Saturday, July 29, 2017


My sister, Karen, tells a story the way a water bug scurries about the surface of a lake. Her train of thought can carom in unpredictable directions. That’s how she zagged into her tale, during one of our infrequent phone calls, of how she turned herself turquoise. 

We were about an hour into our call when I asked, “Did I tell you I got a new car last spring?” We already had talked about the challenges of backyard garden irrigation, hers in Michigan and mine in Oregon, and exhausted a back-and-forth about the Nation’s health care challenges, me decrying the immorality of the Republican efforts, and she abhorring any move to “socialized medicine.” I think we both were anxious to change the subject to anything but politics. 

I told her it was my first new car in twelve years. She seemed taken aback. Her husband, Van, insists on buying a new car about every other year. “And he’s very particular,” she noted, and we both laughed. Van is “particular” about his cars the way a lioness is “particular” about her cubs. For example, “But it would get grass in my truck,” was how he had objected to a recent chore his wife had suggested. Plus, it might scratch the pickup’s bed liner. I started to say, Isn’t that what bed liners…, but stopped myself before I actually said it out loud. Each to his own.

“Do you remember the metal storage cabinet that Mom used to have,” Karen asked me, seemingly out of the blue. I figured the connection between the cabinet and Van’s “particularness” would become apparent soon enough. As it did.

Karen described the ancient, cream-colored cabinet – tall with chrome door handles – in considerable detail: “Oh, you remember.” I forced myself to believe her, in order to move her story along. It seems that she and Van had been remodeling their vacation cottage and agreed that it needed more storage, which is why she had decided to repurpose the old cabinet. She would repaint it. Bright turquoise. Rust-Oleum® gloss Seaside spray paint, to be exact.

Early the morning of her paint day, she dragged the cabinet from her basement to the driveway outside of the garage. “I moved the cars far down the street,” she stressed, hinting of the coming unfortunate turn of events. “When I started to spray the primer on, I discovered the can was bad. I had to go and buy more, and when I got back, I’d lost all that time and now the wind had come up. So I moved everything inside the garage. I laid down tarps underneath and wore goggles and a face mask.”

I pictured her, accurately as it turned out, wearing one of those cheap dust masks that do little to block the dangerous chemicals in spray-paint mist and fumes. And I pictured Van’s garage – spotless, everything in its place, his special black, roll-out matt covering the cement floor, a perfect nest for his perfect cars. I sensed this was a story that would not end well.

Karen described her handiwork: “I start painting and the two cans of turquoise paint hardly did anything. I sprayed and I sprayed and I sprayed. Do you know I ended up using seven cans?! After I let the cabinet dry enough to be moved, I started picking up the tarps. That’s when I noticed a blue mist covering everything. Everything the tarps hadn’t covered was coated in blue. Turquoise blue.

Oh, Karen, I said to myself. You are in deep doo-doo.

“I tried everything I could think of. Finally, Comet! So I was scrubbing and scrubbing, trying to get it all cleaned off before Van got home. But it was everywhere! Covering the counters, this little chair, and all over Van’s floor matt except where I’d had the tarps. 

“That’s when the neighbor stopped by. He watched me for a while and then asked if I’d tried this one thing, and I said, no, I hadn’t thought of that, but had some similar stuff that didn’t stink as bad. So we went and tried that and it seemed to work. He had a big wide broom and he went at scrubbing the paint off Van’s black floor matt. Only it’s not really black anymore, since we realized too late that the stuff stained, so now the floor isn’t black but more of a…” – she seemed to be searching for words befitting Van’s now-ugly floor cover – “…blotchy gray.”

Neither of us said anything for a few moments. She continued, “What’s really weird…” My brain went on momentary pause as I tried to imagine anything weirder than my sister and her neighbor scrubbing frantically to recapture that cloud of turquoise paint she had unleashed in Van’s meticulously tidy garage. She continued, “…is that I had a manicure at 4:30.

“Wayne, I was blue. My arms were blue. My clothes were blue. My hair.” She groaned. I imagined her lovely blond hair clotted with streaks of Rust-Oleum® gloss Seaside. “I had two blue rings around my nose. I had to use Q-Tips to get the paint out of my nose.”

At this point in Karen’s story, Van walked in and the got on the phone with us. He asked, only half joking, what we found so funny about his garage getting coated in blue. “Everything,” I laughed. “Everything about this story.”

He conceded that the sight of blue rings around his wife’s nostrils was pretty funny.

After Van got off the phone, Karen and I talked some more. Her voice lowered just a bit when she confessed that this hadn’t been her first experience with spray-paint drift. Once before, she had used their backyard shed, “Van’s man cave,” as she called it, for another one of her projects involving spray paint. “That one wasn’t so bad because it wasn’t turquoise, it was more kind of silver.”

I asked if it was the same color as the ruined matt in their garage. 

“No, it was sparkly. Now Van has a sparkly man cave.”

Karen’s not sure that the turquoise cabinet is going to work out in their cottage: “It’ll be pretty dominant, that’s what Van is worried about. And then the color will always remind him…” She didn’t have to finish the thought.

Before Van had got off our call, he asked me if Karen told me what color she had her nails done that afternoon at her manicure. I said she hadn't.

“She came back and they were blue!” he grumbled. “They match the cabinet. Same color as in the garage. I don’t know if I can look at them.”

“Why, Karen, why did you pick that color?” I managed to gasp.

The phone line was quiet while she pondered my question. Finally, she admitted, “I don’t know.”

Our mother’s old cabinet now has a new life, a piece of junk turned into a thing of beauty. Surely, it will survive another generation or two in Karen’s family. Perhaps along with the story of my turquoise-colored sister.