My weekend project was painting my carport. Whenever I take on a project I become gripped in an “I’m going to screw this up” anxiety. Painting is within my limited handyman skills, so I don’t know why I got so tense about it. Depending on my neighbors’ attitudes about swearing they must have either been laughing hard or completely disgusted early this morning as I encountered a few hitches.
The overall results are bright. I own a Northwest Bungalow and wanted muddy. The carport is a test-drive for the color conversion on my house. Yesterday at Home Depot a customer was complaining that her newly mixed paint didn’t match the color of the earlier batch she had already painted onto her walls. “It’s too yellow,” she complained. Well the Home Depot color-mixing computers must have been operating yellow yesterday, because my carport is a few shades too “Dill Pickle” than the “Tate Olive” paint chip card I ordered off of. It did darken up a bit as it dried, so I’m hoping for a cure of yellow fever in the cure.
In honor of my carport project, I am posting an article the Pre-blog me wrote after an earlier house project.
Voices in my Closet
“You are not someone who should own a power saw.”
This is something that my old friend Jerry said to me upon learning that I had bought one for a few house projects in my newly-owned home. I had not yet cut off any of my fingers, so I was still able to fling a couple of certain ones toward Jerry in my defensive response.
Jerry, however, has some basis for that comment. Back in the beginning of my junior year of college, I undertook a project to build a loft for the bed in my dorm room. I intended to use the freed up floor space under the loft to place a sofa, with some vague motivation, I’m sure, to create a little love cove in anticipation of the big school year. I also pretty much remember the love cove as being a wasted effort.
My design for the loft was basically four 4×4 pillars holding up a frame of 2×4’s held together with nails and somehow some planks were involved. Jerry, a farmboy who I barely knew that lived down the hall, passed by my room when I was hopelessly deep into the project. He casually mentioned that maybe I should use braces on the frame and add some cross support to the pillars and anchor the whole thing into some studs in the wall. Pretty soon, Jerry had taken over as prime contractor of the project and brought the whole thing up to code. I consider that day to be the start of our life-long friendship. And, in retrospect, I realize that my design probably wouldn’t have served as too stable of a bed and would have had catastrophic results had any action in the love cove ever moved upstairs.
Still, that was years ago and I’ve learned a few things since. And it’s important to me to work through achievable goals by myself to learn life skills, gain confidence, save some money, and, apparently, wrestle with my demons. My most recent project was to redo my bedroom closet, and with every cut of wood I made with the power saw, there was the voice of Jerry in my head telling me I really shouldn’t be doing this.
My project was nothing more than a very minor construction project. Half of the closet was a pre-fab system from Ikea (even I can follow Ikea instructions), and the other half was using Ikea closet components integrated into a frame, which I designed and had to build myself. Still, I suffer from a bit of construction inferiority complex, and I had to battle the voice of Jerry in my head, as well as the voices of many others.
For example, during this project I often heard the voice of my friend Monica. Monica bought a vintage bungalow about the same time that I did. Hers was in much worse shape than mine, but in the course of a year and a half of ownership she has made wholesale upgrades throughout her home that has brought it near the design-catalog level. She gets more excited about light-switch plates than anybody I know. When it came time to paint the newly installed closet frame, I used leftover satin-finish wall paint, despite the fact that Monica’s I have heard Monica routinely and harshly judge anyone who has used non-enamel paint on woodwork.
But I already owned the non-enamel paint in the color that I want. And I used wood scraps in my basement and the ripped out shelving from the previous incarnation of my closet (talk about a crappy job). And I’m dirt cheap necessitated by the mortgage that got me this house in the first place. I was proud of my recycling. In arguing against Monica’s voice, I intoned the voice of Sister Claire, my fifth-grade teacher, who drilled into me that it was a sin to waste. Though I won’t get Sister Claire’s full approval unless I send the $20 that I would have spent on the enamel paint to an orphanage in Guatemala.
Oddly, I also hear the voice of Fight Club’s Tyler Derden. That’s because the closet components come from Ikea. Tyler taunts me, “Hey Ikea Boy, is this the closet system that defines you?” Tyler is proud of me, however, that I re-used paint and wood. I find it very strange that Sister Claire and Tyler Derden agree on the same point.
I also heard the voice, in a derivative way, of Monica’s father, a professional tradesman. I know that in Monica’s rejuvenation project she hears the voice of her father, who throws temper tantrums whenever he sees amateur carpentry. His trademark criticism of substandard professional or amateur tradework is “it looks like a homeowner did this.” Monica’s father is never allowed to see my closet.
Curiously, one voice I did not hear when redoing my closet is my own father. Somehow he managed to keep a house full of six kids in operating condition without me ever seeing him once perform a home repair. I never saw him do anything more involved than hanging Christmas lights. He was too cheap or restrained by mortgage and the expenses of six kids to hire a contractor. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if he ever owned a power saw. Of course, no upgrades over 20 years of owning the house meant for some hellish out of style fashions. If my parents could have lived in that house for another ten years they could have sold it at top dollar when its Eisenhower-era charm came back around in fashion.
My father’s voice is a voice I do hear often hear in my head, just not during house projects. His is the voice with which I argue politics. Maybe it’s me that has shifted, but I recall my father being Eisenhower-esque in his Republican politics, as well as his interior design. But ever since the rise of fair and balanced propaganda, he eschews the very points of view that he used to dismiss as Birch-ian. Whenever I see him these days, he’s fully armed with RNC talking points and unloads one after another toward me, like those clay pigeon hunting practice devices. And every time I take the bait and go try to shoot down one of his clay pigeons. After I do so, instead of defending his position, he simply lobs another clay pigeon for me to go snipe and pretty soon I’m angry as hell and we seldom enjoy our time together. I hate Bill O’Reilly for doing this to him.
As I put the final touches on the closet I say it looks pretty good. Yes, enamel paint would look better and will ward off the chips, but that frame is in the back of the closet, along with all the jagged-cut sides of the shelves I cut. As long as you don’t look too close, it doesn’t look too bad. It’s certainly better than it was before, I rationalize.
“The road to hell is paved with rationalization,” some voice inside my head says. I’m not sure who, but it is one thought on which they all agree. Tyler, Jerry, Monica and father, Sister Claire, Bill O’Reilly in possession of my father’s head. Don’t take short cuts, don’t settle, don’t adapt to the situation,
I meekly argue back, “but it’s an improvement.” That is my only standard in my house projects. To improve things. They are called Home Improvements for a reason. If I had to achieve Home Perfections I would be paralyzed in bed every morning. So I bless my imperfect closet with my approval. I declare the project done in what amounts to some sort of political statement.
And as soon as I can figure out some half-ass way to install doors on my closet, I’m going to close them on all of those voices.