I wish I were lying about the number of degrees we have here. But there really are a trillion of them, and the air is hot and sticky and thick with ozone, whatever that is. (Ever notice how ozone is sometimes good and sometimes bad, and sometimes is so damaged that it has a hole in it?)
I am barricaded in the basement of my house, where many of the degrees mercifully can’t find me. It is only about 100,000 degrees down here. Upstairs the air is brutal. And my kitchen–my second-floor, un-airconditioned kitchen, on the south side of the house, is filled with four college-age boys, whom I hired two weeks ago to come and paint the cabinets. (This was back when the weather was spring-like and cool, before I knew that we were headed for the fourth circle of hell.)
I feel bad that painters–child painters, yet–have to come to my house and do physical labor on a day when even the federal government is telling everyone to lie down and be quiet and for god’s sake, don’t go outside. I apologized profusely when they arrived for neglecting to get central air conditioning in advance, so their lives would be easier. And I gave them two electric fans and told them about the pitchers of iced tea and lemonade in the refrigerator, all for them.
They gave me a blank look. It was the blank look of people who have never heard the words “lemonade” and “iced tea,” even though they speak English. It was the same blank look I’d seen earlier when I’d inquired as to the finish they’d bought: flat, satin, high-gloss enamel, which?
“Um, let me look at the can,” the ringleader said. He is the apparent spokesman, the same guy who came and gave me the estimate on the job two weeks ago. We’ve already done a few rounds as far as scheduling goes, he and I. He had promised to come one day last week and then couldn’t because, as he put it on the telephone in the confident style of a teenage boy, as though this will nail down the reason in my head and create no further questions: “There’s a lot of stuff going down here, mean. I mean, I totally take responsibility for blowing you off, but there’s so much shit going down, you wouldn’t believe it. I mean, totally.”
And now it was his job to come and tell me that the finish of the paint he’d bought was called “flat.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” I said. “You can’t put flat paint on wood. Not on kitchen cabinets. You need satin. At least satin. And, also, just so you know, you should always ask your customers what kind of finish they have in mind.”
I am no expert when it comes to painting–I can’t be trusted to use tape, for instance, and I’m fairly clumsy with paint splatters–but I feared I was going to have to give a remedial course in Rudimentary Cabinet Painting, as well as Customer Relations for the Entrepreneur. (I was already mapping out the unit on Acceptable Excuses for Not Doing What You Promised, with a separate section on the proper use of cuss words.)
“Oh, %^#*#*! I bought the wrong kind!” he wailed. “The guy at the paint store didn’t say anything! And now I don’t even know if he’ll take it back!”
“He’ll take it back,” I said calmly. “Just explain to him what happened. Be firm, but be nice. He’ll mix another gallon for you. Have him call me if he gives you any trouble.”
He left and came back later with the right stuff. We all sighed in relief.
But I have to be honest here–it’s too hot for dishonesty–other issues have cropped up during the day, and we have had minor discussions on painting protocol. There are some things the Painting Experts forgot to tell these college boys before they gave them their own license to do this work. Here are just a couple of points we’ve had to go over:
- The importance of removing cabinet doors before painting them.
- Why sanding before painting just might have been a good idea.
- The importance of putting primer on wood cabinets before painting them, as well as the answer to the ever-important philosophical question: What IS primer, anyway?
- The necessity of doing two coats of paint, whether you forgot to estimate for that or not. (“But I’m losing money on this job!” he wailed. “Will you pay me more?”)
- The importance of drinking liquids on a hot day.
- The importance of not letting the plastic drop cloths fall on stove burners that you have accidentally turned on and which are now causing an odd, acrid, burning smell to permeate the house.
Still, the kitchen looks good, and I have kept my temper in check. We’ll never be able to be in there to enjoy it again, of course–it’s far too hot to ever cook, and I’m still not convinced that the whole thing isn’t going to be burned down by child painters before I can get them safely out of here.
But it looks good. And we’ve all learned a lot.