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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.


  1. I have been to dinner with that kind of guy.
    I have been that kind of guy.
    And you know it's bad when during your conversation, you begin to weight the pros and cons of a plea deal with the inevitable manslaughter trial.
    Fun story, fine reading!

  2. Very funny - that is the worst when you can't escape the person with diahharea of the mouth.