Color Separation

housepaintDrafting was my favorite class in high school. I took it all four years. While technically an elective, it was by no means an easy class. I enjoyed the challenge of meeting the high expectations of a very demanding instructor. I was something of a natural, and became quite good at drawing.

When a local businessman contacted the drafting department, offering some freelance work, the instructor recommended me. Bob’s small office was in easy biking distance to my home. He clearly fancied himself to be a wise, benevolent mentor, seeking an apprentice on whom to shower his wealth of knowledge and experience. The pay would be more than I was getting for gardening jobs, and the work seemed exciting, so I could certainly play along with the role of willing pupil.

His one-man operation primarily consisted of writing technical manuals for assorted Silicon Valley electronics companies, but he dabbled in a variety of other ventures. I mostly did illustration for the manuals. However, since he paid better than other work I did, I helped Bob with just about any task he needed. Over several years I also provided him with printed circuit board design, electronics assembly, IT support, computer programing, yard work, and… painting. I excelled at all of these… except the latter one.

Bob had just completed some renovation work at his home, and needed some interior painting. I never turned down work from my clients if I could accommodate them. It was summertime, so I was able to carve out a week to help him with the project.

Bob tended to spend long hours in his office, though he often didn’t seem particularly busy. It was almost as if he didn’t like being at home, with his wife and son. I had met his wife, Corinne, a few times, but only superficially. This would be the first time I spent much time with her. She was kind and maternal.

I hadn’t done much house painting before. Bob provided the supplies and gave me a general overview of the process, including which type of paint to go from dry-to-wet and which to go from wet-to-dry. Seemed simple enough. The scope consisted of three rooms and their connecting hallway. The first couple of days, I painted the rooms using the cans labeled for each.

Corinne was complimentary and supportive, offering me beverages and snacks throughout the day. Bob would check in at lunchtime and at the end of each day. He’d inspect my work and provide what he determined to be the appropriate amount of constructive criticism. Corinne and Bob didn’t seem to interact much. In fact, they seemed to be quite terse with each other. I assumed that the renovation process had probably caused a great deal of stress. Hard to tell… and none of my business. I just pretended not to notice the tension.

After finishing the last room, I started on the hallway. As it was late in the afternoon, I only finished partway. I wrapped the roller tray in plastic to keep the paint wet and called it a day. The next morning, I topped off the paint in the tray and started painting from the other end of the hallway… wet-into-dry. I was almost done when Bob came home for his lunchtime inspection. At first glance he said, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

I couldn’t understand why he was yelling, but thought maybe he expected me to be done by now, so I said, “I’m just finishing up the hallway, then I’ll paint the trim and be done.”

“HOW CAN YOU BE ‘FINISHING UP’, WHEN YOU’VE PAINTED THE HALL TWO DIFFERENT COLORS? HOW COULD YOU MAKE THAT KIND OF MISTAKE?”

I examined the length of the hallway, “What are you talking about?”

Hearing the ruckus, Corinne rushed up, “What’s the matter?”

“DIDN’T YOU NOTICE THAT HE PAINTED THAT END OF THE HALL THE RIGHT COLOR, THEN PAINTED THIS END SOME MIX OF THAT COLOR AND THE BEDROOM COLOR? HAVEN’T YOU BEEN KEEPING AN EYE ON HIM?”

Realizing with dread what probably happened, I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice they were different colors. I had to open a new can this morning, and just added it into the roller pan.”

“HOW COULD YOU NOT NOTICE?”

“Uhh… remember… I’m colorblind. I just thought these unlabeled cans were all the same color.”

Corinne interjected, “IT’S NOT HIS FAULT!”

Bob said, “YOU WERE HERE… YOU SHOULD HAVE NOTICED!”

Things went downhill from there. They began yelling at each other with increasing venom. They didn’t notice when I discreetly made my escape.

When I turned some illustration work in to Bob the following week, he didn’t mention the incident. He acted as though it hadn’t happened. I did notice that he looked a bit disheveled, and that there was a small mattress in the corner of the office. He saw me glance in that direction. “Corinne and I have separated. I’m living here for the time being.”

I’ve hosted a visceral dislike of house painting ever since.

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