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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Painting for Jesus


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I don’t suppose anyone’s been holding their breath, but after six grueling weeks, we are about to put the cap on the exterior house painting we have been engaged in for the majority of our off-work waking daylight hours.

I never imagined it would end up taking 6 weeks. Actually it took longer, because for the last two years, I’ve been saying, “We really need to paint the house,” and then failing to act on it.
We tackled it one side at a time. After I bought the sealer, primer and paint, I started the pressure washing.

Lesson 1 learned: I will spread mulch next to the house so that if I should ever be so inclined to pressure wash the house again, I will not end up looking like I just joined a minstrel show. The backsplash of mud from the ground edge of the house was thick, severe and often painful when little pebbles splashed back and pitted my flesh.

I discovered that pressure washing does not do an adequate job of removing the old paint. Not by a long shot. We ended up buying a total of 8 single-edged razor scrapers, all of which we broke in no time, and we peeled off garbage bags full of loose paint that I know that any average painter, especially the Paintitute, would have just sprayed over.

Lesson 2 learned: Make sure you double up on your OCD meds while scraping the outside of the house. No matter how hard you try, you are not going to get every last smidgen of paint to chip off. You can see as you circumnavigate the house clockwise from the northwest corner that paint removal became less and less of a concern as the weeks passed by. Yesterday, my mantra was: To hell with it. Paint over it. Who’s going to know?

In the early days of the project, while Other Bill was away visiting family, I decided to get creative and paint Keith Haring dogs on our aluminum awnings that hang over the north side windows.

Lesson 3 learned: Don’t get creative when you paint a house. It causes massive delays. Just splash on the paint. Because there were three colors to deal with (black, white, and the green awning color) it took up to a week to paint each Keith Haring dog awning, because we had to use 4 coats of paint for it to cover. Not only was there the painting, but there was the cutting of the stencils, the tracing, the masking, and the never ending touching up. And regrettably, it was all for nothing, because I ended up painting the dogs too high up on the awnings for them to be seen. When the next hurricane approaches and the shutters go down, I’m sure our neighbors will just be delighted to see the cartoon-like replicas of our handiwork.

The first coat I applied to the house is a product called Kilz, which is a sealer and a mildew inhibitor. If you live in Florida, you need it.

Lesson 4 learned: Kilz does not wash off your body. I used a scrub brush and steel wool on parts of my body that should have never been exposed to such abrasive tactics, and the paint still stayed on me. I assume it will wear off as my skin cells are replaced. Kilz also doesn’t come off your hair. You have to shave your arms or chest to get it off. I can only assume that you would have to do the same with head hair. Perhaps I should have read the label or worn long sleeves. The label probably instructs me to wear long sleeves.

When we got done with the north side of the house and started on the east side, we had the opportunity to paint the biggest awning on the house just the color of the trim. But we had to be creative again, because we are gay, so an extra large Keith Haring dog stencil was cut, traced, and is still being painted even as we move toward completion of the south side of the house. This dog’s feet touch the bottom lip of the awning, so hopefully it will be visible from the street and will frighten off burglars, being that our living, breathing dog failed to.

Lesson 5 learned: Paint tends to sting when it gets in your eyes. So does primer. So does sealer. When you’re standing 10 feet below and painting eaves with a roller on a stick, you have to look up so you don’t roll off the house. There are devices known as goggles. Who knew? As long as we are talking lost-time accidents, there are also garments called gloves that could have prevented the near-severing of my finger while I opened a ladder with a razor blade in my hand. My finger looks like an overcooked baked potato that was just split open. Steam is still coming out. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to bend it again.

I have to always remember that when I start a project, it tends to spawn other side-projects. Projects breed themselves like rats, and it is ever-so-complex to find abortion clinics for rats. On the front and side of our house are—or should I say, were—these evil and unhealthy plants called ixoras. They tend to stab you, grab your shoelaces and tie them together and trip you, prevent you and your ladder from passing by, and they can even penetrate orifices you stopped having penetrated years and years ago. I got so sick of being sexually molested by plants that we got out the pruning shears, then the hatchet, then shovels and dug the evil bastards out of the ground.

This spawned the project that will no doubt turn into The Re-landscaping Project. Other Bill has already put in new, less aggressive plants to take their place, and this will no doubt spawn the need for other plants to be purchased and planted. And God knows what else that will spawn. The rat is pregnant and in her last trimester and is about to whelp a massive litter of time-consuming chores that will probably fill up our summer. We once ended up remodeling the entire house because I had to install a new toilet paper holder. It’s almost biblical the way it happens. The toilet paper holder begat repainting the bathroom, which begat repainting the bedroom, which begat While You’re At It, Why Don’t You Put Up Crown Molding in the Bedroom, which begat Why Don’t You Put Up Crown Molding in Every Room and Paint Them Too, which begat I Hate This Kitchen, which begat demolition that required a trip to the emergency room, which begat hiring a cabinet maker who depleted our bank accounts and brought in termites. See how it works? Should I be thanking Jesus for this?

This is the second time in my life that I painted a house. The first house was much bigger, and when it came time to repaint the house, I opted to sell it instead. I pretty much feel the same way with this house. Unfortunately, the $60-a-gallon paint we used has a lifetime guarantee, so I might end up stuck here. The good news is that in laymen’s painting terms, “lifetime guarantee” means you’ll probably have to paint again in three years. I told Other Bill in three years I will be ready for a condo, rental apartment, or assisted living. Or, if I have to paint the house again, I will soon afterwards find a nice home in a psychiatric hospital. Doing a project of this scale used to give me a sense of pride and accomplishment. This time all I got were aches, pains, exhaustion and possibly hemorrhoids and rape trauma, thanks to the ixoras. I Googled “Ixora abuse,” and all the hits were just all about the plant itself. Isn’t that always the case?

Tonight, if it doesn’t rain, and I don’t collapse and my arthritic old hands can still grasp a brush, the last of the paint will finally be applied. And hopefully by the weekend the last freakin’ Keith Haring Dog Awning will be reinstalled, and I can finally start vacuuming up the massive amounts of paint chips that have left our lawn looking like it has been seized by a cruel snow storm.
And that will beget vacuuming the patio, which will beget re-staining the concrete, because there are paint drippings from the Haring dogs there, which will beget having the pool resurfaced, which will probably beget the need to obtain a second job, thus begetting the need for extra medication for me, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Career Mistakes


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I’ve never, ever told anyone this, but there is one time in my life I had a definite career goal. And after that was squashed, I fell into a spiral of inertia and accepted just about every job that was offered to me. I can remember just two that I turned down.

I figure that possibly if my father lived (here we go, I hear you groaning), maybe I would have received a little more career guidance. Maybe I would have wanted to grow up and become a writer, as my dad was, instead of having this oddball assortment of jobs:
  • Busboy
  • Library Aide
  • Phototypesetter (4 different jobs)
  • Secretary
  • HR Rep for a year in Saudi Arabia
  • Financial Analyst (me, being the person who can’t balance his own checkbook)
  • Unemployed alcoholic (also referred to as “semi-retirement” and “construction engineer” (while I was working on rehabbing my house, when I should have been rehabbing myself)
  • Shipping clerk
  • Coordinator in a maintenance department
  • Technical Support geek
  • Buyer

Try to find the common denominator in those. You could be here all day.

It would have been nice to have worked for a newspaper, starting off as a delivery boy, then a go-fer, maybe do some time in classified ads before eventually writing puff pieces, leading to serious journalism, leading to management, leading to writing a bestseller. I just didn’t know how to go about that. A concerned family friend whose husband ran the town newspaper offered to get me an interview when I was 18, but I somehow got out of it. I was too young, too shy, too inexperienced, and it would just have been freaky working with former colleagues of my dad’s.

I don’t know if I would have been happier or sadder with an actual career instead of a string of loser jobs. Without my Saudi job, there are parts of the world I never would have seen. Without my tech support job I never would have earned enough money to buy my own home. I could have been richer. I could have been poorer. I could have been a contender. Or not. I’m not bothered by my inertia spiral and always taking the path of least resistance. I was in Saudi Arabia the first year that AIDS arrived on the scene. That alone could have prolonged my life for decades. I’m 52 and still alive, which is a lot farther than the 20-some-odd people I knew who succumbed to the disease got.

So here it is, what I’ve been postponing telling you.

I wanted to be a mime.

Now, I don’t clearly remember why I wanted to be a mime. I know that I was very moved seeing Marcel Marceau perform at the Kennedy Center, but that was long after my mime dream was out of the way. I know that Toni Allen played the role of the mime in “The Fantasticks,” one of our high school productions. Did that influence me? I don’t think so. That’s about all I know about mimes.

When I was in high school I actually thought that I could actually build a career as a mime. Hey, if Marcel Marceau could do it, why couldn’t I, I reasoned.

When you say mime, what do you think of? You think of Marcel Marceau. Have there ever been any others? Name two, and Red Skelton doesn’t really count, because he wasn’t Just A Mime.

I actually thought that I could go to college, major in theater, and then, without learning French, board a plane and attend the Compagnie De Mimodrame Marcel Marceau (or, as simple philistines called it, The Marcel Marceau School of Mime). And then after that I could go and silently perform at the Kennedy Center and have my own Playbill.

I am basically a quiet, introspective person, even though these stories might give you a different idea. Other Bill probably does 80-85% of the talking in our house, and I am happy that he does. Maybe having a career as a silent person was why I was so drawn to the mime occupation. Plus it’s a job you can do all by yourself, which then and still does appeal to me.

All I remember is that I wanted to be a goddamn mime. When I told my mother I wanted to major in theater, she basically said, “Over my dead body,” which, given my attitude, could easily have been arranged. We even marched out to the university and saw a career counselor together, also an old family friend. It was then my mother confessed she didn’t want me joining a homosexual industry. I believe those were her exact words: homosexual industry. Whenever I think of that, I can’t help but imagine a factory assembly line, off of which is rolling a bunch of skinny, bitchy queens in outrageous outfits, being packaged up and sent to major cities where homosexuals thrived: San Francisco, New York, West Hollywood, Key West.

Lee, the counselor, asked my mother why she thought only homosexuals were theater majors. Wouldn’t it be worse if I chose graphic or fashion design?

My mother said, “I just don’t want them to get their hands on him. I’ve seen them looking at him.”

“What?” I interjected, “when was this?” Homosexuals were looking at me? Why hadn’t I known? I certainly would have looked back (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

“Why, just the other day in the elevator at work,” she said.

“In the federal building? Where you work?”

“Yes,” she said, “when we were going down.”

I suppressed a smirk. At this point in time, at age 18, I had already gone down on three men.

“There were two guys obviously sizing you up. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

“I certainly did not,” I confirmed.

Seeing that this conversation was going to a bad place, Lee interrupted. She gave my mother a long but friendly, encouraging talk about how it was time, as much as she might hate it, to let go and let what ever would be, be. Que Sera. There was no guarantee in life that even if I chose English or journalism as a career that I wouldn’t be cruised or even recruited by homosexuals. She was very gentle, chose her words carefully, and talked on my mother’s terms. She was a brilliant, eloquent woman whom my mother respected. And Mom listened very carefully and agreed to everything she said. We showered her with thanks and complimented her wisdom.

My mother and I went down in the elevator of the building (and I remember watching men’s eyes). We got out in the muggy Florida heat, and I said, “So, is it okay if I major in theater?

“It is certainly not goddamned okay,” she snapped, and that was the end of that. She’s the one who cashed the Social Security checks that came in my name that were paying the tuition (and for a lot of bourbon for her), and since she held the purse strings, she got final say.

What was I going to do, take her to court?

I want to say she was right. A career in mime was a waste of tuition money which would only have led to the same string of loser jobs that I received as an English major grad. Either way, I would have ended up in the same place. Although going through theater classes would have been a lot more fun than reading and reporting on The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Sometimes Mom was right; a lot of times she was wrong, but most often it just didn’t matter.

Que Sera.

After doing a Google search on the Compagnie De Mimodrame Marcel Marceau, I found that the joint is closed. Marcel Marceau is dead. It does, however, have an extensive listing of links to other mime schools throughout the world. The closest one to me is near Orlando.

Am I about to ditch my latest loser job and apply for a scholarship there?

Uh, no. There’s nothing more pathetic than an Old Mime.

Unless, of course, you’re Marcel Marceau.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lucky, Lucky Me

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Ever notice when you suffer a tragedy, people always try to force you to see the good side of the misfortune? Someone close to you dies, and your friends say, “At least he’s no longer in pain.” Yes, it’s true; napalm can be very uncomfortable. Other clich├ęs include:
  • He’s in a better place now.
  • I’m so glad he didn’t suffer for long.
  • He had a long and wonderful life.
And then people always give you their thoughts and prayers. Sometimes they give them to you for good (“Our thoughts and prayers are always with you.”) Other times their thoughts and prayers are with you “during your time of sorrow.” After your sorrow’s gone, they want those thoughts and prayers back. Overdue charges may apply. Frankly when someone close to me dies, I don’t really want thoughts and prayers. I’ve seen a lot of death in my life, probably a lot more than most people my age. I was a hospice volunteer. I know the stages of grief and work through it. I’ll be fine. Really. So keep your thoughts and prayers and make me a nice German chocolate cake. I’d much rather hear, “Our cake and ice cream is with you until you finish it, but please return the Tupperware.” It’s even better for Other Bill if I get to keep the Tupperware. He has a bit of a burping plastic fetish.

When you get burglarized, the trite phrases everyone uses are:
  • It could have been a lot worse.
  • At least they didn’t _________ (Fill in the blank with something like: kill your dog, microwave your cat, stain your carpeting, take your Franklin Mint collections, etc.)
  • You were lucky.
“You were lucky” is my favorite, and I’m making that my mantra. On March 27 someone smashed the glass out of our back French door, entered the house, opened up a bunch of drawers (probably looking for jewelry, said the responding officer. Our wedding rings cost $8 each on eBay. That should give you a clue as to the important role precious metals and rocks play in our lives.) Along the way, the crooks got the new laptop, my iPod, an early 90’s era laptop, a digital camera, and a few pounds of change.

The worst, of course, was the good laptop. You worry about identity theft, emptied out bank accounts, and the pictures of you in that leather peek-a-boo teddy and stilettos being sent to your boss.

But really, I’m lucky. That laptop was ten months old and only had a dual core processor, so it was a relic. It was time to upgrade, anyway.

I keep telling myself we were lucky. I’m trying to convince myself of it.

My luckiness has failed to take away my anger at the dog. I can just picture her, sitting in her Belgian tapestry chair with her Arlene-Frances-What’s-My-Line night blinder-mask, nursing her hangover from the night before. A soothing icepack on her head, a calming Eve cigarette dangling from her lips while Yanni serenades her overconsumption consequences away. “Take anything you want, boys” she mumbles to the intruders while sipping a hair-of-the-human appletini, “just don’t touch the Iams, the icemaker, or the liquor cabinet, unless you want your blood drawn.”

Yes, I’m lucky. They didn’t kill or hurt the dog. Although once I realized she was unharmed, I wanted to. She should have at least fought them and procured a DNA sample.

I responded to this intrusion in a very girl-victim type way. The violation of it all. They went through my underwear drawer. They touched sex toys. For the first few days after the burglary, I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I’d be in the middle of work and remember something that might have been compromised, and then make a call, change a password, or cancel an account, and then completely forget about what I was doing before the panic set in. My jaw was permanently clenched, and there was a knot in my stomach. I realized that this would be a great excuse to see my doctor for some tranquilizers. He happily prescribed me 30 Ativan. I didn’t even have to show him the police report. I should get robbed more often. I’m so lucky to be able to feel as carefree as I do now.

A burglary is an eye-opening experience. You’ve been ripped off, and your smashed-opened house is compromised. So what do you do? You call a glass company to rip you off some more. We paid $900 for the set of French doors . The glass company charged us $700 to replace the glass in one of the doors. And that is WITH the law enforcement discount. Damn, I’m so lucky to work for a police department. Otherwise it would have cost $750.

Luckily, everything I’ve written for the past two years has been saved on a 16 gig thumb drive. I even had an external hard drive to back up the laptop with. So lucky me, the thieves left the backup drive. Unfortunately, just buying a backup drive doesn’t automatically give you a backup of your data. You have to actually plug it in and back it up. Ten days later, when I finally found the power cord and plugged it in to my new computer, I saw that the last backup I did was in 2006. And even then it didn’t include Other Bill’s iTunes. I didn’t want to wait that long to clone that many bytes.

Note to thieves: the computer I plugged the backup drive into is a heavy desktop model secured by a Glock lock and a kryptonite bicycle lock, secured through the hole I drilled in my 500-pound desk, and I buried most of the computer in a bucket of cement. You will need a refrigerator dolly, a forklift and dynamite to get it out of the house.

It’s taken days to get things back in order, and I’m still not done. I restored Other Bill’s Internet bookmarks last night so that he doesn’t have to hunt so hard to find his favorite porn sites. Did I say porn? I meant recipe. Now I just have to figure out how to put his iPod music into iTunes on the new computer without erasing the iPod. I’m very iPod-phobic. So I’ll down an Ativan before tackling that little job.

I’m lucky. My iPod was something I won in a drawing at work, and I never used it. I don’t like having things stuck in my ears. I appreciate silence. And I wouldn’t have backed up the music on it, either. The digital camera they stole was malfunctioning, so I am going back to my analog film camera. Nothing takes pictures better than my Minolta SRT100 camera that my aunt co-bought with me in 1972. Even better, no one wants to steal it. Lucky me!

As lucky as I am, I don’t feel that lucky. That’s because I want revenge. I totally agree with the Middle East practice of cutting off the hands of thieves. I would like to use a dull hatchet on the ones who invaded my home. Or perhaps I could fire up an electric carving knife to help drown out the thieves’ screams. If I need a chisel to cut through the bone, I am prepared for that.

Instead I have opted for a Karmic substitution to torture.

We scanned Craigslist for used laptops, and went to look at one in a really bad neighborhood. The guy had advertised an HP laptop that looked just like our stolen one. Bubba (not his real name) was clearly dealing in stolen property. When we went into his apartment (which was armed with a burglar alarm), he had us take a seat at the one table in the unit. He then went into another room, which was dark, and he shut the door behind him when he entered it. In a minute he came out with not one, but two HP laptops (neither was ours; I checked the model numbers while his back was turned). He wanted $500 each for them, which was an excellent deal. He couldn’t tell me anything about them: how long he had owned them, how much he paid for them, why he was getting rid of them. Zilch, nada, nothing. I wasn’t about to buy someone’s stolen computer which had been scrubbed clean with a fresh, probably illegal version of Vista. I told him it was too much money and that I really didn’t need that much computer or the built-in web cam.

“I have more,” he said, “What are you looking for?” he asked me.

I thanked him, shook his hand, and we left to go find some hand sanitizer.

And today I made a call to Crime Stoppers and deposited his name, address, apartment number and phone number, and most of the above paragraph explaining my experience at his burglar-alarmed apartment.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and receive a reward. It’ll probably come to nothing, but I sure felt better afterwards. Or maybe it was just the Ativan.