The painter came today to do the studio. The study. My den. The place where I have spent so many happy years whiling away at the machinery, unaware that my hatred of the color of the room was growing with each day, until at one point I thought “bronchitis effluvium; however have I lived with this for so long?”
Truth is, there are two hues in the house I’d never have chosen, but they were here when we moved in and fit the place so well I had no objection. Over the years we’ve done the kitchen twice, and it’s now a gorgeous light mossy green, if you can imagine such a thing, with a vivid version in the adjacent loo. The hallways and stairways were lightened as well. The sole residue of the old scheme’s more objectionable element was my study, and I’d finally had enough.
Went to the paint store, and went to the Very Light Grey, Heck, Almost White section. Chose the lightest grey I could that seemed to still have some grey in it. The name was ASH WHITE. I remember the ash that fell over our house when the grocery store ran its incinerator - delicate, pale, almost grey. As kids we thought it was FALLOUT and ran away accordingly, until we learned otherwise. Who could blame us? This was just what Fallout was supposed to look like. It could have come from Alaska.
If you didn’t grow up in that era you have no idea how nuclear fear could shape your emotional and psychological foundation. My terror of it was immense, and probably started around the very early seventies. Late Great Planet Earth was floating around; the culture was either haha inane a la Laugh-In or grimly dystopian or apocalyptic, with a thin wedge of delusional utopianism between the two.
No, perhaps it began earlier, perhaps ’68 or ’69, when the camp counselor told us that nuclear war had broken out. I’ve told the tale here before, and hesitate to do so again; merciless Google spiders will allow people to compare the tale, see how it withers or gets embellished. All right, then, just the facts: towards the end of the week at beloved White Earth Lutheran Camp everyone gathered at the lake shore for Vespers, whatever those were. Verse in whispers, maybe. But it’s a comforting word, like a hand soothing a fevered brow. We sat on wooden benches. If you’d bought candy from the canteen, you probably had it palmed so you weren’t seen munching on Hot Tamales while you were supposed to be devout. I can still see the place. The dock, the shack, the woods to our left and right, the road going up back to the camp. I loved it there.
The counselor came out - his name was Charlie Brown - called for quiet, and stood very still, not saying anything - until he announced that nuclear war had broken out, and Soviet missiles were on their way. This was true. He was very calm.
Let us pray.
Stunned silence. Horrified silence. Memory adds a few stifled sobs; quite possible.
Then he said something to the effect that this wasn’t true, but if it was, were we right with Jesus? Prepared to meet him and make an account? I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with that when you’re eleven or twelve. Feel bad because my cousin and I snuck a look at his dad’s Playboy? Because I didn’t. Am I going to have to lie to Jesus about Playboy in ten minutes?
Everyone trudged back to the cabins in a foul, revolutionary mood. A few days ago I mentioned John, the bully who A) beat me up while he was on crutches in elementary school, and B) would later shoot pindarts into my neck in junior high. I remember him laying on the top bunk glaring murder at the ceiling. He said:
“I want to stab Charlie Brown in the gut and watch him float in the lake.”
Or words to that effect. There was stabbing in there. Muttered assents from around the cabin. Lights out.
I’ll give him this: John Larson was the kind of guy who, when ash fell from the sky and the other kids said FALLOUT and ran away, would stick out his tongue to taste it.
Anyway. Ash white. I called the painter from work to see how it was going, and he said it was going fine.
“It matches the swatch you gave me exactly,” he said, and I thought “well great! Don’t know why it wouldn’t, but great.”
I go down for more computer training, and discover huzzah there isn’t any. I was done yesterday. Well, column’s filed. Blog’s in. Off tralala to the computer store, where I picked up an ethernet switcher, since the addition of another NAS means I need more ports. But: FAST switcher, or GIGABIT ULTRA-WHAMDIGIOUS switcher? Ask a tech, tell me what I have, and then say the obvious: “there’s no possible reason I shouldn’t get the one with the most ports and the highest speed, is there.” He says no and says I might want to use CAT-6 if I want the mostest bestest. Of course! Off to the cable aisle.
“Damn expensive,” says a guy, looking at the cables. Middle-aged grey guy old parka 70s glasses, one of the old-line nerd engineers you find at MicroCenter, because it’s the type of store that has an entire grocery-store aisle of ethernet switches and an entire aisle with a sign LEGACY CABLES.
“Yeah, but it’s CAT-6!” I say, y’know, sarco-ironically.
He shakes his head and says “I’d just buy a spool and make my own connections,” to which you want to say “I would too except I prefer to spend my time making money without much effort and sleeping with beautiful women,” but no.
They do not have enough white cables. I go with green, because they’ll be out of sight and it will help me identify which goes where. Get in line. Mind you: almost 4 PM on a Thursday. There are 24 people in line to check out.
“Did you find everything you needed?” the clerk asks.
“No,” I said. “Three-foot Cat-6 white cables. You’re out.”
“Are we out out, or just none on display?”
“It doesn’t matter. I decided to use the green as a visual aid to tell what’s going into the NAS.”
He nods, because he’s used to people with no social skills or social lives wantin’ to talk a little shop at the check-out point. I get back in the car, and check my MOVES app: it has correctly identified my location. This is remarkable. It’s an app that counts your steps, but it also draws a daily map of every place you go. It has identified that I stopped here after a period of transit, and walked a certain amount of steps; tapping on the icon for the place that I stopped, it offers MICROCENTER as a name. I accept this. At the end of the day it will generate a map of everywhere I went. Marvelous. No point, but I love it.
I surprise my daughter at school, and give her a ride home. We talk about the day; I tell her I got an ethernet switcher, and she makes a wan sound of congratulation. Thinking ahead to the day her computer dies and technology moves down the household stream, I note that one day she’ll have my iMac. To my surprise she doesn’t want it. She doesn’t want a big screen. She wants a laptop only.
“That’s insane,” says Jimmy Two-Screens, as a friend once called me. (Making me realize I owe that friend a phone call.)
“IT’S NOT. JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE A BIG SCREEN DOESN’T MEAN”
Okay, okay, don’t teen it up. Sheesh. We get home, and the smell of fresh paint hits us in the basement. Oh, right! Up we go to take a look.
“Ooooh, cool,” she says.
“It’s blue,” I say.
“It’s BLUE.” And it is. Faint pastel baby-nursery blue.
“It matches the swatch you gave me exactly,” he said. I think that was his way of warning me and absolving himself of any responsibility, because he knew I wanted grey. Hence the selection of ASH WHITE. You think ASH WHITE, the color blue really doesn’t enter into it.
Wife comes home, goes up, takes a look.
“It’s blue,” she says.
“I like it,” says daughter.
“I hate it,” I say.
The painter might give me a discount on a redo if I ask him to do the family room in the basement. Come to think of it, I hate that color too.