Friday, May 30, 2008

Fumes, Fibers and Fumbling

I have black spray paint on my nose. And my thumb. And my shirt. A few minutes ago, in a fit of frustration, I decided to spray paint my old white Adirondack chair black. I brushed off some of the chipping paint, and a bit of the grass that had been thrown up by the lawnmower, then started in on my $3.00 solution to a crappy week. I know I should have prepped the chair by washing it, brushing off the chipped paint with a steel brush, and possibly priming it. I had no patience for that.

Remember how I self-righteously said we’d all be a whole lot “greener” if we just left things in our houses alone? Well, sometime last week I decided I couldn’t stand my textured ceiling one minute longer. In the interest of being environmentally responsible, I had the ceiling checked for asbestos. Out of the 30 or so possibly harmful elements, all came back negative but one. We had a trace (less than 1%) of one of the elements. This meant that in all good conscience, I couldn’t have a regular drywall guy come in and rip out the ceiling; we would need asbestos specialists. We could have left the ceiling intact, and just spruced up the room with a new coat of paint (to the tune of $60), but by that time I’d already chipped part of it away to get the samples, and my hubby had started tearing apart the fireplace hearth, which connected to the floor, which connected to the walls, which connected to the textured ceiling.

Before we knew it, our house looked like the spacesuit scene in E.T. Plastic hung everywhere, my office was transformed into a decontamination chamber, and in a few short days, we were rid of the asbestos and large sums of cash. Out went the plan for built-in bookcases. Out went the heated floors. Out went the new fireplace. Our funds were low, and we were in survival mode. The walls and floor are now pocked with staples from the “containment” procedures, we have no ceiling, and we must decide how to proceed with what began as a minor home renovation.

So, this dilemma led me to my ozone-depleting date with the spray can. The house is a wreck. I can’t start trying to fix it up or even clean it until all the work is done, but I had to accomplish something. The chair looks like crap—just as I figured it would—with paint still peeling off and a wasp struggling to free itself from a sticky death on the right arm. But at least I did something. A white chair is now black. Sort of. Don’t look at the back or bottom.

This reminds me of my mom, who when she got the urge to do something, would do it. When our family home sold and I went to meet the new owner, he started discussing the house’s quirks with me. “What about this weird paint job in the dining room? How come it starts and stops and starts again on this one wall?” I didn’t care for his tone. Our house was always beautifully decorated, and my mother had a real knack for design.

I didn’t feel like sharing with this complete stranger what I knew had probably happened. My mother, late one night, had an urge to transform the dining room. With no one to help her move the enormous china cabinet, she had painted around it-- no one the wiser until now. Breathing in the fumes from the oil-based paint, she probably looked in satisfaction at a “job done.” As I look at our shrunken bank account and torn up family room, I wonder: do we always need the “well” part?

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