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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Paintitute

Ever the bargain hunter, I was seeking the services of a house painter. You would think I’d take the logical approach, which in this case would mean using the Yellow Pages or getting a recommendation from a friend. Instead, I discovered a handsome, nicely built man on a social networking site who was a gay house painter.

The economy is bad. The self-employed don’t have money to pay for advertising, so I figured since I have the same sexual proclivities as he does, he would give me a good deal. You know: the brotherhood and all that. And by putting together all my pre-conceived stereotypes I have about gay men, I assumed he would be fussy, detail oriented, clean, and do an exceptionally, obsessively perfect job, just as I would, since I am fussy, obsessive, detail oriented, and, well, you get the picture.

I have a well-earned hatred of painting houses, stemming back to 1984, when my ex-partner decided he wanted us to quit our decent city jobs and run off to the Shenandoah Valley and refurbish an ancient, decaying, riverfront barn.

The prior owners had put in a kitchen (if you consider a sink, refrigerator, and absence of cabinetry a kitchen), a bedroom, and a bathroom. The rest was just pretty much just space and hayloft. The water source was a cistern, which meant that when you ran out of water, you stopped showering until the water delivery man showed up. There was no electrical wiring on the first and third levels. The pine siding on the exterior of the dwelling was rotten, and the place didn’t show well. A realtor was really taking a chance listing it as a “handyman special” since it had only plywood floors, no heat, and was infested with snakes, rats, bats, and birds. The first floor was made of dirt and manure, and the walls in the living area on the top two floors were stained with bird shit. When it rained on the galvanized roof, you couldn’t hear the television even if you turned the volume all the way up and stood with your ear to the speaker. If you imagine the kind of person it would take to become voluntarily unemployed and not have a substantial trust fund to finance all the repairs and rehabilitation for such a filthy pit of a dwelling, then you have a pretty good clue of how my ex’s brain failed to function. And it doesn’t put me on the Nobel list of great minds for not packing my bags and running away.

The barn was understatedly large. At three stories tall, the barn had a total square footage of over six thousand square feet. Every single piece of rotten pine siding had to be ripped off and replaced with new white pine siding that we trucked in. After the wood, which was freshly milled, had a chance to stay up and dry, we had to paint it. But of course, first we had to prime it. When all was said and done, it took 42 gallons of paint to cover the barn, and the re-siding and repainting took us six months. I was young, I was strong, I was energetic, and I was an idiot. We put up rented scaffolding, and because money was tight, instead of also renting the sturdy aluminum crosswalks, we balanced ourselves on rickety 2 x 12 hand- hewn oak planks from the Civil War era. And of course, we drank beer all day long, too. There I was, three flights up, no safety harnesses, and Painting Under the Influence. I was lucky I didn’t end up dead, yet unlucky that the ex didn’t.

And dead is what I would rather be these days than have to paint a house. Several years later when the barn paint started peeling, we sold the barn and split up because I swore I’d put a gun to my head before spending another minute teetering on rickety scaffolding. I had sobered up as well.

The happiest days of my life were the years I spent in a brick house. You don’t have to do anything to a brick house except enjoy the wonderful feeling you get from never having to paint it. It’s like living in a self-cleaning oven, without the heat, and without having to flick a switch.

So now I’m back in Florida, where brick houses are few and far between. I suspect that in the summer they would just turn into non self-cleaning brick ovens, with the heat, and mildew in the shady areas. So most of the homes are stucco over concrete block, including ours.

So after Mr. Handsome Gay House Painter prodded me enough, I agreed to let him come over and give me an estimate for painting the house. I also agreed for the three of us to go grab a burger somewhere after that. I followed him as he did a walk around, during which I enjoyed looking at his broad shoulders, nice tight biceps and hairy legs. After the circumnavigation of the house, he told he’d think about it and give me a price after dinner.

You know, I probably would have given him the job just on looks alone if he had given me the price right then. He planned on spraying the house and could get it done in two days. It would have been so nice to just get it all behind us, and not to worry about it for another ten years or so. But unfortunately, Other Bill and I agreed to go out to dinner with him to talk things over.

It was then we were subjected to a 90 minute, non-stop biography of Mr. Gay Paint Man. I could tell you more about him than I could tell you about most of the people I work with. A former construction contractor, he was divorced, down on his luck, and obviously self-employed in order to get out of paying alimony and child support, I also learned that in addition to house painting, Mr. Goodlooking also performed 60-minute massages for a steep fee (“which includes release,” he said, euphemistically, which was exactly, by then, what I was looking for: to be released from his company. RIGHT THEN.) We were also treated to extensive monologs that explained his workout regimen, how he ate nothing but protein, and was trying unsuccessfully to stop drinking. That’s probably tough to do, when most of your evenings after work are spent in gay bars (searching for people in need of “release,”) and your vacation days are spent at gay circuit parties across the globe. Apparently, when you’re handsome and you’re in demand in Fort Lauderdale, you can make a lot of money that you can spend on yourself, and not on your daughter, who just wouldn’t fit in with the crowd at the annual International Mr. Leather contest (in which he competed but did not win.) I guess it is possible, of course, that the International Mr. Leather contestants are now 8 year old girls. I haven’t attended, so I don’t know. Rules change.

On the flip side, here’s what he could tell you about us: We owned a house that needed painting. In addition, had he been picking up on my body language, he also knew we weren’t going to take him up on his not-so-subtle massage offer.

So away he jabbered on and on, all about him, while I was trying to think of a way I could get him to shut up. The restaurant we were in had a three-level refrigerated showcase of enormous, thick pies of all flavors. I’m sure that a whole lemon meringue pie would have cost over 20 dollars, and it would have been worth every penny for me to remove it from its spinning, well-lit glass display and press it tightly into his face and hold it with all my strength from behind, so it would have suffocated him. Death by pie: who could ask for a nicer way to go?

There were no sharp knives around, but I remembered reading recently in a police periodical in the men’s room at work that average citizens can now buy their own full-strength, professional Tasers, assuming your background check comes back clean. They now come in fabulous, pocket-or-purse-sized designer colors (although they apparently have discontinued my personal favorite, faux-leopard. Go to if you don’t believe me. I buy these for a living.) What I wouldn’t have given to just zap him a good one. He would drop to his knees, speechless, and before he could snap out of it, Other Bill and I could have escaped and left him to pay the check.

Life just isn’t that way, regrettably, so I just sat there and endured. I was wondering if he’d ever re-sided and painted an enormous barn. I bet he hadn’t. The more I sat there and listened to his life history, the more I turned against him. I thought, I bet he doesn’t even do a good job. I bet he would use dollar store paint poured into Sherwin-Williams Duration cans. Even better, I bet he has a standing order with Kinko’s for forged Sherwin-Williams can labels that he could around the cheap paint. I bet he wouldn’t be as diligent about scraping off the old paint as I would be. I bet I would end up having to repaint after a year, because the paint would blister and peel due to his lack of caring about prepping the old surface. I wish he’d shut up and stop squirming in his chair. I bet he has anal warts.

He could have been the best painter in the world. He could have been Van Gogh, but the more he talked, the more I talked myself out of it. He could offer to do the whole job for fifty dollars, and I wouldn’t have given him the job. I thought: Clearly the only thing in the world this guy cares about is himself. If only he’d spent just part of that 90 minutes talking instead about prior jobs he’d done, or compared brands of paints, or maybe offered to provide me with some references (Oh, I could absolutely recommend Mr. Painter Dude. He gave me the best hand job I’ve ever had.) But instead it was just Me, beautiful Me! Hot sausage and mustard!

Thank merciful Christ, the check finally came, and we settled up the bill, and he finally gave me his “rock-bottom, lowest price of desperation,” as he called it: $2,250. For two days’ work with counterfeit paint. So much for “the brotherhood.”

I told him we’d think about it, even though I’d already done all the thinking I wanted to do. By then I decided that no house painter would do as thorough a job that Other Bill and I would do ourselves. We all shook hands, and he got in his truck and drove off.

Other Bill and I sat down in our car. “Wow, no one’s ever taken me on a date with a prostitute before,” he said, chuckling.

I deserved everything he could dish out at me for this disaster. Fortunately, he was gracious enough to not twist the knife too far. With Other Bill, when it comes to going out to dinner, it can never be bad as long as there’s food. Plus, it doesn’t have to be good food as long as there’s a lot of it.

“Don’t you think he was stoned?” Other Bill asked me.

“I didn’t think about it, but now that you mention it, he must have toasted one sometime before he met us,” I said. That would, in part, explain the jabbermouth.

“I thought so, too.”

“Yeah, that’s what I want in a house painter, someone buzzed and high on a ladder with no insurance,” I said.

“Yeah, like you when you painted the barn,” he said.

And then the knife completed the 360 degree turn. But as I said, I deserved it.

We have spent the last three weeks pressure washing, scraping, sanding, caulking, and priming. And we haven’t completed one full side of the house yet. We should have it done in another couple of months. So as painful and tedious as it is, we’ll at least save some money and get the job done right.

I’m just grateful that the house is only one story. I’m glad to be sober and not teetering on haphazardly placed, hundred year old lumber, thirty feet in the air. I’ll be so glad when it’s done. Maybe we’ll celebrate then by calling Mr. Paint Guy for a nice release session.

But only if he gives us a discount. I don’t think we’ll need the full hour, as long as he keeps his mouth shut.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not Just a Fuzzy Navel

I think that it’s past time to reclassify criminal charges, specifically in the sex offender arena. I say this because teenagers are being charged with possession and distribution of child pornography when they e-mail pictures of their anatomy, or someone else’s anatomy, to people who don’t take kindly to that kind of thing. This action, termed “sexting,” is destroying the lives of kids who are just being kids. After they are released from detention, they have to be on the national registry of sex offenders. Generally this means it’s tough to find a job or housing or get accepted into a college. In short, they are pretty much guaranteed a life of misery. For emailing a picture of their naughty parts. It’s insane.

These people are not sex offenders, and they are certainly not predators, so it’s high time for them to be given a new title. “Obnoxious Digital Idiot” comes to mind. Instead of doing time and not being able to live within X number of feet of a school or playground or Toys R Us, they should just get spanked. They are kids. Maybe they should be brought to the front of the auditorium during assemblies and ridiculed and shamed, or pelted with pies. Something painful but not life-destroying.

Mercifully, I was an adolescent before technology got to be so sophisticated. Therefore, we had to present our naughty bits in public. If I had a nickel for every time I pressed my youthful buttocks against the window of a car, or saw the same thing, I’d have, oh, I don’t know, a couple of bucks, maybe. Pressing your butt up against a window was far better than simple mooning. Specifically, it expanded the size of your ass exponentially, like flattening a hamburger on the grill. We referred to this mooning variant as “Pressed Hams.” Kids love to be outrageous and push the envelope, and back in the 70’s, mooning, which dates back several decades before then, was about as far as the envelope would go. Brave, well-endowed women would frequently do the same thing with their breasts. We called them “Pressed Melons.”

The perfect car for mooning was the Volkswagen Squareback. A miniature station wagon, the Squareback offered an unobstructed piece of flat glass that was the perfect height for kneeling down and smashing your cheeks against. There was no back shelf to get in the way. Sure you could moon without pressing your butt against glass, but it wasn’t nearly as shocking or repulsive, which were the goals.

Luckily, my mother owned a Volkswagen Squareback, as did my best friend, Julie. We mostly just used her car, because the car I owned was a Beetle, and there wasn’t a car less suited for mooning than a VW bug. Our idea of ecstasy was driving two Squarebacks, side by side, slowly, across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, preventing anyone from passing us. This forced both lanes to look at up to six asses, and possibly a pair of breasts, pressed against clear glass. Eventually we’d pull off and let people pass so we could refresh our audience of repulsed octogenarians who were just trying to get back to their condos in Clearwater, for crying out loud.

It was all fun and games, and no one arrested us for being sex offenders. We were just Obnoxious Idiots, the Analog version.

Like most acts of immaturity, there comes a time where something forces us to reconsider our antics and find something new and hopefully even more offensive to get involved with.

The point of melon or ham pressing was the surprise factor. A bare ass showing up when someone least expected it was what made self-exposure all worthwhile.

We were at Sand Key beach in Clearwater. After several hours of putting ourselves at risk for melanoma later in life, we were packing up Faith’s Chevy Nova with our towels, kites, coolers, and snacks. I quietly slipped into the back seat, pulled down my pants, stretched my ass for maximum coverage, and smashed it against the window. Seconds later, Stacey approached the door and burst out laughing, pointing, and making the rest of my friends come over and see. We were so used to receiving just a non-response from our peers to this behavior, so when I heard the rest of them laughing, too, I started to wonder. Why were they so tickled at this pair of hams, and why was this lame act creating so much attention?

“What’s so funny?” I shouted from inside the locked car.

I was told, and quickly pulled up my pants. I was laughing, too, but not in a good way, but in a wanting-to-cry kind of way.

This action was referred to then, and probably still is now, as The Lint Incident. I tried to comfort myself and lessen the embarrassment by realizing it could have been worse. A lot worse. It could have just as easily been The Dingleberry Incident. And the possibility of that ever happening was great, given the extra blessing of hair I had in that area. If that ever occurred, it would be grounds for suicide. I would never live it down. Lint was tough enough. My mooning career was officially over. I retired, a victim of my own “criminal” behavior.

From then on I was either the driver or the one who Windexed off the butt prints made on the dusty windows of the cars. I never went to prison, and I didn’t have my life destroyed. I’d learned my lesson through public humiliation. (Hey Wiley, there’s a sign on every dryer in the laundry that says, “Scrape Lint Trap After Each Load. Take the hint!) Nothing works better on an adolescent than being called out and humiliated in public. And that’s exactly what should happen to these “sexters.”

To me, “sexting” is a lot less harmful than mooning or ham pressing. Usually these pictures are sent from and to young peers who are amused or mildly titillated by seeing a digital image of someone’s naughty bits. And the best thing about it is that all sext messages come with a Delete key. Not the case with live ham and melon pressing. In a speeding car, you were displaying your goods to strangers, who, for the most part, would just wince. But it was a safety hazard. People could be shocked and end up driving off a bridge. I’m thinking this could have been the event leading to Chappaquiddick. Oh, Miss Kopechne, put that awaaaaaaaay!

Live nudity is much more traumatic than digital nudity. Ask any non-professional nudist if they’ve ever been to a nude beach. If they say yes, ask them if they’ve gone more than once. The fact of the matter is, the majority of us do not have bodies worthy of display. That’s why there are pictures. And pictures can be airbrushed or edited, or at least the bad ones can be deleted before sharing. I’m willing to bet that of all the racy self-portraits individuals have e-mailed or texted throughout the world, not a single one displayed lint. And that’s saying a lot.

With new technology come new challenges, especially legal challenges. Some of those challenges should include revising punishments to fit the crimes. I would be devastated if a child of mine were deemed a sex offender just for doing something stupid. Therefore I am writing my congressman to introduce a new bill. Once it gets passed, like any sex-related laws, such as the Amber Alert, this one will have a catchy name, which I am suggesting to be called the Lint Law. Anyone caught sending lewd, underaged photos via electronic media shall be subjected to watch a two-hour PowerPoint presentation (eyes taped open) that displays lint in very aged areas where lint, or anything else for that matter, should never be seen.

Just don’t ask me to pose. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have clothes in the dryer that I need to remove and put on hangers. And yes, I’ll scrape the lint trap.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bad Guy Me

I enjoy doing volunteer work. It gives me a sense of usefulness and satisfaction, especially if that volunteer work involves shooting at cops.

Every year there is a training exercise attended by several SWAT teams from my county’s police and sheriffs’ offices. The cops are there to hone their skills and to learn how to be better cops and work with other teams. They rely on untrained administrative police department employees to volunteer to be the bad guys and hostages. That’s where I come in. I don’t get to wear the uniforms or the guns, but I do get to buy them.

At the SWAT roundup, each team is tested with several scenarios requiring handling by skilled professionals who know how to deal with violent and potentially deadly situations. It goes without saying that the majority of these teams are all male, and they are all tough, muscular, deep-voiced, well groomed macho studs, sweating in full tactical gear. That’s why I come in.

What’s not to like?

Last year, my first year, I had no idea what my role would entail. I was nervous and sweaty, standing around during the orientation, taking in all the testosterone, which was as thick as pea soup. I was the shortest, skinniest, and probably the oldest male in the crowd. Clearly I would have made even a lame victim.

Our scenario was this: Three shooters on a bus, threatening to kill hostages and any cops that stepped on board. I was immediately resigned to the fact that I was going to be a hostage, but we were told to mix it up, make it different for each team. Sometimes be a shooter; sometimes be a hostage; sometimes threaten to shoot yourself. Make things confusing.

Oh, well cool, I thought. This is theater! This is improv! I’d always wanted to major in theater in college, but my mother threatened to cut off my tuition money if my degree could land me in the world full of part-time-working homosexuals. (Instead, my English degree would commit me to the underemployed, underpaid world of homosexuals.) I was delighted that this little bus trip would provide me with the first opportunity since high school to be on.

They gave me a gun that contained blue-tipped bullets that splatted a soap blob into anything it was fired against. It’s called Simunition. It’s basically just a high velocity paint ball, but it can rip a small chunk of skin right off of you. I wore a ballistic vest, gloves, a riot helmet, and a cup to keep the tender parts from being stung by the bullets. I was told it “wouldn’t hurt that bad.”

When the first team came on the bus, I was too shy. I couldn’t shoot a cop. What if he shot back? What if it did hurt? The team hurried in, shot me immediately, and the scenario was over. Pretty lame. In take two, I was a hostage, and was held from behind with the shooter’s arm around my neck and the gun pointed at my helmet. The SWAT team shot the bad guy, who did a nice job of holding me tightly (he was an off-duty non-SWAT cop who smelled very pleasant and had huge biceps), and I escaped, lightheaded but unharmed.

As the day wore on and I became less afraid to use the gun, I became more confident and spontaneous in this all-male production. One time I didn’t even give them a chance. I started shooting at the first three guys who stepped foot on the bus. Another time I hid in a spot on the bus that no one suspected a man could fit into, and I surprised and shot four of them in the back. Score one for the skinny homosexual terrorist. Another time, when I held the gun to my own head and threatened to kill myself, a SWAT officer grabbed me by the throat, wrestled me to the floor of the bus and pulled my gun away.

These guys were dead serious about what they were doing, and after each scenario, they got out of the bus and reviewed what had happened, what was good, what had gone wrong. Sometimes, like the time I shot four in the back after no one had noticed me, they were yelled at. So the better I did the job, the more they got in trouble.

The best part of the day is the first half hour, when all the teams are putting on their armor, moving around in groups, and just looking hot. While this is going on, I hang out with the role players, specifically, the female role players. (I’m a gay man. It’s what we do. You go where the love is.) For this half hour we stare at butts as teams walk by. All the men know they look hot. And even if they are in reality only semi-hot, the uniform upgrades their hotness rating a level or two. Most of them are young and virtually fearless. They are so built and so good looking and so, I don’t know, male, I guess, is the word I’m looking for here. They are all high school football captains, which is why it is so much fun to shoot them. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that SWAT teams are cast by porn directors. And by that I mean good porn directors. The hi-def kind.

My bald head and bony hands, as seen on TV.

This year, the bus scenario was different. First of all there were more role players on the bus, so I didn’t get but one chance to shoot. Fortunately, I shot at the officers I work with every day, which made this volunteer work more meaningful. Secondly, it was more structured. One active shooter in the front, and a sleeper in the back, so there was no room for improvisation, which was a little disappointing to this theater-major wannabe.

A couple of us, after being taken of the bus and set on the ground, ended up kneeling in dog shit. There were some really ugly flesh wounds this time, due the fact that some role players didn’t wear protective gear. One volunteer playing the active shooter was accidentally pushed out the back door of the bus. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think SWAT teams are put here to help bad guys escape.

But even though it was not as much fun this time, if I’m asked to go again next year, I’ll gladly accept the invitation. And if I’m not, I just may take the morning off work so I don’t miss the first half hour.