Barry Smith: Irrelativity
June 4, 2012
My grandfather was a deep well of not-suitable-for-children Southern expressions.
Like this, for example: “Like the peanut vendor said, ‘I don’t want to set the world on fire – I just want to keep my nuts warm.'”
Or this: “I’m so t-u-r-d tired that I could f-a-r-t faint.”
Or this: “Don’t get smug till you get your doors dipped.”
I always assumed this last one was just an innuendo-laden Deep South non sequitur disguised as wisdom. How was I to know that it should be taken literally?
There are some old doors in my old house that I want to remove the paint from. This paint was obviously applied way back in the early days of this newfangled invention called “paint,” back in the days when paint, once slapped on, was never meant to come off. It’s a daunting, time-consuming project.
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We found a guy locally who has a big chemical-filled vat that you can lower your painted objects into, and when you pull them out, they’ll be stripped clean. I was so excited by this discovery, way back in December, that I wrote a whole column about it, all about how I got a little uppity with the hardware store guy who said such vats don’t exist and that the only way to remove paint from a door is with some good old-fashioned elbow grease.
“They do exist, good sir!” I told Mr. Hardware Guy. “And I shall now, in all haste, have my doors dipped, leaving my elbows free for better things.” Or words to that effect.
But before I could actually get my doors dipped, the door-dipping guy stopped returning my calls. It’s now been six months, and I’ve left at least a dozen messages. By about month three, I started to strategize, calling from other people’s phones and disguising my voice. It could be that he’s now too busy filing a restraining order against me to actually remove paint from my doors. Too bad, because I really don’t want to have to do this the old fashioned way. You know – by working.
Sigh – as my grandfather used to say, “Get off the table, Mabel. This two dollars is for beer!”
I decide to start with the closet door, which I remove and lay out in the gravel driveway. I pour some environmentally friendly (ahem) paint stripper on it. It does absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure I can even hear the paint laughing at me. Time to get out the heat gun. This tool is essentially a hair drier, only hotter. Much hotter. Not only would it set your hair on fire, but it would peel the flesh from your skull. So, you know, best not to mistake it for a hair drier.
If sanding old lead paint is supposed to be, as the enviro-wussies like to say, “toxic,” then I can only imagine what heating it up and sniffing it must do to you. I don’t really have to imagine, though, as I’ve now been standing over said burning paint for about eight hours, and it occurs to me that during this time, I’ve only had one thought, but I’ve had it over and over again.
It’s this: “‘Bureau’ is a weird word, isn’t it? Bureau. Bureau. Bureau.”
I also notice that the smell – that sickening, nausea-inducing, protective-respirator-penetrating odor that was so obvious when I first started inhaling the hot bubbling paint – is gone. I can’t smell it, or anything, anymore. And that’s a good thing, right? Right!? Hey, is there an echo in here? Bureau! Bureau!
Soon Christina joins me in the paint-removal process, possibly due to her concern over seeing me hunched over with a hair drier muttering “bureau” to myself. With the two of us working together, we manage to complete the entire door, front and back, in just under 12 hours. That’s one door of the eight that we plan to strip. This is going to seriously cut into my “Dr. Who” viewing time. Maybe I could try that door-dipper guy one more time. I don’t think I’ve used my Mickey Mouse voice on him yet.
No, this is just how it’s gonna have to be. I guess it’s what I get for being so smug about thinking I’d found a way around the hard work. Maybe it’s true – maybe there are no shortcuts in life. Maybe “bureau” isn’t such a weird word after all.
Or maybe my grandfather was more insightful than I realized when he said, “Hold ‘er, Newt – she’s a-headin’ for the pea patch!”
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