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The Front Door

Top ‘o the mornin’ to you, Homer, in your all-white uniform, in your shiny new Dickies paint pants and a crisp white long-sleeve button-down oxford shirt — J. Crew, no doubt, single-needle tailored — Jesus, Joseph and Mary, you glow with the saintly halo of The Great White Hope!

But from the contrast between your pale collar and your livid face, your physician, Homer, would be alarmed.

And yet a practiced therapist, that is to say an experienced bartender, would cut straight to the chase, er, uh, your confidence in Mr. Counterman at the local painting contractor’s most hooked-up paint store has cost you quite a lot. And I can see the accomplished Counterman in question has padded his sales commissions by indulging your pretensions, Homer, something he’s no doubt practiced at. 

My humble point, which I’ll make as you run your lightly oiled putty knife down the mullions, into the corners and out along the muttons of the sixteen lights in this here French door and side light, is simply one of base economy, Homer. When your ever-lovin’ spouse sees the bill for all these dazzling fripperies – well, I wonder if our funding for this project could dry up… ?

I was under the impression, Homer, that we would use the old bed sheets for drop cloths, newspapers and other recyclables for masking paper, and here I find you’ve gone out and bought all this extravagant contractor-grade drop cloths and apron paper dispensers – and, my, just look at all these Purdy and Baker paint brushes… For crying out loud, Homer, I learned to cut in a French window with a worn-out old duster and was so accomplished by the age of six I could cut a line with a whisk broom, a line so fine it would make a duchess cry.

At risk of repeating myself, let’s run our putty knives around the windows and get that ugly black worm of putty gathered into a ball (if you let it just fall on the drop cloth, it’ll end up on the sole of someone’s shoe and tracked all over the house), which we’ll properly dispose of, after fetching up the pot of primer and hitting the bare wood where the putty swelled up between the glass and wood, and the machines at the factory just went ahead and sprayed on the primer coat, anyway.

Go ahead and prime it, a chance to practice your hand at cutting the window pane into the wood with one of your fancy new sash tools. Don’t panic if you run some little trickle of paint over onto the glass. Just leave it dry and we’ll take it off with a swipe of the putty knife; if you try to wipe it up wet it will only spear all over window pane and the whole project will go afoul while you hunt up the Windex and a polishing cloth.

While the primer dries, go over the rest of the wood with 220-grit sandpaper, paying close attention to the corners. Don’t trust your eyes in this endeavor, even though you have 20/20 vision. Your fingertips will disclose subtle imperfections that your eyes will only discover as ugly mars after the finish coat dries and it’s too late to fix ‘em.

Now let’s get the hinges masked off with some of that expensive blue tape you bought so much of. Take the door handle and lock right on off the door entirely and set it all aside – yes, I know you can cut around it Homer, I don’t doubt your skills, but there’s other considerations I’ll point out to you later, if they don’t become self-evident.

 Now, Homer, like gravediggers, we’ll start at the top. But first, take your hammer and lay it flat at the base of the door, open ajar, and use your putty knife to wedge it in place so you don’t have to put your hand in the wet paint to hold it still when you lay it off, as we say in the trade. We’ll start in a standing position, with our paint pot on an overturned bucket, easy to reach, until we get past halfway, then set the pot on the floor and sit down on the bucket to finish the lower part.

The interior of the door being finished, let’s contemplate the exterior: It is a tremendous responsibility, Homer, a social obligation that shrivels lesser concerns with the heat of its intensity, the painting of a front door, especially the exterior of said door, and I hope to inspire in you a sense of community, Homer, an ethical imperative, as it were, in how you go about sending this all-important message – for that is what a front door is – and how it is worded is as engrossing as what it says; what will it say about you, Homer, and how important you are to the community (and conversely, how important the community is to you), so perhaps you should take the rest of the day off to reconsider this lurid color you’ve chosen for the job.

I know it’s a lot of fun going through the color chips at the paint store, and some of the names for the colors (how the manufacturers come up with these beauties has always baffled me), but a trusty rule of thumb is to always pick a lighter hue than the more sensationally named color chip. Because when it’s right there all over your front door – instead of on a thumbnail-sized chip – then it’s considerably more vivid than even a particularly disturbing nightmare.

So let’s take our time about it, Homer, and maybe next week, after the hysteria of the conventions has cooled, perhaps then our passion for livid colors will have taken on a softer tone. That is if the house hasn’t burnt down, in which case all these drop cloths will come in handy as tent walls and ground cloths at an evacuee camp.

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