Bristling Over Brushstrokes

September 22, 1991|By JOANNE SHERMAN

THEIR HOUSE NEEDED PAINTING. NOT THE WHOLE HOUSE -- IT'S MOSTLY CEDAR shingles -- just the pale yellow trim around the windows and doors that had cracked and faded.

They called a painter for an estimate. Eighteen hundred dollars. One thousand, eight hundred dollars to paint the trim on a 1 1/2 -story house! They were stunned. And once they got over being stunned, they laughed. Ha! They'd paint the house themselves before paying that much money. How much time would it take anyhow, part of one sunny weekend? They would save the $1,800 and take a cruise or visit castles in Scotland or see Disneyland.

Though the couple usually agreed on most things, from the onset it was immediately evident that they were going to have some difficulties. Choosing the color, a chore they thought they would accomplish in an hour, consumed half a day. He preferred to repaint the trim the same color. She thought a new color would be nice. He wanted pale yellow. She wanted leaf green. They compromised and bought Colonial blue because it was on sale.

They had never painted together before and each watched the other, frowning. Their painting techniques differed dramatically. She is a dipper and stroker; he is a plunger and slatherer. They began the family project working side by side, but it was taking her longer to do her section of each window because she kept stopping to wipe his paint splats off panes of glass.

She asked if he couldn't please be a little neater. Maybe the paint would peel off the glass but what he was dribbling down the shingles would be there forever. He said forever was what it would take to finish the job if she didn't please put more paint on her brush. They moved to separate areas. By the day's end they had painted the trim around three windows and one door, and halfway up four other windows. Their house, and attached garage, has 22 windows and four doors.

That night her husband commented that painting the house was going to take much longer than he originally thought, especially since she was so slow at it and didn't put enough paint on her brush so everything she had almost covered would take a second coat. Possibly a third. Big deal, she said, they were going to need at least two more gallons anyhow because of the way he was slapping it on a quarter-inch thick.

The next day was Sunday and they didn't paint. Nor did they talk. The following weekend it rained, and the weekend after that they had house guests. They kept finding excuses not to paint, though the house was an eyesore, partly yellow, partly blue.

They forced themselves to get out there and finish the project. Once again things started poorly because she hadn't done a proper job cleaning her brush and the bristles had hardened. He was mumbling something about paintbrushes not growing on trees while he popped the lid from the paint can. It didn't require excessive prying because he hadn't pounded it down securely and the paint inside was as thick as putty, which, she mumbled, suited his style of painting perfectly.

Back to the paint store for more paint and brushes. And who do they run into but the painter who gave them the $1,800 estimate. He smirked when he asked how it was going. They lied and said fine. They even linked arms, touching for the first time in weeks. Then he said something about the painting being the easy part of the job, what with the scraping out of the way.

Scraping? They didn't scrape. When they came across a blister or hanging paint skin they just pulled it off, then painted over the scar. He said he guessed that was OK if they didn't mind repainting every year.

Pride prevented them from calling the painter that evening. They waited until the next day. And when the painter showed up they watched him for a while and she said, see, he doesn't get splats all over the place; and he said, see, he puts enough paint on his brush to cover what he's trying to paint. Their bickering distracted the painter, so he stopped until they went inside.

The sad thing is that there will be no cruise or castle visiting this year, either in Scotland or Disneyland. They went to the mall instead. But at least they were talking to each other.

JOANNE SHERMAN'S last story for the magazine was on husbands with colds.

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