Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wallpaper- the true test of a marriage

There are certain life lessons every girl is supposed to learn at her mother's knee.  I picked up on most of them, but apparently not the one that goes: "Just because wallpaper is on sale, it doesn't mean you have to buy it." 

When Robert and I bought our house I was still living in Michigan.  While I prepared for the big move Robert made lots of home improvements, such as tearing up the dog-pee-smelling carpet downstairs and installing new stuff, and painting some of the rooms.  I was glad he did those things but I wish he had not removed the wallpaper in the front hallway.  Not that I liked it and wanted to keep it there -- but I did want to get a photograph of it first, just in case there is ever a "world's ugliest wallpaper" contest offering a cash prize.

This stuff looked like someone had thrown buckets of vomit on the walls.  Literally.  It featured dribbles and streaks of brown, tan and pea green.  Robert tore it all down, leaving the plain plaster walls, then a leaking pipe under the upstairs bathroom floor let loose, that resulted in the ceiling of the downstairs hallway being badly damaged.

When you have seventy-five thousand projects going on all at once, you become sort of blind to certain things.  That gaping hole in the ceiling with the lathe showing through, and the stained and cracked plaster walls, weren't things I paid attention to because I was up to my armpits in other projects in other parts of the house.  The hallway -- one's first impression upon entering our humble abode -- stayed that way (BUTT UGLY) for several years.

Then Robert started talking about how he was planning to repair the ceiling.  This job would require knocking down any loose plaster, screwing furring strips into the lathe, cutting and attaching a piece of plaster board to fit the hole, spackling that, then sanding, priming and painting it. 

This kind of repair is never fun and even less so when you have to perform it standing on a ladder with your arms up over your head, while dirt and plaster dust and blobs of wet spackle fall onto your face, and you are dropping your hammer and losing your screwdriver every two minutes.  This is NOT the kind of job that a perfectionist with a short temper should approach.

My method of preventing my perfectionist, short-tempered husband from having a stroke is to keep him entirely in the dark about home improvement projects.  I hand him his sack lunch and kiss him goodbye in the morning, and as soon as his car is out of the driveway, I go nuts.  The most important thing is not to do a good job -- it is to get the job done before Robert comes home, so he never has to think about it again.  So what if I don't have the right tools?  So what if it really needed two coats of paint?  I don't have time for two coats!

So I did a really sloppy job of mending the hallway ceiling.  I never even sanded my crappy patch job.  Before the plaster was even dry I watered down a gallon of latex paint I found in the basement, and slapped it on the walls and ceiling.  As parts of the walls span the two floors, I did lots of it with a long handled roller and a paint brush taped to the end of a mop handle.  Then I put a thin strip of egg and dart-printed wallpaper border around the top.  It looked SO MUCH BETTER, but I never intended it to be a permanent treatment.

One of the Christmas gifts Robert got for me was ten samples of William Morris wallpaper with the idea that we would invest in some nice paper for the hallway that suits our antique house.  This stuff is SO expensive -- hundreds of dollars per roll! -- and it would require at least sixteen rolls to do the job.  I told Robert that was just way more money than we should think about spending until everybody buys my book and we are rolling in dough (Ha!).  I said I would look around for some less expensive papers and see if I could find something acceptable.  What I actually intended to do was to put this project on the maybe-ten-years-from-now list.

Robert told me he'd seen a sign for a wallpaper sale in a store window and asked me to check it out.  They only a few designs available but the price was ridiculous -- $60 a roll on sale for five bucks!  So I decided to take advantage of my massive load of I-don't-have-a-job-and-I'm-not-helping-Robert-enough guilt, and apply it toward making the hallway look better. 

Mom told me that Dad only swore at her once in their life -- when they were attempting to put paper up on their bedroom ceiling.  Also, she only heard her own father use a curse word once, and this occurred during a similar event, when he was assisting my grandmother.  Mom said:  "Wallpaper is the true test of a marriage."  So I promised myself I would NOT ask Robert to help me in any way.

Stabbing a wet paint brush at a faraway corner is one thing.  Deftly lining up wallpaper joins and patterns, smoothing out air bubbles, wiping away excess paste and trimming around mouldings is another thing.  It simply can't be done from the far end of a mop handle.  I did everything I could do safely by myself on a step ladder, but when it came to the dangerous business of tall ladders perched on too-narrow stairs, and having to straddle a fifteen-foot drop, I waited until Robert came home.

Dig that crazy wallpaperer's hair-do!

Robert was so cool!  He never even flipped out!  He hardly even swore!  He handed me things and showed me where the rucks were, and we finished all the hard parts, then he took me out for a nice Italian dinner.  Here's a picture he took of me. 

Then I spent hours and hours searching for the perfect one-inch wallpaper border.  Border is so ridiculously expensive, I usually try to find a roll of some kind of compatible paper with a stripe, then and I hand cut strips to use as border.  But wallpaper is so expensive now!  Having spent only $40 on the paper, I balked at paying $64.00 just for the stupid fancy edging.  Luckily, I found something that worked in the bargain bin.

Most of the job was finished.  I had only the border to put up and a few spots to patch.  I knew I should have waited for Robert to be home, but I thought, "Oh, this is easy.  I'd rather he come home to a finished product."  I put up the strip of border in the scary place, at the very top of the stairwell wall, where I had to straddle the stairwell with one foot on the hallway windowsill and the other on the stair railing. 

I managed to do that without falling to my doom, but when it was time to get down off the stair rail, I realized I had not pulled my little utility ladder close enough to be of use to me.  I had no choice but to try to "hop down" from that (about 2 1/2 feet).  Of course I landed wrong, fell over and smacked my head against the doorframe.  I lay there for a several minutes, trying to figure out whether I had broken any bones, all the while chewing myself out for being so fricking stupid as to try to do that job by myself.  I figured I was OK, and got up and started walking down the stairs.  Then my bum knee (the one I had landed on) gave out and I bump-bump-bumped on my butt all the way down.

So now, LESS THAN FIVE WEEKS from the day I expect to be wandering around the ruins of ancient Rome and Constantinople, I can hardly move because of a throbbing knee and a bruised tailbone.  I don't know how to spell the sound of a Bronx cheer, but if I did, I would be typing it now.

The good thing is that I am so pleased with the way the hallway looks, that it somewhat mitigates my misery.  Here are before and after views of the hallway.

Before - After


I have formed a company called Pen-in-Hand Press, to publish short fiction.  I have also joined an acting class here in Beacon, taught by my friend, John Mendelssohn.  I have not done anything like this (acting class) since I was in college, but I hope it will help me in my future life as a voice actor!  Robert and I have decided against "Readers for Writers" for our business name, though we hope eventually to specialize in producing audio books for writers.  Instead, we have decided on "Vox Humana," because that opens the way for all sorts of other jobs, like being that voice that tells you to push #7 if you have a complaint about the product you bought on line.  Vox Humana will be me, most of the time, but when Robert retires, he hopes to do a lot of voice work, too.

Job wise, everything stinks.  I can't even get hired at WalMart, because I'm over-qualified.  I have been applying for every part-time attorney and writer job I can find, and I have done a few little editing gigs advertized on craigslist, but I have yet to be paid for anything.  I am also enjoying being a volunteer reading tutor through a group called "Literacy Connections." 

So if you need a voice, if you need wallpapering advice or assistor ance, you need your manuscript critiqued or edited, you want to buy my book, contact me!

We hope to be seeing our friends Colleen and Brian Murphy.  Chant healing prayers for my rotten knee!  We hope you all remain healthy and groovy!  --

F and R

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