09 July 2009

I bawled

When we moved into this house years ago, the entire interior had been painted a ghastly yellowish-brown, and the floors were covered with brown carpeting. We pulled out the carpeting before we moved in, but covering the wretched paint took a bit longer.

The daughter was about 2 1/2 when I was standing in her room one July evening, discussing how it should be decorated with the spouse. There was a very narrow bit of wooden trim that bisected the walls, and it had come loose from the plaster near the door.

Experimentally, I pulled.

Huge mistake.

It turned out that previous owners had spent untold years painting over wallpaper, about the most enormous no-no in interior decorating ever. When I pulled on the trim, I pulled off about all of the layers of paint over the first layer of wallpaper.

I spent the next several days investigating wallpaper removal. Because I am a cheapskate and I don't like chemicals, I decided to do the job myself. So I bought scrapers and spray bottles and enormous vats of vinegar.

The pervasive smell of wet wallpaper, wet glue, wet plaster and quantities of vinegar mixed with warm water was decidedly overwhelming, so I kept the windows open to mix it up good with the smell of California summer ozone. I kept the kids occupied in another part of the house while I worked, and I had a CD player turned up loud.

Stripping the wallpaper was time consuming and slightly back breaking but neither difficult nor entirely unpleasant. My mind wandered through the vinegar fumes, and it was hot and I was in a retro mood, so kept The Kingston Trio, Alan Parson Project and The Moody Blues turned up to 11.

I went to 11, too, alternately singing and cursing when I ran into a bad patch or accidentally scraped up some plaster. The neighbor commented that he was surprised that I listened to '60s folk music. He also commented that he was previously unaware that I had such a colorful vocabulary.

(There were days when it was colorful vocabulary or just burn the house down. We determined there were at least 10 layers of paint over 4 to 5 layers of wallpaper, and on one wall, the plaster revealed what appeared to be blood splatter from a massacre. I'll never know precisely what that stain was, only that it took four coats of Killz to cover it.)

Removal, basecoat, paint and trim took a month. With a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old in residence, I will never know where I found the energy.

Working on one's domicile, however, can be revealing. It turned out that at one time, there had been a lovely 1960s intercom system linking the front door and every single room in the house, now reduced to giant patches. It was also interesting to find out that the walls were genuine plaster.

So, I scraped and wielded a paintbrush and I sang.

The Kingston Trio was always the most fun, one truly delightful memory from childhood. My mother had a few record albums that we played on that enormous stereo, and among them, my favorites were the Trio, Tchaikovsky, Offenbach and the cast album from The Music Man. The Kingston Trio, however, with their sly satire and social commentary and fantastic harmonies were the best for singing along. Even recently, playing "The Merry Minuet" for the kids, I couldn't help but laugh when the son shook his head and said, "But nothing has changed!"

Indeed. Nothing has changed.

And even now, I look at the walls of the son's room and the walls of the daughter's room and see that it's time to paint them once again. Though this time, I think I'll decline and allow someone else the honor, especially now that all the wallpaper is gone.

Go listen to some good music: "I Bawled" from the album At Large by The Kingston Trio. I am trying to shake off another freaking migraine, so I do rather feel like I've been hit with a rolling pin.

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