glad to be able to stand on the edge of the eaves with my back end to the breeze to paint the rest.

It took all of a half-hour to paint the gable. I stood back, looking at my efforts and thinking, That was way too easy. Now what? Well, I had the paint and brush out, so I figured I might as well touch up a few spots I missed on the front of the house. I hadn’t been able to figure out a way to set up the ladder so I could paint the paneling over the windows, for instance, until today, so I did a quick clean up of those spots, set up the ladder, and got to work.

And while I was up there, I painted all the soffit I could reach, too. The soffit is the overhang between the eaves and the siding. I’d left it alone, thinking I would go back and paint it white, but it looked better painted the same color as the siding. One of my neighbors gave me the idea when he painted his house last month.

Pretty soon I was inching the ladder along, painting all the soffit on the front of the house, possibly the longest stretch of soffit, from the northwest corner of the house all the way around the southwest corner, back to meet the garage and across the front of the garage, too. I didn’t finish until four thirty, with just enough time left over to clean up and get dressed for dinner.

Three hours of standing on a ladder with my head cranked all the way back and my arms in the air left me absolutely pooped. I went to bed early, right behind My Darling B, who spent the day pulling weeds in her garden.


image of rough lake

Day after Labor Day, back to the grindstone. Oh, wait. I’m still on seven-day weekends. Never mind.

Or not. I’ve still got some yard work to do before the snow flies, and from the way the weather’s been acting that’s probably going to be at about noon on Thursday. I’ve pledged that I will finish painting the siding on Our Humble O’Bode before winter, for starters. I haven’t ever attached a condition to that – “I’ll either finish painting or eat all the paint chips scattered around the foundation of the house! With milk and sugar!” – but I’d end up eating a lot of crow if I don’t, so the push is on. There isn’t much left. I should be able to finish in a week or so. The soffits and all the window frames need to be painted, too, but I never said anything about those so I think I’m safe there.

Other yard work, such as trimming the overgrown lilac and honeysuckle bushes, will get done only if I can finish painting. In that case, I might end up taking care of that next spring. Care to put any money on that?

The other Very Important Thing I’ve got to do today is return the videos we rented from Bongo Video that we should’ve taken back last night because the late charges are crazy expensive. I don’t know why we don’t just hand them the rental fee plus one or two days’ late charges when we take the movies out in the first place. I can’t remember the last time we rented movies and didn’t pay the late fees. We used to feel guilty about that, but guilt slowly morphed into self-satisfaction that we were doing our part to keep a local business afloat with our very own financial mini-stimulus program.

I picked one hell of a day to return the videos to the store on my bike. All the wind in the world is right here in Madison today – apologies to the folks in Galveston, but it’s one-hundred and one percent true. The wind was even kicking up rollers across Lake Monona big enough to surf on, not that anyone was taking advantage of it.


image of Our Humble O’Bode

I’ve always had this far-away, make-believe kind of idea that I might be able to finish painting the house some day. Actually, in most of my “Thank God I’m Finished!” house-painting fantasies I slap the last coat of paint on just moments before I suffer a massive cardiac infarction, or some similar mortally final lightning bolt that shoots me off into the cosmic void, but thoughts like this usually occur to me only after I’ve spent hours frying to a crisp in the summer sun while scraping and painting, scraping and painting. In much happier fantasies I finish well before I die but long after I go bald and grow a beard down to my knees.

Looking at this photo of the garage I was trying to recall which half of the wall took longer to paint: Up at the peak the boards were shorter, but I had to stand on a shaky extension ladder twenty feet in the air where I could reach about three feet from side to side and top to bottom, forcing me to climb up and down the ladder a couple dozen times, slapping a little more paint on each time I repositioned it. It was a maddeningly slow process. When it’s all averaged out, however, I think it took just as long to paint the top half as it did to paint the bottom. Down at the bottom where I didn’t have to climb the extension ladder, I could paint pretty much constantly, but each freaking cedar panel is thirty feet long and takes half an hour to cover with a decent coat of paint. If that doesn’t sound as maddening as going up and down an extension ladder all afternoon, try to imagine painting for a half hour under a blazing sun, then stepping back to survey your work, only to discover that when you’ve painted a thirty-foot-long panel that’s just eight inches wide, you can’t see any progress at all. Talk about wanting to simply curl up and die.

This is just all to get the first coat on, by the way, to make the house look presentable to the world at large, instead of a patchwork of the previous coat of corpse green, shot through with streaks of white where we scraped the bubbled and cracked paint layers away, and finally the blocks of red-wine red where we’ve been doggedly remaking the house to look as nice as we’d like it to. In another time, maybe in a parallel universe, I’ll have to brush on another coat to make the red nice and even and cover all the places I missed. There are always a few. But for now it looks good from the street and maybe the neighbors will stop pointing and making comments to each other as they walk their dogs past our house.

Paint Guilt

I passed a couple of quiet hours yesterday afternoon pursuing our never-ending attempt to repaint the house. You read that right: I said painting the house. We started the enterprise almost two years ago after inquiring of several professional painters how much they would charge us for them to paint our house instead of us, and blanched when they informed us we would have to fork over a sum in the neighborhood of eight grand.

Isn’t “blanched” a great word? All it means is that the color went out of our faces, but it sounds so much worse, even onomatopoeic, suggesting the splash made by projectile vomiting. And even better, when you say it the word contorts your face into the most disgusted expression. You don’t get that combination of color, sound and facial expression in just any word. It’s a nearly perfect word, really, and deserves a lot more use than it gets.

Two years later both My Darling B and I are now thinking that eight grand would probably have been well worth paying to have somebody else paint the house, first and foremost because it would’ve been done two years ago! Half a dozen guys would’ve shown up at our house, scraped, taped and painted for about a week, and then tah-daaahhhh! Painted house!

In painfully marked contrast, the only free time B and I get to grab a brush and slap on some paint is weekends and holidays during the summer, which is exactly the same free time that My Darling B uses to tend her garden and the same time I’m usually up to my elbows in plumbing emergencies and other fun projects. Ugly as it has made our house look for two years running, we’ve had to put off painting because it always ended up with a pretty low position on the priority totem pole of do-it-yourself home-improvements.

Two years of piled-up embarrassment and good old-fashioned guilt will go a long way to raise the priority of any project, though, so there I was, brush in one hand, paint can in the other, halfway up a ladder slapping a first coat of Cottage Red on the rear of Our Humble O’Bode. I was hoping to cover everything from the bedroom window over to the dining room window, but painting always takes longer than you think it will. I was lucky to get this far before I had to put all the tools away, seal up the paint and jump in the shower so I wouldn’t stink up the car during the drive to the other side of town to pick up My Darling B from work.

I thought I would be outside painting again today, even hoped to get as far as the back door, nearly all the way around to the garage, but instead I spent the morning cowering inside the house as rain came down as heavy and dark as fudge on an ice cream sundae. Ever heard rain described metaphorically as dessert before? Just couldn’t help myself, sorry.


I spent the morning atop a step ladder, painting the ceiling in one of the bedrooms, which freaked the heck out of the cats. They always get a little twitchy whenever we’re not sitting on our butts or sleeping because, really, that’s what they see us do most of the time.

In the morning after our showers we sit down to eat our breakfast, then we disappear for the whole day. When we come home from work we sit down to eat dinner, then we sit down to read or otherwise relax in the living room, then we go to bed. On the weekends we usually go somewhere. If we don’t, we usually sit and read, or sit and eat, or go to sleep.

Breaking the routine is apparently so weird they just don’t know what do to with themselves, prowling restlessly and making distressed little mewing sounds.

But you gotta do what you gotta do, no matter how unhappy it makes the cats. When we moved here almost five years ago, Tim asked if he could paint his room. The walls were a, shall we say, vibrant shade of burgundy. He wanted plain old blue, so we bought him a pail of paint and said have at it. He did a pretty good job of it, too. Masked off the baseboards and put down lots of newspaper, but he never masked off the tops of the walls, so the blue ended up all around the upper edges of the ceiling.

Now that Tim’s moved out, we want to use that room as an office, put a desk and some shelves and a filing cabinet in there. But before we move all that crap in there, tidying up the paint on the ceiling would be a good idea, so that’s why I was scaring the cats this morning. And I got to sniff paint fumes for a couple hours, too. Latex paint, though, darn it. It’s like trying to get high off watercolors.

LATER: As it turned out, it wasn’t the quick tidying-up job I thought it would be. The flat white paint made the edges of the ceiling look a little too good, and now the rest of the ceiling, paint faded with age, will have to be completely repainted. Isn’t that just the way?