Thursday, July 19, 2007

How I Met [Redacted] Part V

Paint gets under your fingernails. You can try to scrub it out. You can dump mineral spirits over your fingertips to dissolve it. At first that’s a nice feeling, cool on your skin in an unearthly way that feels a bit like quiet, happy death must, but then the turpentine leeches all the natural oils from your skin. After a few applications cracks split your flesh and your cuticles turn red. So you give up and resign yourself to spending the summer with a white rime around the edges of your nails and deep in the nicks and whorls of your fingerprints. You could wear gloves, but the best days to paint are the hottest days, which makes them uncomfortable. Plus, believe it or not, painting a wall requires a modicum of sensitivity. You dab the brush in your paint bucket and then draw it over the wood at just the right speed, with just the right pressure. Too much force and you get runs. Too little pressure and you need to go over one spot again and again. The paint mottles and looks like shit. So no gloves.

I was sitting under a maple tree picking white flecks off my hand after lunch. I was alone on the job, wondering how I got myself into this mess. When Donovan suggested that I take the painting franchise as in-kind payment for my injuries, at first I thought he was joking. Now that I’d let the deal go through, I wished that he was. My arm was still in a short cast, and my ribs felt like they’d be sore for the rest of my life. And I had no crew. The frat boys Blackstone hired were not chattel after all, and even if they had been, I still would have gotten rid of them when I took over.

So what did I get as a settlement? A bunch of paint, brushes, three extension ladders, two heat guns and one scaffolding rig. I also got all the painting contracts Blackstone had secured up until the moment of my accident. There were four of them, and they had a net value of $56,214.23. Which, on its face was a pretty big number. But when you considered that I had to paint these houses and I had to find other people to help me, train them and pay them, it was more like a millstone than a windfall.

I had placed ads looking for painters in the local paper, that set me back a few bucks that I didn’t have. It yielded odd-hours phone calls from drunks and foreigners. The phone interviews themselves were difficult enough to deal with. Usually I ruled an applicant out as soon as he said hello. If they couldn’t communicate clearly either because they were plastered or completely unlettered in English, I didn’t want to deal with them at all, let alone pay them. So for four days I had been laboring alone, grinding vicodin between my molars when the pain got to be too much, and hoping for a savoir, or at least a native English speaker who could hold a paint brush.

I got both in the form of [Redacted]. He rode up on a pink bicycle—later he would insist that it was salmon colored. I looked up from my hands and saw him standing there. He was about six feet tall, balding and on the verge of laughing at me. “Who’s gonna sign your cast if it’s just getting covered with paint?” he said.

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