Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Painters Depart

The hard bright skies and drought of summer are passing.


Mornings are turning cool.

The rains have returned, fitful late summer rains that bring with them the sullen bump and rumble of night thunder. The streets steam in the afternoons with the aftermath of the sunshowers.

The small urban animals have suddenly appeared in haste to find their winter's stores; the several species common to the city, the survivors and the scavengers and the scroungers willing or able to live close by Man. Starlings and scrub jays, squirrels and opossums and raccoons all reappear after their long summer loafing scrabbling for the late-summer fruits and the provender of the tray feeders as the closing of the Door into Summer warns them the long cold nights of winter are coming.

The schools reopen, the children, the adolescents, and the young men and women pulled back into them, disappearing from the streets like the lost children of Hamelin.

Somehow the rhythm of the workweek is changed by the absence of these smaller people, as if the knowledge that they, too, are back to their work makes my own workday different.

The house-painters finish their work, touch up the last of the thin spots, take up their dropcloths and their paint rags and depart. The clean whiteness of the siding shines brighter gemmed with raindrops, the trim crisp gold and greed standing out from the new coating.

On the front porch the old fir planking shines rich red-brown, released from ninety years of darkness under layer upon layer of paint.


The Befreiungskrieg Mojo and I waged with our stripping gel and sandpaper fought through the wire-belts and bunker-lines of the years, beginning with our own forest green down through the gray left by The Former People to colors of which we had no understanding. Who had thought that the gaudy Christmas-Time Green was a good idea? Or the fire-engine red? And more gray? How much gray does a house porch need? Light gray, dark gray, medium gray...fifty shades of gray or more.


At bottom the wood of douglas-firs long reaped, nicked and scarred and darkened by long wear and hard use. Wood for the working day, cull of the straight-grain Twenties but clearer and smoother than anything sold as prime lumber today. Wood that feels smooth and clean under the hand and glows with antique character as I sweep the coats of lacquer across it.


In the grass of the yard outside the summer-sere gives way to the first return of green. A scattering of leaves whirls down, the first of autumn's cascade. Spiderwebs banner bush and limb and trail across your face as you pass; the garden spiders seem to suddenly appear in late summer with the other urban wildlife in a final burst of energy before the cold.

All of this I observe in passing, because the other late-summer change has been the rude uprising in my workweek. For most of the last half of August and the first week of September I have risen, dressed, and departed in darkness and returned in darkness as well.

I have observed the changes I've described almost as a passerby, stopping to assess the changes in a place he often visits but does not dwell. Noting the gross differences in color and shape, the subtle alteration of habit and use.

Smiling the secret smile of knowledge shared with strangers, at the shared recognition of small details that only the familiarity of long acquaintance can lend.

11 comments:

Ael said...

How's the hay field out back of the school doing?

FDChief said...

Honestly, I haven't been doing my job there.

It was dug up after one of the garden trees blocked a sanitary line and caused some...errr...backflow out of one of the Boy's bathrooms. Since then I've just been slacking, and I really should wander over and see what kind of shape it's in.

The biggest part of my problem is that I have all electric lawn tools (mower and weedwhacker) and the only way to get to an outlet is when school is open. I've just been so overwhelmed with work lately that I haven't been able to take time off to do anything about the Rain Garden.

Thanks for the reminder, tho; I do need to go look in on it.

Leon said...

That porch looks fantastic, no idea why people would paint over that.

FDChief said...

Well, the Little House was junky spec. residential construction back in the day; the wood they used was considered pretty cheap and nasty for 1922. By 2013 standards it is beautiful clear straight-grain fir, so we wanted to show it off. But I can "get" why they did what they did back in the day.

What WAS inexcusable is that everyone ELSE did the same thing. The thick covering of paint was horrific to remove and nasty to contemplate. And the color choices...that awful ugly dark green and the hideous bright red - who the hell thought that those were a good idea? Ugh...

Syrbal/Labrys said...

We once stripped some windows from an old 1930's building....there were at least eleven layers of horrid assorted colors. What amazed us? Was how LIGHT in weight they were freed of all that drek!

Lisa said...

There is something personally freeing in the liberating of wood from all of those human cosmetics (=garish paint jobs), I find. The porch looks lovely.

I love revealing the truth of the surface (isn't that funny to say -- the "truth" of the veneer, but it is the honest surface, and for wood, that goes all the way through.) I once removed five layers of linoleum in the kitchen to find the floor, which was not lovely but necessary to reach in order to lay new tiles with some integrity. Five layers ... who would do such a thing?

Laboring late one summer night, doors open, one layer freed a life form: a crusty, ancient cockroach whose wings hadn't glistened for some time. Like a thrown and crumpled ball of paper he sauntered indignantly across the desolation to the door, which I opened, and he fell out and proceeded on his journey into the night.

I wondered how long he had lived on Level Three, eating dust and adhesive.

FDChief said...

We've dug up a lot of buried past in the Little House, Lisa. Like any treasure hunt, sometimes you find treasure...sometimes you don't. Tearing up the carpet and removing the paint in the Boy's and our rooms exposed pretty, clear-grained fir just like the porch floor. It was, as you say, a revelation and a reward for our work.

In the front room? Not so much; we discovered that The Former People had "repaired" the fire damage with cheap particle board under the carpet - which had absorbed every nasty stain ever spilled on that cheap and nasty rug. Very unpleasant...

Your hardy cockroach reminds me of living in Southern Pines NC. Those rascals were roommates in the dumpy trailer we lived in. I had never been in a house with them and quickly learned NEVER to walk barefoot in a darkened room. Ick!

Mind you, the roaches in Panama made our little American roaches seem like adorable pets...

Lisa said...

There's something of the craftsman in me -- I truly appreciate a well-wrought product, and can't stand particle board. Today, so many people perhaps don't understand that because everything is particle board and pre-fab from China (IKEA). Not that I don't like IKEA, but the stuff they're sourcing from China is often poor quality.

It's when people can provide the cover (carpet) that they don't care the integrity of the base. I really appreciate efforts to re-claim and re-plane lumber. It is a great tragedy to me when old homes are torn down, or trees are burned wholesale, without rescuing good wood. Of course, that takes more money than buying the cheap, twisted boards for sale @ Lowes, etc.

As you say, this sort of work is a treasure hunt. No question that it's work, but to me, wholesome and satisfying. I've a great impulse to bring things back to fitness, like dying plants from the tops of rubbish heaps or the backs of homecenters, the Clara Barton of the abandoned and jettisoned.

As an aside, maybe that has been an aspect of blog writing, and part of my disappointment; I see that rescuing certain things to fitness is beyond my abilities, and feels like beating head against the wall. Not a good feeling.

Ah, but a porch, now that's a certifiable success project :)

FDChief said...

I think the problem with people as opposed to "things", Lisa, is that while objects have a certain quantifiable nature people are much more mutable, both in the final sense of what makes them "work" as people (in that some personal traits and habits are helpful in some places and times but not in others) as well as what amount of effort is needed to get them to reliably produce those traits and habits.

I guess I come from a standpoint of a VERY low expectation of other people. I suspect that most people are - for lack of a better term - fucked up in some way.

I know I am, and most people I know are, too. Fortunately most of those problems are relatively minor and work-past-able, as I like to think that mine are. But I also know a sizeable minority whose problems are not so simple. And those problems are also not particularly "solve-able", either by the people with the problems or those people who know and care for them...

I guess that's why I'm disgusted and cynically amused but neither shocked nor appalled by much of the grotesque idiocy we see on display in modern life. Such, it seems to me, has always been our human lot; the only difference is the addition of electronic media.

In ages past every hamlet had it's idiot, it's pervert, it's nag, it's busybody, it's loudmouth, it's asshole and all the rest. But now those people can get hold of a camera or an i-phone or a Twitter account and broadcast their fucktardry to the entire world.

And usually do.

So it seems to us that the world is FULL of those people, instead of having probably the same percentage of them as ever.

So, yeah, if I thought that by blogging I was going to be capable of "doing something" about those gomers I'd be pretty chapped.

But I've known too many of the gomers to think that. I'm here to amuse myself, really, nothing more. If anything worthwhile comes out of that, well, good...

Lisa said...

Dear Chief,

I very much appreciated your reply. Your feelings parallel mine.

I believe you are being politic when stating people are "mutable"; I believe the majority connive to their "best" interests, but are not too clever by half. If they truly operated in rational self-interest, they would be more direct, fronting the "benefit" to others in the process. Sadly, so much energy frittered away in the concealment.

As you suggest, so much of the "fuck-uppedness" of us all could be remedied were we honest brokers, and willing to sustain a bit of short-term pain in the interest of clarity. And sadly, so many do not know that clean feeling, either; they exist in a miasma of self-delusion and other-delusion.

I will tell you one very good thing to come of your writing is the connection I have found with an otherwise unknown friend on the West coast :)

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