The Painters are Here

I’ve got painters in my house. There’s no end in sight, they may be here for months at the rate they’re going, and although it was cute on Murphy Brown, it’s no freakin’ fun to have strangers in the house for eight hours a day.

And we’re talking my prime time eight hours, too. My husband leaves for work, the kids leave for school and I’m supposed to have the whole house to myself, free to come and go as I please, free to drink directly out of the milk carton, eat Greek olives and Ho Hos for lunch if I want to, sit on my rear and watch Lifetime movies. This time is key to my success at what I do: That is, it’s the only thing that keeps me here at home in front of this computer as opposed to running the cash register and putting stickers on tissue paper at Christopher Banks, a job I would take in a flash, just for the clothes.

I can’t be myself with painters in the house. What will they think of me? When painters get together, you can bet they compare stories about their clients. “This one lady wore the same sports bra every day I was there. And she talked to the Psychic Hotline for four hours one day.” “That’s nothing, my lady played Spider Solitaire on the computer all day and listened to Tony Bennett and Eminem.” “You guys are amateurs. My person spent all day peeling her sunburn. And she has a closet full airline liquor bottles and Hummel figurines.”

Why do I want to impress Tony and Pablo so much? Because I don’t want to be part of their painter’s gossip. I don’t want to be known as the weirdo recluse housewife who watches Law & Order and squirts whipped cream directly into her mouth.

It helps when I remind myself that their wives are probably doing the same thing as me all day. Tony and Pablo don’t know it, of course, because they’re not home. They’re at my house watching me be a load. When they go home and tell their wives that I ate four lunchbox-size Milano cookie packs for lunch, their wives probably tsk and shake their heads and say, “Loser.” But, come on. I can’t be the only one who isn’t winning any awards for using my time wisely.

It works both way, too, you know. I can make lots of judgements about them, too. Well, actually I can’t about these two guys. But take Danny, our last painter. We hired him to paint a bunch of rooms in our Lexington house because of the seven painters I called, he was the only one we could understand. We hadn’t lived in Kentucky long and the accents were throwing us into a state of reclusiveness. It was easier to not answer the phone and only talk to northern transplants like ourselves than to try to figure out what people were saying.

Danny was in our house so long that he became like a member of the family. Except he was like the uncle that you suspect had spent time in prison for an undisclosed offense and maybe had a little bit of brain damage.

On the first day of painting for us, he locked his keys in his car and I had to drive him to the hardware store to get a tool to break into his car. He liked to talk while he painted and since I was the only one home, he would talk almost constantly. Sometimes I wouldn’t even be in the room, or even on the same floor of the house and he’d start up a conversation. I heard all about his son who left the outside spigot on for an entire week and his water bill was huge and he was this close to putting the kid on a bus to Knoxville.

When Jack and Cary would get home from school, Danny would be there to fill them in on all the conversations that they missed. He found a pack of Virginia Slims in a sparkly leopard case hidden behind the toilet in Jack’s room and decided they were his, so he waited for Jack to come home and for me to leave and approached him, lecturing him on the dangers of smoking.

“They’re not mine,” Jack said, raising his eyebrows at the sparkly leopard case.

“I won’t tell your mom,” Danny said, “But - “

“They are not mine!” Jack was starting to fear this guy would spread rumors that Jack Fitzpatrick smoked girl cigarettes.

I was starting to count down the days until Danny was done and I could go back to being home alone all day. When he was finally finished, Tim discovered that he had only put one coat of paint on and you could see the old paint peeking through.

“We don’t have to call him, do we? Please don’t make me call him.” My husband called him and he came back and did a second coat on a couple of rooms and was surprisingly so nice that we offered to pay him more. He wouldn’t take the money.

I called Danny about a month later to follow up on a car auction he had talked about. I thought maybe he could give me some specifics. He answered the phone and I said, “Danny?” and he said, “Uh, um, no . . . he’s not here right now.” I knew it was him, the Deputy Dawg voice was unmistakable. “Danny, this is Diane Fitzpatrick. I was just calling to ask you about the car auction.” He sputtered around a little bit and then finally admitted to being himself. At the end of the conversation he apologized for pretending not to be home. “I had some trouble with this girl calling me all the time, so I just got to sayin’ I wasn’t home.” Oh, yes, and disguising your voice is out of the question?

I sometimes wonder what stories Danny tells about us. A teen-age boy smoking woman cigarettes, the woman that kept calling him at home, the weird paint colors we picked out (we painted our bedroom red and Cary’s room a shade of blue that looked like Kool-Ade). I hope his story doesn’t make it back to Tony and Pablo.

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