Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thoughtful, Unexpected Gestures: Part I...

The Stairs

Hmmmm...  There's got to be a good reason why this picture is here.

          Every man knows the most important rule of a successful marriage…
“Thou shalt never leave the toilet seat up
after conducting one’s business.”

However, coming in at a close second…

“Thou shalt make thoughtful gestures and give gifts,
both big and small, at expected as well as unexpected times,
during the course of the days, months, and years...
for as long as you are together.”

          For some women, finding a helicopter made of 87-karat gold hidden in a new walk-in closet constructed from endangered mink pelt would constitute a thoughtful, meaningful gesture.
          Fortunately for me, my wife’s expectations and tastes in gifts and gestures are a bit more modest and realistic.  When we were married back in 2007, she knew that I didn’t have any plans to deal heroin, so she doesn’t expect that she’ll ever step out the front door and trip over a new Maserati that I bought for her just because I was feeling generous.
          What that does mean is that I can score points in the marriage department with gifts and gestures that are sweet, thoughtful, and even practical.
          A few weeks ago, for instance, I took several hours out of my Saturday to replace our leaky garbage disposal.  While this gesture would fall in the department of expected and necessary, it’s nonetheless satisfying and even refreshing for a lady when she can rely on her man to replace a semi-major household appliance without flooding the kitchen, electrocuting himself, or burning the house down.  In all honesty, I also experienced quite a bit of self-satisfaction from this gesture, as I’m typically unable to operate most of the doorknobs in our home without referring to Home Depot’s Do-It-Yourself manual.
          And what about gifts and gestures of the unexpected nature?  If a man surprises his lady with a small token of affection… a rose, a café mocha, or some homemade muffins that don’t suck… she’ll most likely be very appreciative of his efforts, and she’ll beam like the sunshine for seven and a half minutes.
          But if a man surprises his lady with an unexpected gift of monumental proportions, then look the hell out.  This is how oceans are parted and mountains are moved.  Well, maybe not oceans and mountains, but if the unexpected gesture is significant, the goodwill can last up to a week.
          Consider, for example...  The Stairs.  Since moving into our house several years ago, we’ve been gradually repainting all of the rooms and hallways in an attempt to make the place our own.  In some cases, this has involved covering up color schemes and stenciling that would seem at home in the dining room at Cracker Barrel.  It’s not that we’re against old-school country décor, and it’s clear that the previous owners put a lot of care, effort, and love into the stenciling and painting.  But now that we own the place, we want it to make it a bit more modern.
          Most of the rooms have been finished, but the front hallway with it’s drab, tan tone and meconium-colored stenciling has not been touched, the primary reason being that the color theme of the trim and walls in the front entryway continues up the stairwell and onto the second floor hallway.  Any effort to paint the downstairs hallway would need to include the stairwell, as well as the upstairs hallway, for the project to truly be complete.
          “No way I’m painting the trim on those stairs,” my wife remarked a few years ago.  “We’re going to hire somebody for that.”

Wash, tape, paint...  and repeat 29 more times.

          I certainly didn’t blame her for saying so.  The drab tan tone of the trim continued onto the exposed, vertical surface of each of the stairs, which is partially-covered by a carpeted runner.  Trying to cover up every nook and cranny of exposed wood without getting paint on the runner would be a slow, tedious ordeal.
          But I ultimately disagreed with her, saying that I couldn’t see the point of hiring somebody just to paint a relatively minor section of trim and stairway, when they could just as easily slip up and get paint on the carpet.
          At that point, we did what any normal married couple would do in this type of situation.  We stopped talking about it for awhile, in hopes that the trim and stairs would paint themselves while we were sleeping or away on vacation.
          Four years later, we were both pretty disappointed that the trim in the stairwell was still off-drab tan.
          As March rolled around each winter, my wife would drop the comment that it would be nice to finally paint the front hallway so we could hang up some of the pictures that we’ve been accumulating; she’d suggest that her upcoming week off in April would be the perfect time.  But alas, April would come and go without so much as a single color swatch making an appearance near the front entryway.
          Three weeks ago, after six years in the house, I decided to blow her mind.
          She had already been coming off a particularly stressful few weeks at work, and because of a scheduling anomaly, she was facing three consecutive overnight twelve-hour shifts (seven at night to seven in the morning) on a Monday through Wednesday.  I knew that she’d be exhausted and by the end of the second shift, so I decided that Monday evening was the perfect time to spring into action.
          Once she was safely out the door and down the driveway, I retrieved our vacuum from the closet and gave the runner and stairs a thorough cleaning with the brush attachment.  As I worked the tool into the crevices, cracks, and corners of the stairwell, I noticed that there was quite a bit of lint and grime that had built up along the trim.
          “Nasty!” I heard myself blurt out, as I skillfully guided the tool all along the trim, trying to suck up as much of the festering detritus as I could manage.
          The next order of business was to clean and scrub the trim and stairs with vinegar to remove any excess dirt and scuff marks, and then wipe it dry with paper towels.  That was all I could accomplish that evening without arousing any suspicion from my wife that something was up.  I spent the rest of the night with my feet up in front of the fireplace, playing Words with Friends and plucking the excess tufts from Indy, who’d been shedding profusely for over a month.
          The real work began the following evening.  Once my wife was out the door, I began the arduous task of applying painting tape to the surface of every single stair. It didn’t take as long as I’d anticipated.  Once I got started, I settled into a comfortable rhythm of measuring, tearing, and applying the bright blue tape, with the entire task taking around forty minutes.
          With the preparation out of the way, it was finally time to paint.  And the most important decision of the evening had yet to be made.  It had nothing to do with what color to use or what size brush to rely on to skillfully navigate the cramped area around the carpet runner, as those decisions had been made days ago.  The one remaining decision that would dictate the success of the rest of the evening was the music selection.
          Painting is silence was certainly not an option.  The rumble and din of random thoughts coursing chaotically through my mind, combined with my three minute attention span, would not lead a particularly productive evening.  Classical music would have been appropriate for low-key housework, but I was afraid it would lull me to sleep during a lengthier task that required a more acute level of focus.  Jazz didn’t seem like the proper choice, as the temptation to tap my feet or pluck on my imaginary upright bass could lead to a disastrous mishap with paint spatter.
          As I continued to scan my collection of CDs, the answer became obvious.
          “Of course!”
          I reached for Savatage’s magnum opus Hall of the Mountain King, one of the most awesome heavy metal albums to emerge from the 80s, or ever, for that matter.

Hey kids...  This is what real metal sounds like.

          For the next two hours, I carefully coated the trim along the stairwell, as well as the exposed vertical areas on either side of the carpeted runner, all while Savatage lead singer John Oliva shrieked, screamed, and cackled from the stereo in the other room… howling about creepy dungeons, enslaved kings, forsaken witches, and forbidden treasure… simultaneously dueling with the wailing lead guitar lines of his late brother Criss, a sorely under-appreciated metal guitarist in his own right.
          I found myself deeply absorbed in the task at hand and eventually realized that the work I was doing was quite satisfying.  Carefully, I painted small sections of the trim and baseboard, pulling back the carpeted runner, when necessary, to cover any visible sections of the stairs.  I worked my way down the left side of the stairs and back up the right, only taking one extended break to start the CD over and get a glass of water.  Unlike my wife who was not fond of painting trim, I found that I was actually enjoying the task at hand, stepping back frequently to admire my handiwork.  At that moment, I decided that we would split any future painting projects, with my wife taking care of the walls while I painted the trim and baseboards.

I wasn't too happy about leaving two
Triple Word Scores open.  But oh well...

          Just as nine-thirty rolled around, I applied a final brush stroke to the section of trim adjacent to the top step.  In just under three hours, I had finished taping and painting every section of trim and exposed wood within our stairwell.  After cleaning up and putting away the paint and supplies, I adjourned back to the couch in front of the fireplace, where I spent the rest of the evening catching up on the handful of Words With Friends games in progress.
          The next morning, I was sitting on the living room couch with my feet up on the coffee table, sipping coffee, and grooming Indy.  Just before eight o’clock, I heard the back door jiggle and open, as my wife walked in.
          “What a night,” she groaned, dropping her bag on the table and closing the door.  “I can’t take three in a row very often.”
          “Well, you have several nights off now,” I said.  “I’m sure your day will get better from here.”
          “What? What do you mean?”
          “Nothing.  Just go put your pajamas on.  You’ll feel better.”
          She continued mumbling to herself as she shuffled her tired, over-worked feet through the kitchen and into the front room.
          “Here it comes,” I whispered to Indy, who was still sprawled out on my legs.  He clearly wasn’t interested, but I craned my neck in curiosity, listening for her footsteps.  I heard them continue halfway up the stairs; then they stopped. She spoke up after a few moments of silence.
          “What… is this?”
          “What’s what,” I asked, as I grabbed hold of a snarl behind Indy’s chin and yanked it out.
          “Um. What did you do?”
          “What does it look like I did?”
          “I painted the trim while you were at work last night.”
          “You painted the trim while I was at work last night.”
          “Yes, that’s what I just said.”  She was speechless for about ten seconds before speaking up again.  “And what would inspire you to do such a thing?”
          “You’ve wanted to paint the hallway for several years now,” I said, “but I know you’ve been dreading the trim and the stairs.”
          “And we don’t need to hire somebody else to do what I’m perfectly capable of doing on my own,” I continued.  “Now that the stairs are taken care of, I’ll do the rest of the trim.  And you can paint the walls once your April vacation rolls around.”
          “This is so unexpected,” she said.  “But… did we even discuss the color?”
          “I’m pretty sure we decided on the Dover White,” I said, as I braced myself for the flurry of questions to follow once the initial shock had worn off.
          “But… shouldn’t you have checked with me before buying more paint?”
          “I didn’t buy any new paint.  We have that entire can from Sherwin Williams, which we hardly used for the living room trim.”
          “Oh… You’re sure that’s the color we agreed on?”
          “If the rest of the trim in every room of the house is white, why wouldn’t we use the same color for hallways and stairs?”
          “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  Now, you do know that before you paint, you have to cle—,"
          “Yes, I remembered to prep the surfaces.”
          “You actually scrubbed them with—,"
          “I vacuumed the stairs and trim, removed all of the dust and grime, scrubbed everything with vinegar, and dried it off thoroughly.  I actually did that on Monday night, so it had twenty four hours to air dry.”
          “You cleaned everything?”
          “Honey, I’ve spent the last four summers painting the back of our house.  I know how to prepare a surface to be painting.”
          “Wow. I don’t know what to say,” she said, finally appearing from around the corner of the banister and making her way back into the family room.  “That was so sweet of you. What a nice surprise!”
          “My pleasure,” I said.
          “That helps me out so much.”
          “Of course, you know what would be really nice as a way to repay my generosity?” I asked, thinking back to the March 2013 issue of Cooking Light, which we’d both perused just over a week ago.
          “You mean…, ” her enthusiasm tailed off mid-sentence, “you can’t do something nice without expecting a favor in return?”
          “Sure I can.  But this is something we’d both enjoy,” I offered reassuringly.
          “What…,” she paused as I flashed my charming grin, “…do you want me to make?”
          “Well remember those recipes from Vedge in Cooking Light?”

Click HERE for Part II.

Cats can be kind of vain sometimes.

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