Chapter 32: The Saga Beowulf and Grendel
A day before my scheduled departure, Hans came to me with a proposition. He knew from conversations we had together that my stepfather was a professional painter and mistakenly believed that I somehow inherited some of those skills. Also, he knew that in less than two weeks, my first Quarter at UCLA began, desiring to give me a little extra money.
"I will pay you $75.00 to paint my kitchen," he said, producing two cans of cheap Acrylic white paint. "Do you think two gallons will be enough?"
"Yes," I replied, heartily accepting the contract.
The truth of the matter is that I never did any actual painting in my life. One summer Rudy got me a job as a sander on one of his company projects. But I fell ten feet off of a scalpel the first day. Even though I was not hurt, he decided I was too clumsy to work near construction, sending me home never to return. Nevertheless, I watched Rudy complete masterpieces with flawless attention to every detail. Like all laymen, I thought how hard could it be?
I spent the rest of Saturday packing my car and began preparing the kitchen for paint immediately after supper. The original color, a dark dirty yellow, was the style in the 1950s, dripping with grease and requiring a laborious washing with STP. It was past nine o'clock by the time I started applying the first coat. I had underestimated the size of the area by not taking into account cabinet interiors, or window trim. What I thought would take only a few hours, took nearly all night. Just before sunrise, I dabbed the last drop of paint on the last rib of a windowpane, proudly surveyed the gleaming perfect white finish, and collapsed into bed.
At half past ten, I staggered out of my room and found Hans sitting on a barstool surveying the finished kitchen in stunning apprehension. That is when I saw the truth. In the light of day, the white had changed to a pale uneven yellow with hardened droplets hanging from the ceiling and long vertical runs along the walls. Every pane of glass smeared with paint along the panels, and gathered in pools on the bottom sill.
"I guess the paint was not a very good quality," I said incredulously.
Hans turned and looked at me, then began laughing hysterically.
"The paint," he said with his German accent, tears in his eyes, "yes—it was the paint!"
Hans cooked us both breakfast as I attempted with little success to clean the hardened Acrylic from my skin and hair. Finally, I had to cut clumps from my head, and even then, it would be weeks before removing it all.
"I don't understand," I apologized; "last night it looked fine."
"I guess if I keep the curtains drawn, it won't be so bad." Hans sighed optimistically, and then heaved again into laughter. "I don't think you should follow in your father's footsteps. Not all are born to the same purpose."
Hans knew that I had to be in Los Angeles by the next morning to register on Campus, and paid me in full anyway. Touched to this day by the man's generosity and good sense of humor, I smile every time I think about the shock he experienced upon entering his transformed kitchen, as the bright California morning light streamed in through the curtainless windows. I often wonder if he lived with it that way, or if he eventually sanded out the rough spots and applied a second coat. Hans was not very handy, so I doubt he ever did it himself, nor his two remaining roommates. I would like to point out, however, that even though I felt a little guilty taking the money, the paint really was of poor quality, and the advertized one-coat application somewhat misleading. I did the best I knew how with what I had to work with, except that my implied ability perhaps more than a little exaggerated. We both learned important lessons by this comical experience. Never make assumptions about inherited abilities.
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Distance Traveled: A Chronicle in TimeNon-Fiction
This is an autobiographical novel beginning in a small town in old south America. It records the life of a young man growing up in the shadow of the escalating Viet Nam war and eventually joining the United States Marine Corps to become a part of t...