Friday, September 21, 2007

"Giving Painting the Brush-off"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

For the past nine years, I have had a brush with disaster. Now that I have barely survived, I am going to put down my brush, wash my hands of the whole miserable business and retire from painting.

That is the announcement I made to my wife, Sue, after I recently spent two days painting our bedroom. It was, I declared, the last in a series of projects in which I painted (and repainted) practically the entire house, including the family room (once), the living room (twice), the dining room (twice), the downstairs and upstairs hallways (twice each), the downstairs bathroom (three times), both upstairs bathrooms (twice each), our older daughter’s bedroom (once), our younger daughter’s bedroom (once) and, of course, our bedroom (twice).

That adds up to more than two painting projects a year. It may not seem like much, but when you hate to paint as much as I do, and are as incompetent at it as I am, which means it takes me twice as long to finish a project as it would take someone who knows what he’s doing, it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

My only salvation has been beer. For every gallon of paint I have used, I have consumed the equivalent in beer. Maybe that’s why it has taken so long.

At any rate, I am now officially retired as a painter. Even Michelangelo hung up his brush, although that was because, if I am not mistaken, he died. I am getting out of the game before it kills me.

For anyone who is either foolish enough to take up painting (you must already be drunk) or whose wife insists that he take it up (refusing to be subjected to this torture should be a key clause in any prenuptial agreement), here is what I have learned.

The worst part of any painting project is not the painting itself, but the preparation work. This includes the painstaking act of bordering the ceiling or the wall with masking tape. I conservatively estimate that over the years I have used eight dozen rolls or 125 miles, whichever is more, of tape. About half of that amount became stuck on my fingers and had to be thrown away.

Next on the list is plugging holes, including the one in your head, with Spackle. This is an excellent product, although it doesn’t taste as good as it used to. I know this because I have gotten some in my mouth every time I have painted. It must have come off my hands when I was drinking beer.

As for the actual act of painting, neatness counts. You should use a drop cloth so you don’t ruin the floor or the furniture or whatever you are going to ruin anyway. This will happen when you mix the paint, or dip your brush into the can, or use a roller on the walls or the ceiling.

Speaking of the ceiling, this is the worst part of any room to paint. I’m lucky I am not blind from looking up and having large gobs of paint land in my eyes. I’m also lucky that Sue is only 5-foot-1 and therefore can’t see what a horrible job I have done on all of our ceilings.

The worst room to paint is the bathroom, especially one without a window, because if you don’t slip while standing on the edge of the bathtub or the toilet and crack your skull on the sink, you will be overcome by paint fumes and nearly all of your brain cells will be destroyed. In my case, no one can tell the difference.

So there you have it. Good luck on your next project. I may be joining you after all because Sue just announced that she wants me to repaint the hallway. I think it’s time to buy more beer.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, September 7, 2007

"Car Wash"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a veteran road warrior who has owned some of the worst cars ever made, including one jalopy I dubbed the Hatchback of Notre Dame, I like to wax nostalgic about my various vehicles. Every once in a while, however, my current vehicle gets so dirty that it needs to be waxed, as well as washed, vacuumed and fumigated.

So I recently took my SUV (sloppy utility vehicle) to Island Car Wash in Centereach, N.Y., where it was miraculously transformed into another SUV (shiny utility vehicle).

In the process, I learned that life at a car wash can be a soap opera.

My first clue was the ceramic jar that sat on a shelf above the register and was embossed with the words "Ashes of Problem Customers."

"If you behave yourself," owner Ron Kass told me, "you won’t end up in there." I promised to be good while Kass, manager Eduardo Valladares and cashier Kristine Koehler regaled me with stories of some of the characters who make working there such an adventure.

There was, for example, the guy who accused workers of stealing his marijuana. "He said, ‘You took my weed!’ So I said, ‘We can call the police and file a report.’ For some reason, he didn’t want us to do that," Koehler recalled.

"We looked in the vacuum," Valladares added, "and sure enough, there it was."

"Did you put the ashes in the ceramic jar?" I asked.

"No, but the guy took back his joint," Valladares answered. "It was, you might say, the high point of the day."

Then there was the hunter who came through in a pickup truck with a dead deer in the back. "He wanted us to wash the deer," Koehler said. "This thing was dripping blood, so he thought it would be a good idea to run it through the car wash."

"I told him that we wash cars, not deer," Valladares said.

Death paid another visit the day a hearse stopped by on the way to a funeral. "There was a corpse in there," Koehler remembered. "We just did the exterior because the guys were afraid to vacuum the inside."

"It’s nothing unusual," Kass said. "There was a lady who put dishwashing detergent all over her car because it was supposed to rain and she thought it would get the dirt off. But it only drizzled, so she came here." Kass smiled and said, "There’s enough material in this place for a TV series."

The show would, of course, be good, clean fun. That’s what I found out when my car went through the wash with Valladares and me inside.

First, we stopped at the booth where sales executive Shayna Tufano asked which wash I wanted. The choices ranged from basic ($15.50) to platinum ($24). "Give me the works," I said. Then Tufano asked which car scent I wanted. The choices were strawberry, cherry, vanilla and baby powder. "Vanilla is the most popular," said Valladares, who was in the driver’s seat, "but I think your car needs baby powder."

"Why not?" I said. "It’s about time I babied my car."

"There are a lot of crumbs in here," Valladares noted. "It looks like you’ve been eating corn flakes." I told him it was just dirt. Then he made sure all the windows were shut as we started to go through the wash.

It was better than an amusement park ride. The car was scrubbed, soaped, brushed, power washed, hosed, waxed, buffed with a giant shammy and blow-dried. It took three minutes for my car to make its way over the 100-foot conveyor.

When we came out, Valladares drove the car to an area where I got to help a couple of workers, a young man and a young woman, hand-dry it. Valladares gave me two towels and showed me how to fold them properly. Then he showed me how to dry the doors, the door frames and the windows. As I fumbled with the towels, he said, "Don’t quit your day job."

The two workers did the rest, which included the vacuuming and the application of the baby powder scent. When they were finished, my car looked and smelled brand-new.

"You guys do a great job," I told Kass before I drove away.

"You’re a good customer," he said. "We didn’t even have to put your ashes in the jar."

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima