No, Thank You—I Don’t Paint Anymore

Many of the skills I learned on an Ozark farm, I still use today. Sawing boards. Hammering nails. Cutting brush. Loading firewood. With the firewood, particularly, if it is raining, my mind flashes back to the woodpile at the Shannon County farmhouse and my grandmother, directing a pitiful look at me because I had dallied too long after school and failed to get my chores done. But I have no residual guilt about my present boycott of painting.
The first recollection I have about painting occurred when I was about five-years-old. My grandparents went to visit their friends, Frank and Vada Cafourek, who lived east of Montier. While they sat on the front porch reminiscing old times, I wandered off to find something more interesting than listening to old-people talk.
I discovered a can of paint and a brush and began painting the side of the house. My grandparents, no doubt, wondering what I was up to, found me painting away. The adults all had a good laugh, but Mr. Cafourek said I had done a good job. I took his words to heart, and it was the beginning of a curse.
The curse blossomed after my mother married my stepfather, a retired U.S. Navy officer, who seemed to have this notion that anything that didn’t move or salute got painted. I’ve mentioned before that he painted the two-story farmhouse, and while my only contribution to that project was climbing on top of the roof to paint the chimney, I received exhaustive instruction on the nature and nomenclature of painting. 
He felt it important that I understood that paint was a pigment and a vehicle, and would periodically quiz me to make sure I had retained that powerhouse bit of information, plus the value of linseed oil and “man-helpers.” In his vernacular, a man-helper was a paintbrush taped to a long handle or pole and used to paint hard-to-reach places.
When I was in the seventh grade, I assisted in painting our house on High Street. With that apprenticeship under my belt, the next year George assigned me the solo task of painting his father’s house on East Ninth Street.
In college various odd jobs required painting, but my next serious challenge occurred in the mid-1970s when I was employed by an oil company that operated filling stations from California to Florida. Technically, the job description was assistant vice president, but as a practical matter, it involved real estate acquisition, construction, drafting contracts, and obtaining zoning and building permits.
As an aside, the company required every employee to pump gas for a week, and I didn’t get a waiver because I had worked at Rothgeb’s Shell station in Willow. During my filling station duty, wearing a blue jumpsuit all attendants wore, WSHS classmate Kenny Norris pulled into the station. “What are you doing pumping gas?” he asked. “I thought you went to law school.” I think Kenny may have been skeptical of my explanation. 
My boss hired a painter with an airless paint sprayer, which was fairly new technology at the time, to paint the St. Louis stations for $50 dollars a day. He directed me to negotiate a nation-wide contract with a national paint supply company. Since I was rehabbing a house, I also entered into a discount contract for myself. 
The house I had purchased, a two-story Dutch colonial-style, desperately needed painting, but the coarse texture of the aggregate stucco exterior posed problems. Thick rollers and stiff brushes would be required, and the labor cost would eat up the profit I hoped to make. But an airless sprayer would be just the ticket. 
The painter agreed to spray-paint my house for $60 a day. He estimated it would take three or four days to complete the job. Since I could buy paint and supplies at a national contractor’s price, I had grand visions of profit on my real estate speculation. 
The painting job started well, but I got concerned the second day when I went during my lunch break to check on the progress. The painter, high up on a ladder, held the sprayer handle in one hand and a quart bottle of Miller High Life beer in the other. But with part of the house painted, as the Ozark saying goes, “I had bought the cow.” Now, I had to feed it. 
A distinguishing feature of a Dutch colonial house is the barn-like (Gambrel) roof, which on this house, had a lower level of shingles below the dormer windows in front. That afternoon, it started raining, and the water-based paint dripped all over the lower-level of shingles and resembled an abstract painting by Jackson Pollock. The painter didn’t answer the numerous phone calls I made, and the next day he didn’t show up at the house.
My mind raced through the negative possibilities. The painter had abandoned the job and absconded with my downpayment. It would cost thousands to hire a standard painting contractor. I would need to re-roof the entire house because both the upper- and lower-level shingles were visible from the street. Now, instead of becoming a minor tycoon, I envisioned losing my proverbial shirt.
A day later, against all hope, I went home at noon and found the painter diligently working. He had completed all but one wall. I told him I feared he had jumped ship. Casually, he said, “Oh, I wouldn’t let you down.” Relieved, but suspicious, I asked, “What about the paint on the front shingles? “Don’t worry,” he said matter of factly, “I’ll paint them.” 
My reaction was quick. “You’ve got enough paint on them already.” He told me in new home construction, paint spray often blew on shingles, and it was common practice to paint over them. He told me to go to the store and buy a gallon of brick-red masonry paint. 
Unconvinced, I nevertheless headed to the paint store. On the way, I began second-guessing the idea. I called a roofer I knew, who told me asphalt shingles had to “breathe” and should not be painted.
I returned to the house and told the painter what I had learned. He started cussing and told me to go back to the store and get the paint like he had told me. Perhaps, he sounded like my stepfather, or maybe, I just mentally threw my hands up and thought what did I have to lose at that point.
I bought the paint, took it to the painter, and went back to work with an ill feeling. When I returned home, I could barely believe my eyes. The painting job was completed and the lower-level shingles, which had been painted with red masonry paint, were indistinguishable from those on the upper-level. Elves must have come and worked their magic.
The painting elves must have abandoned me because the future held more painting and house remodeling jobs, including my present home. After staining our two-story house and filling in 75 woodpecker holes, including one where an annoyed hairy woodpecker poked his head out while I was fifteen-feet up a ladder, I had our house covered with fiber-cement siding. No more woodpeckers and no more painting. 
But the barn remained: a 30- x 40-foot structure with dry cedar siding that would soak up paint like a sponge. In the middle of July a few years ago, I primed the barn and brushed on two coats of quality paint, and vowed that was my last paint job.
Now, when my wife gets excited about a home improvement project she sees on television and says, “It would be easy,” my response is, “No, it won’t, and if it involves painting, count me out.” My next move is to use the parental control feature on the TV remote to block DIY programs. 
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