Rust never sleeps it just reminds you you're growing old

SATURDAY'S HERO

October 01, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Rust is evil -- almost everyone in America thinks so. That is one reason battling it can be so uplifting.

These days, finding such widespread agreement on what is evil is rare. Just this week for example, I read that even though turncoat spy Aldrich E. Ames was regularly drunk, indiscreet, lazy and inefficient, his bosses at the Central Intelligence Agency considered such work habits normal. So, instead of getting fired for bad behavior, Ames got promoted.

Living in a such a confused world, I feel the need for some certainty. I need something I can rail against. Something I can fight with all my might, at least all the might I can muster on a Saturday afternoon. Rust fills that need for me, on many levels.

First of all, there is the symbolic level. Rust is a sign of deterioration. Most right- thinking Americans are opposed to deterioration. We don't want it in our homes, our cars, or our bodies.

There are some unnerving parallels between the way rust attacks metal and the way age weakens the body. I thought of a few the other day as I was trying to remove the rust from a metal door and get the door ready for painting.

The initial signs of both types of slippage seem insignificant. The rust spots at the bottom of the door, for example, look tiny. The wrinkles under the eyes seem faint. But both spread with amazing speed. Before you know it, things that were once regard as solid as Gibraltar are showing signs of weakness.

The once seemingly impenetrable door gets rusty, and it looks vulnerable to a storm. The kid who once regarded his father as a pillar of intelligence now won't let his dad check the math homework until the old man can first say what the Roman numeral is for 1,000. (Somehow I remembered it was "M.")

It also struck me as ironic that teen- agers spot every sign of physical deterioration in their parents. Few gray hairs go undetected, few "style mistakes" go unnoticed. Yet a door could rust off at its hinges, and unless the crash interfered with the operation of the CD player, little notice would be paid. These thoughts made me sand the rusty door all the harder.

Another attraction of fighting rust is the intense, purifying nature of the labor that battling it requires. Rubbing sandpaper against rusted metal is hard, dirty work. Yet it is cleansing.

There is a stirring old Methodist hymn, which like many Methodist hymns is strong on the melody but gory in the lyrics, that talks about being "washed in the blood of the lamb." And after a strenuous 30 minutes or so of scraping rust off that metal door, I longed to feel washed in the dust of the sandpaper.

As the dust settled I wanted to look at that door and see evidence that rust spots and other evidence degradation had been vanquished by my labor.

That is not what happened. There was still rust on that door. It had a hold on that door that sandpaper couldn't break.

So I sought counsel from wiser, older, rust battlers. From the guys at the hardware store. I was told that if I wanted to take rust off unpainted metal I should use a chemical jelly. The jelly goes on the rusted metal, sits for about an hour, then is washed away with water.

But the metal on my door was painted. So they told me about a miraculous substance called "rust converter," which like missionaries who work on skid row, seeks out evil and converts it.

All I had to do was spray an aerosol can full of that rust converter on the troubled door. Somehow, thanks to the mysteries of chemistry, the rust spots would change from a bad painting surface to an ideal one. In other words, evil would be coverted to good.

I dressed for the conversion ritual. I put on long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, plastic gloves and protective glasses. The label on the aerosol had explained that the rust converter is a zealous operator that had been known to attack anything it landed on, rusty metal or human skin.

I sprayed the door, methodically covering the red surface with thin coats of the faintly white rust converter. I wanted to paint the door white, but the label on the can told me I had to wait a few hours for the conversion process to take shape.

I waited. Then I sprayed the door with another aerosol can, this one containing some white paint.

Later I went back to the door to admire my work and feel righteous. What once was troubled had now been saved; was weak but now was whole.

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