It's not about the house.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

But Where Would You Get Your Coat?

I want to tell you a little story about my kitchen floor.

When we bought this alleged “house” in 2004 (4? 5? Oh christ I just realized I can’t remember anymore. Hang on, let me check my mortgage. I happen to have it handy because I pulled it out to see if it was secured by Fannie or Freddie, see if maybe a sister could catch a break from the brother for whom she so enthusiastically voted on November 4th. Turns out it ain’t, though, so I can’t. Or maybe it is and I can. Fact is, I can’t tell. Which just goes to show that after all these years I still have a zero-sum understanding of any of this shit. But it’s dated 2004. So at least I know that “all these years” equals five. And just looking at those documents has given me a dose of galloping first-time homebuyer anxiety all over again).

Anyway, when we bought this so-called “house” in 2004, the kitchen was a sight. In fact, the only thing preventing the kitchen from being the hands-down worst of all the insurance liabilities we laughingly called “rooms,” was the (actual, literal, physical, see-through-save-for-the-stick-that-poked-it) hole in the roof of the master bedroom that had been leaking for, oh, I’d say at least fifteen years. But if you shut that room off (which we did, believe me – you puked if you so much as smelled it), then the kitchen was the pessimal space by far.

[“Pessimal.” You like that? Means “maximally bad,” or “environment least conducive to survival.” Like the opposite of optimal. I may have used it slightly wrong, because I’ve never heard it before in my life, but I got it by plugging “worst” into the Visual Thesaurus. Never heard of the Visual Thesaurus? Oh my god – go play there now! Or wait till you’re done being enlightened by my wit, and then go there. Very, very, very cool.]

Aside from all the tetanus and termite damage the kitchen sported then, aside from a sink that had been leaking so long as to rust out the metal cabinet underneath it, and aside from the antique, amateur, and overwhelmingly threadbare electricals – aside from all of those minor and largely cosmetic concerns – there was the question of the floor: Three-inch linoleum-y tiles (I say linoleum-y because I don’t know what they were made of, exactly. In all honesty, they were probably asbestos. But since we pulled them up and threw them out with the trash, we’re going to go ahead and say “linoleum-y,” then stick our fingers in our ears and sing the la la song. La la…) three-inch linoleum-y tiles in various grease-stained shades of black, blue, green, yellow, red and gray. Really, truly, hideola – oh, heck, here:

See? And yet everyone who walked into my house said “ooh” and “ah” and “those are vintage ‘50s!” and “you’re not going to pull that floor up, are you?”

Well, yes, Everyone. Yes, we indeedy were. We had no idea what horrors lay beneath it, but one of very few things Johnny and I managed to agree on about the house at that point was the idea that the days of the kitchen’s harlequin-ass floor were numbered. As it happened, of course, the char-rot in the master bedroom took lung-infecting precedent over the rising of my slender but still purely aesthetically-induced gorge, so those floor-days turned out to be numbered somewhere upwards of a thousand. Or seven hundred. I don’t know. Who can remember these sorts of details anymore?

Still, though, it was supposed to have been even longer. Because when the stove exploded and forced us to begin the kitchen work ahead of schedule, we had no intention at that point of laying a finger on the floor. We planned to deal with the immediate and functional bits – the smoldering stove, the festering faucet, the egregious electrics – and leave the floor for another time when we could do it right. After all, we were pretty sure there’d be comprehensive pulling-up required and, if that did turn out to be the case, then we were pretty sure we’d want wide pine to match the brand-newly redone MBR – and we were stunningly certain we could not afford to do that then.

But I was out of town when the demolition stage commenced, and I came home to discover that our friend George – who’d come over to help – had gotten a wild hair, pulled up all the tiles, and scrubbed off all the tarpaper that held them down (or whatever it is tarpaper under floor tiles is meant to do). What lay beneath them, he discovered, was an original and originally-painted hardwood floor. Not just any hardwood, either. Fir. And ¾” thick. Painted a barn-ish red, which had worn off beautifully over the years.

Well, didn’t I fall instantly in love.

I knew it would need something – maybe a light sand, maybe a coat of varnish, certainly a Silkwood-style disinfectant scrub – but I wanted to keep it. Whatever we did with the rest of the kitchen, I wanted to do it around that painted floor. But people told me no. My dad wrinkled up his nose at the mere suggestion. My mom and friend Marie were disappointed that the crap tiles were gone. And although I honestly can’t remember what Johnny’s reaction was, I’m certain I’d remember if it was an enthusiastic yes. I do recall, however, that he relayed my desire to every single skilled-trade friend of his that traipsed through our house – carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, even auto mechanics – and to a man (and one woman) they all said “Your wife’s nuts.”

So I gave up. Who am I to argue with fifty million Frenchmen, after all?

A few more years went by, over which the wooden floor remained exposed out of necessity (for which read: poverty), and the plan for it coalesced into something like this: live with it as it is until we can afford to rip it out and put in wide pine like we said; but if necessity should intervene and we have to sell before that, then we’ll slap down some cheapy-ass linoleum to hide the mess. Ugh. I didn’t like it, but I’d gotten to the point I didn’t care. There actually is a very good chance we’ll have to sell this house – if we even can – before we finish it, so what sort of shit do I give about the details anymore?

That’s part of the reason, to be quite frank about it, that we finally got around to finishing the kitchen this year. Yes, we got tired of living with it all acey-deucy, and yes, we got a very nice soap dispenser for Christmas 2007 that clashed hideously with unpainted plasterboard, and even yes, we might have just up and decided to accomplish something around here for the first time in a while. But the real impetus came from the notion that if we have to up and sell, prospective buyers might overlook the faux-wood-panelled dining room, they might forgive the poop-colored lino in the bedrooms, and – if we knock $10,000 or so off the asking price – they just might be willing to take ownership of the leaky roof… But no one’s going to overlook a half-assed kitchen, not in this or any other realty world.

Well, except for us, of course. Once upon an economic meltdown ago. In (apparently) 2004.

So we (by which I mean mostly Johnny) kicked it into gear. We called in a few more favors, spent $200 in Home Depot gift cards and going on $500 of our own nonexistent cash (that’s just this latest round; I don’t remember anymore what we spent last year, or in 2006), and got it done. And magically – as work progressed and we drew nearer to the looming Linoleum D-day – Johnny gradually began to change his mind about the floor.

Maybe it was the endless days he spent in there by himself, or maybe it was the first coat of yellow on the walls, but he came to me one day with the idea that we might not cover up that fir or rip it out. What if, he said, he painted it green and give it a faux-finish? Marbleized, perhaps, or something granite. It would still look like wood, of course (‘cause of, you know, the boards) but said he’d done this sort of thing before and it worked out. Quite honestly, I didn’t love the idea – not of the faux-finishing or of the green – but I learned a long time ago not to question his judgment when it comes to his trade. Even if I might at first wrinkle up my nose at his suggestion, it always comes out lovely in the end. And besides, at least this way I’d get to keep my wooden floor.

Then last week, I was sick. Spent three whole days in bed with a flucold from hell. And on one of those days (I couldn’t tell you which), one of Johnny’s tradey friends stopped by. A carpenter. A temperamental carpenter who tends to pick fights like a girl, after which he stops speaking to Johnny for months or years on end, and then shows up on the doorstep one day like nothing happened. I love him. We are kindred, he and I. Plus he makes a really yummy seven-layer dip.

Anyway, on this day when I was sick-a-bed, Temperamental Carpenter showed up and Johnny told him of his plan to faux-finish the kitchen floor. T.C. and he had been on the outs the last time it was discussed, so although he’d seen the floor a bunch of times, this was the first occasion on which he’d been asked his opinion. He looked at it and said he liked the color that was there just fine, it was very traditional, and if it were his house he would just paint it that color again. I held my breath and listened to my heartbeat until I heard Johnny say “Yeah, you’re right. That’s what I’ll do.” And then I did a tiny little in-my-sickbed dance (which, to an outsider, might have looked like me just rolling over and blowing my nose, but it was celebratory, nonetheless).

We were getting closer! Not ripping it out, not covering it, and not faux-finishing or painting it green! Oh my god, I appear to be winning some sort of years-long home-décor debate, and I haven’t even said or done a single thing. (Note to self – nah, never mind. I’d never be able to pull this tactic off on purpose.)

So the plan for this past weekend was that I would stain and varnish woodwork, while Johnny’d give the floor a light sand and paint it red. It turned out Benjamin Moore has discontinued the only floor paint Johnny likes, but the hardware store had one more gallon left they were just about to return – and it happened to be in our very color! This was kismet. This was fate. This was fifty more non-refundable dollars happily spent. And then, when Johnny was on his hands and knees scraping the last bits of tarpaper off the last few corner-places on the kitchen floor, he looked up at me and said:

“Do you think we should just clean it up?”

I said “What do you mean?” and he said:

“Do you think we should just clean it up?”

Now, Johnny and I often come dangerously close to actual blows over this sort of thing. He seems to think “what do you mean?” is just a long way of saying “what?” and so rather than explain, he repeats himself. I eventually start positing possible explanations (“Do you mean should we get professional sanders in here to take the paint off and just varnish it like a regular hardwood floor?”) and he eventually gets mad that I don’t understand (“No! I mean just clean it!?”). Then I get mad (“Yeah, Johnny, let’s just mop it and leave it. That’s a fucking great idea”), he gets self-righteous (“Jesus Christ, Erin, I’ve been doing this for forty years. You’d think I might know what the fuck I’m talking about.”), and I get indignant (“I know you know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you’re talking about, because you won’t tell me what you’re talking about!”). These sorts of altercations can end any number of ways. The last time, I was washing dishes and I flung a bowl of water at him from across the room. Not the bowl, mind you, just the water that was in it. So he flung pickled beets at me off a plate. Made for a hell of a gory-looking mess to clean up afterwards, I’ll tell you what, but it effectively (and not a little ridiculously) ended the argument right there. This time, though, it ended with Johnny saying “Here, I’ll show you,” and getting back down on his knees.

He grabbed a green scouring pad – like the kind you use for washing pots – liberally soaked it in denatured alcohol, and took it to the floor. Scrubbed back and forth with the grain like Little Orphan Annie putting her whole heart into her hard-knock life, until all of a sudden all the hundred-year-old red paint was in play again. He did this to an area of about two by three feet, then dropped the scrubby and wiped the whole thing with a rag. When he was done, the parts that had paint on them to begin with still had paint, but it was clean enough that it looked almost new – and the parts that were bare before had picked up enough pigment as to look almost stained. Well, here, I’ll show you:



Technically, those aren’t the same area of floor. And maybe it would have been a good idea to give the “after” area a sweep before I shot it. But you see.

He did that 2x3’ bit, sat back on his haunches looking up at me, and said “Like that. What do you think? The whole floor like that and a coat of varnish and we’ll leave it? It would be a shame to touch this beat-up floor, after all. I’ve been in houses where people have paid me good money to fake this sort of thing.” So I cried and kissed him and – after three years of silent capitulation – seem to have won. (Shush, don’t go telling anybody, least of all my dearheart husband. I did allow myself one little “That’s exactly what I’ve wanted all along!” but when he said “Me too!” I kept my mouth shut. He did not. But he does now, and that’s what matters.)

Of course, immediately upon finishing that six-square-foot bit, he came down with my flucold and went to bed. Which means the family may well come for Patrick’s Day next weekend and see only that little sample instead of the completely-finished room we were hoping to show off. We also have a gallon of floor paint we paid $50 for and can’t return. But compared to the $300,000+ we’ve spent on the AssVac so far, what’s another wasted $50, after all? Besides, Johnny says we’ll find some use for it somewhere and I’m sure he’s right. If nothing else, we can always fling it at one another – instead of wasting food – the next time we’re feeling shouty.

In the meantime, I don’t care about the lino in my office anymore. I don’t care about the wood-panel or the leaky roof. For now, I’m just reveling in the smell of Minwax on the almost-finished kitchen trim, and celebrating the fact that I get to keep my antique and naturally-distressed kitchen floor.

At least, that is, till we skip town and mail the keys to Countrywide.


beardonaut said...

That tiled floor is the second worst decorating detail I've ever seen, only topped by the vinyl fake wood veneer that covered all the doors in my cousin's apartment before she tore them off.

Ladyscot said...

I heard this morning (on TV) that if you have a big colored sheet of paper that says "FHA" on it embedded in your mortgage, then you have a Fannie or Freddie mortgage and are eligible for one of the programs.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who Fannie or Freddie are, but I do know the floor is going to look fantastic when it's done.

LadyCiani said...

The new/old wood floor is beautiful. The linoleum was hideous. So much better.

splorp! used to work for Countrywide, servicing loans. He says you just need to call them up (just the regular customer service peoples, the ones who can take your payments over the phone) and ask them "Who's the investor in my loan?" and they will be able to tell you easily.

That said, if you have questions about what the fine print in your loan paperwork actually means he will be happy to interpret it for you. Send me an e-mail if you want.

Charlie said...

all those links to visual thesaurus and you couldn't come up with another word for "very?"

Janice said...

isn't it great how often your idea can be rejected and then, if left to mellow, resurrected by your spouse as THEIR idea a few weeks, months (years) later? I love it! I love your floor too :-)

Janice said...

I don't understand the title though...

Sashimi said...

Visual Thesaurus lets me try only one spelling for free :-( Wants to be BOUGHT for any further use! How materialistic can the world get!

ege said...

Beardo -- How dare you imply my house is not the ugliest you've ever seen!?

Ladyscot -- I heard that, too, and I don't have that big sheet. But then I found something else that has a box checked that says something about "if this loan is secured by FHA." Dad's coming next weekend. I'll make him figure it out.

12 -- Yeah! Screw Fannie and Freddie, anyway!

LadyC -- Hm... If Dad can't figure it out, I'll call them. Thanks! (And if I still can't figure it out, I'll email you...)

Charli -- Real, really, rattling. Hang on. Rattling? I never heard it, but I like it. I rattling like it!

Janice -- Whoops, I went a little left-field with the title. It is the title of a song from the Cole Porter musical "Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong" -- it doesn't really have anything to do with the post aside from that, I just really like the lyrics. (There's no "but" in the actual title, in case you go googling.)

Sashimi -- Oh. Yeah. I forgot about that part. One Friend gave me the subscription for Christmas and I forgot about the pay part. But I bet you get one free word every time you go there, though. Down with The Man!

pork luck said...

I like it when you guys throw things at each other. That's my favorite.

DonnaStaf said...

I am so jealous of the floor. When we bought this beauty 20 yrs ago there was HARDWOOD under the tile. But it had squares of black from the glue on it that discolored it. Hubby said it could not be saved and covered it with luan, screwed down a million times. I was young, silly and listened to him then...

Sparkle Plenty said...

YAAY! Great post, EGE, very funny and well-written. I like the way the floor looks, too. While, much like Pork Luck, I enjoyed the pickled beet and water dinging, I also really liked this bit:

“Do you think we should just clean it up?”
I said “What do you mean?” and he said:
“Do you think we should just clean it up?”


So sorry to hear Johnny's sick and hope you're feeling much better.

Sparkle Plenty said...

P.S. Pessimal is awesome. Must find a way to use it.
P.P.S. Could we bastardize "pessimal" and create "infinitepessimal"? Many days I would like to call many things "infinitepessimal."

ege said...

PorkPie -- heh heh heh. You should see it in person!

Donna -- Oh, man! Good thing you learned not to listen to him!

Sparkle -- Yes! Yay! I love bastardizizing!