A couple of weeks ago young Emma smashed a pane of glass in the door to our back porch. I felt miserably qualified to make the repair, so I put it off as long as I could. (Which was until Kris couldn’t take it any more and we had a big fight about it. Aren’t I bad?)
On Sunday, I gathered my tools and set to work.
My first goal was to strip the paint from the wood around the broken glass so that I could determine how to remove the various bits of moulding. I believe the can of paint stripper was specifically designed for maximum spillage. As I stood at the kitchen counter, attempting to pour from the can into an old mug, none of the liquid found its way into the designated container. It all dripped onto the countertop. The painted countertop.
“Shit,” I said. I grabbed some paper towels and wiped up the mess. Fortunately, I acted quickly enough that no paint was stripped; there’s just a slight discoloration, one that’s not too apparent because these counters are old.
I read the side of the can: Do not swallow. Do not allow to come in contact with eyes. This substance is poisonous. There is no way to counteract the poison, etc. etc.
“Shit,” I said. I slathered the countertop with soap and water and crossed my fingers. (If you hear we’ve died from poisoning, you’ll know why.)
I decided the kitchen wasn’t the best place to be pouring paint stripper, so I headed to the utility room steps. (I might have gone to the shop but it was raining and I didn’t have shoes on and, well, I don’t really have a good excuse for not going to the shop, I guess.) This time I poured more freely. And still none — or very little — of the paint stripper made it into the designated container. It splashed all over my hand, splashed onto the steps.
“Shit,” I said. I held up the can again, re-read the warnings. This time I noticed: Do not allow to come in contact with skin. If contact occurs seek medical attention immediately.
“Shit,” I said. You all know how paranoid I am about my health. I started panicking, of course, sure I was going to die soon. (Kris once told me the heartbreaking true story of a woman working in a lab who had inadvertently come into contact with some substance (a heavy metal?) despite extraordinary precautions. The moment she came into contact with this substance, she knew she was doomed. She had only days (hours?) to live. After spilling the paint stripper on my hand, I felt I was this woman.) I scrambled around, washing my hands repeatedly, mopping up the spill, cursing.
When Kris returned from grocery shopping, I told her about my predicament, and asked her if I should be worried, if I should seek medical attention immediately. She glared at me (we were still angry at each other — this was the middle of our fight). “No,” she said. “You’ll be fine.” But the way she said it didn’t inspire comfort. In fact, I got the distinct impression that she might be lying to me. Never make a chemist mad!
Still, I returned to the task at hand. Eventually I found an angle that spilled less paint stripper than before (though it still spilled prodigious quantities). I filled my container and went to work.
I had set a piece of corrugated cardboard on the floor at my work area, and had gathered together a hammer, a chisel, and a flat paint spreader thingie. I brushed on a layer of the paint stripper. Then, slowly, carefully, I hammered out the broken glass. I was able to pull many of the pieces out by hand. (Most of the glass ended up on the back porch, to be shop-vacced later, but some of it fell inward — thus the corrugated pad.)
After removing the glass, I scraped away most of the paint on the moulding below the window. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any obvious place where the moulding connected to the frame. I began to fear it was all of a piece.
“Shit,” I said, not knowing what to do next. Eventually, I decided simply to dash ahead, trusting to blind faith that this really was a piece of quarter-round nailed to the frame. And so I chiseled and pried, but s-l-o-w-l-y. Eventually, a piece of wood began to loosen, or so it seemed. I pried more and the wood popped free! I pried with increased vigor and then the piece shredded in two before my very eyes.
“Shit,” I said, as the pieces fell to the ground. I picked them up to examine them. Even after prying them loose, I couldn’t find any sign of a seam. It was as if the entire frame, even the decorative parts, was a single piece, and I had just hacked off an edge.
I’m getting better at home improvement, but still I find myself intimidated by tasks I’ve never before attempted. When I fixed the faucet in the bathroom upstairs, I initially felt a great deal of trepidation. Eventually I figured out what I was doing, yes, and I did a fine job making the repair, but I started warily, unsure of myself. Here I had not yet reached the feeling that I knew what I was doing.
“Shit,” I said. I slumped to the floor, frustrated.
Kris came in, still angry.
“Why don’t you just call Jeremy?” she asked. When Emma broke the window, Jeremy had immediately offered to help me fix it. I wanted to try it myself, though, and so had declined his aid.
“Shit,” I said, but I went to the phone and called Jeremy.
Tonight, Jeremy and I will tackle the window. This kind of project requires sustenance, of course, so I’ve pulled some steaks out of the freezer (thanks, Ron!), and have set aside a bottle of wine. If we get very frustrated, the whiskey’s not far away — just on the shelf there by the back porch — and the tobacco supply is also at hand.
Kris is worried that we’ll be too busy debauching to get any work done.
As for our marital squabble: eventually we talked things out, as we always do. Neither of us is completely satisfied, which to me indicates we’ve reached a proper compromise (the definition of compromise requiring that neither party feel he or she has “won”). In the evening, we watched West Side Story together while I ironed clothes and Kris looked for Christmas cookie recipes.