The four-letter word in paint

Painting your house is similar to having a new baby. Years pass, and you forget just how tough it was at the time. You forget the mess and the smell and the discomfort and remember only the happy glow of the new and fresh.

This is why couples have more than one child, and it’s why I volunteered last summer to paint my old house.

Painting may be the lowest common denominator of home projects. You might not be able to replace a window pane or service your own furnace, but you can slap paint on something, given the opportunity.

Of course, such relative simplicity can be deceiving, leading us to tackle much more than we should. Unrealistic goals lead to slip-ups like the dingy window frames in one bedroom at our house, missed when we last painted six years earlier.

Most of our interior was a color I called "What-were-we-thinking Pink," though the paint company called it "Windsor Rose." It went on our walls the color of Pepto-Bismol and dried to a pale pink that looked fine as long as no light shone directly on it. We’d lived with that paint for six years and two small boys, and it was time for a change.

My wife and I visited the home improvement store and leafed through samples and took home paint chips and finally settled on a light taupe called "Renoir Bisque." Other finalists included "Sandrock," "Foggy Day" and "Gray Moth." For the woodwork and trim, we chose an enamel called "Pure White."

We also bought rollers and brushes and pans and sponges and yardsticks and masking tape. We considered one of those power rollers, but the house isn’t that big and, heck, we’d only use it every six years.

We got everything home, and I began doing a little prep work every day -- scraping and spackling and sanding and scrubbing.

Six years before, my wife and I had painted the house together, but this time I was doing it mostly alone. I’m a househusband now, and I had endless days to concentrate on the paint job and really do it right.

It took a month.

Partly, that’s because I could only apply paint when the boys were at Grandma’s house. Kids and wet paint don’t mix. Partly, it’s because I spent an enormous amount of time edging everything in miles of masking tape, trying for crisp edges around the ornamental woodwork. I went back to the store three times for more tape. My motto: Tape it now or scrape it later.

But the main reason it took so long is that I needed to rest a lot. House-painting is like doing aerobics all day long -- up and down and back and forth, now s-t-r-e-t-c-h. You use muscles that normally get to just lie around in your arms and legs and shoulders, filing their nails and smoking cigarettes and waiting for an alarm call. And, let’s face it, I’m not as young as I used to be. It had been six years since I'd last hefted a roller.

In paint, I learned, there is pain.

Despite the aching muscles, painting can be a Zen experience once you find your rhythm, graceful in its smoothness and economy of movement. In fact, it might be almost enjoyable if it weren’t for the paint itself. Why does paint have to be a liquid, subject to the vagaries of gravity and spill? Most of the time, I was covered in Renoir Bisque.

It didn’t help that the latex paint appeared a radioactive lavender when it was wet and I was blithely coating my house with it. It lightened as it dried, ending up just the right shade of taupey tan. I think paint manufacturers make it happen that way to drive us all crazy. Their little joke.

It's been nearly a year now, and the place still looks pretty good. But already I find myself thinking: Maybe down the road, say six years from now, I’ll be up to doing it again.

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