On this day it is three in the afternoon when Roxanne and I decide to try our hand at what should have been a fairly benign activity: painting the upstairs bedrooms. (Actually Roxanne decides; I, being a morning person, am incredulous that anyone would begin a huge task like this when sane people are thinking about bed.) But being a loyal husband I put my forebodings aside and joined Roxanne where we gathered around our fabulous new painting machine.
Here I must interrupt this narrative and discuss how we came to possess this particular instrument of torture. First, you must understand that Roxanne and I differ markedly on our approach to house painting. When I first met Roxanne ten years ago she was painting her house in Stow, where she fell in love not only with me, but with her “paint stick.” For those of you who don’t
know, a paint stick is a paint roller on steroids. With this device one can “suck up” a tremendous amount of paint in one fell swoop and apply it to the wall without having to stop every few seconds to roll more paint onto the roller. Roxanne considers the paint stick to be a giant leap forward in mankind’s ancient struggle to build a better painting system.
I, on the other hand, am a student of the “old school” of painting. I was taught to paint by my father, who believed all new fangled painting inventions were a Communist plot. To dad, even latex paint was suspicious. (Yes, I admit I am old enough to remember the invention of latex paint; I believe this happened about the same time we learned about fire.) Anyway, I still paint today with a
plain old roller and brush and believe if your back isn’t killing you after a four hour painting session, then you aren’t working hard enough.
But Roxanne is in charge of painting at our farm, so she gets to pick her weapon of choice. Since her original paint stick is long gone (I threw it away when she wasn’t looking), we journeyed to our second home, Home Depot, to see what’s available to the modern day do-it-yourselfer. Walking through the door, we are personally greeted by the store manager, who worriedly inquires about our health. This gentleman knows that a major chunk of his store profits now depend on our purchases, so he is genuinely pleased to see us in fine shape on this summer afternoon.
As we inspect the array of sprayers, pumpers, and other exotic implements in the paint department, I am glad my dad isn’t here to see the level to which I have sunk. Roxanne, on the other hand, is like a child in a candy store. After eyeing the numerous options, she settles upon the Wagner Automatic Paint System, the next step up the evolutionary ladder from her old paint stick. This device consists of an electric pump that with the push of a button magically moves paint from the can to the nap of a specially designed roller. That this gimmick, sorry, equipment costs almost $100 would normally have deferred the old Steve (I’m a tightwad). But we have been spending money on our farm like drunken sailors, so I consider this a bargain.
Back at the farm, we hit our first snag when we learn our fancy new system works only with one gallon paint cans. Now this may not seem like a big deal, since the entire free world buys paint in one gallon cans. Everyone that is, except us: we are “saving money” by buying paint in bulk, thus we are now the proud owners of several five gallon buckets of paint. So it is back to Home Depot to buy two bright and shiny empty gallon paint cans for $4 each –so much for saving money, to say nothing of the intricate and back-breaking chore of transferring paint from five gallon cans into a one gallon can.
Next I find myself sitting on the floor struggling through the multi-page instructions that came with this machine. I am a mechanical engineer and consider it a matter of pride that I can decipher any instructions – even those written by someone for whom English is obviously a second language. But this manufacturer has gone one step further and hired a third grade class to draw the intricate little diagrams which show how to assemble this beast. I find myself on the floor mumbling to myself as I
visualize what I would like to do to this particular manufacturer if I ever get my hands on him.
In contrast to my methodical approach, Roxanne is a “turn it on and go” type and I can feel her impatience growing as she listens
to me mumble. Finally, after my third reading of the instructions I feel confident enough to plug in the machine. Even this proves difficult as the electrical outlets at our farm were personally designed by Thomas Edison. So I spent the next 20 minutes scrounging around for an adaptor which would allow us to insert a three-prong plug into a two-hole outlet.
Finally ready to go, I hand the magic roller to Roxanne and stand back – not sure what to expect. Roxanne pushes the start button and we hold our breath in eager anticipation, but nothing happens. Once again muttering under my breath, I immediately grab
for the instructions, but Roxanne tells me to just jiggle the cord where it connects to the outlet. Sure enough, after a couple of “jiggles” the paint machine roars to life. (They neglected to teach us about jiggling in engineering school.)
Now the fun starts. Wisely ignoring my “expert” advice from the sidelines, Roxanne quickly learns the technique for handling the
machine. Amazingly, the paint goes on so smoothly and quickly; even I am secretly impressed. I have trouble keeping up with her as I “cut in” the edges of the room with my old fashioned paint brush.
On a roll, Roxanne finishes the first bedroom and we drag the machine into the next room. Here we repeat the process and this room is also completed in short order. I am starting to believe just maybe this machine was worth the cost and effort. But as she starts to paint the third bedroom, our old friend Murphy pays us a visit.
I am downstairs taking a well-deserved break, when Roxanne yells that the machine won’t start. Once again mumbling under my breath (I am starting to do a lot of this); I climb back up the stairs. I discover everything is in order with our fabulous painting machine, which leads to an ominous conclusion – the problem must be with our house wiring! I run from room to room trying lights and flipping breakers, only to confirm that we have no power anywhere in the house.
A quick call to our neighbors brings both good and bad news. The good news is our house wiring is not the culprit; the bad news is the whole neighborhood is without power! It appears there is a giant conspiracy to prevent us from completing our painting. Roxanne takes this news in stride, but I am not so complacent. I turn slowly to my wife and say those immortal words: “Houston, we have a problem.” If we were using an old fashioned roller (“like I wanted to”I think silently to myself), we would simply run it under some tap water and call it a day. But since we are dealing with cutting-edge technology here, we need 21st century electrical power to clean this beast. Unless we do something quickly, our expensive new painting machine will soon transform itself into a pile of garbage filled with solidified paint.
Thus, it is decision time: here at the farm we have lots of water and 10 acres of open land to flush the paint from the machine; but no electricity. Back at our condo we have electricity (assuming that we are not dealing with a nationwide blackout), but the Association Board will probably frown upon my flushing paint all over their carefully manicured lawns. With my back to the wall, I come up with an ingenious plan: power the machine back at the condo long enough to pump out the excess paint; and then drive back here for the dirty work of flushing it. Heading back to the condo I try not to ponder the irony of burning $3.50 gasoline just to clean a simple paint machine. I guess I won’t be winning any environmental awards today.
Back at the condo things continue to drift downhill. First, as I unload the leaky paint machine I notice a brand new white stripe down the inside of my nice new truck bed. (Hopefully, the leasing company won’t notice this when I bring the truck back.) Second, a more careful reading of the instructions reveals what I had missed earlier: the cleaning process involves an intricate series of powered operations interspaced with numerous flushings. I realize if I stick with my original plan, I will be spending the rest of the night and half of tomorrow driving back and forth between the farm and our condo.
Picking what I hope is the lesser of two evils; I decide to do all of the cleaning here. After calling Roxanne to tell her the latest plan, I round up several buckets, a garden hose, and all the newspapers and rags I can find. I will spare the reader the gory details, but suffice it to say that NASA can get the space shuttle ready for its next mission in fewer steps than it takes me to clean this machine. Also, in the process of pumping and flushing, I manage to get copious amounts of paint everywhere it shouldn’t be. What looks easy on paper in actual practice requires a degree of nimbleness I just do not have this late in the day – after all, I am a morning person!
Against all odds I heroically manage to complete the process. (Note: I leave the roller cover and other odds and ends for Roxanne to clean; as I am going to let her get off untouched by this fiasco.) As I wash the worst of the spilled paint from our driveway, I console myself with the fact I can now think about going to bed. Then Roxanne calls to tell me I have left the garage door open at the farm. With the opener disabled (no electricity!) she has spent the last 30 minutes trying unsuccessfully to close the door by hand. With a boat, a new garden tractor and an angry wife in the unsecured garage I have no choice but to climb back into my truck yet one more time.
In the fading light of my long day I head west to the farm, while Roxanne heads east coming home. (Wasn’t there a Frankie Lane song about this?) We pass each other going in opposite directions, but I don’t notice. I am too occupied contemplating the wonders of modern science.