How to Paint Your Home and Get Free Lobster

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington

Friends gave me lots of advice when I told them I was going to paint my condo. “Be sure to mask everything carefully,” they would say. “And be careful with light browns. Some shades look like baby poop.”

No one gave me useful advice though, like, “Leave town for a week and hire someone else to do it.”

I had procrastinated painting for three years. With new flooring on the way in my kitchen and dining room, I had to paint now. It was easier than putting down drop cloths later. So I set out in search of colors.

Paint makers never just call paint “blue” or “light green” or “kind of orange-ish-yellow-ish.” Instead they randomly select words from Ernest Hemingway novels. I found colors like “Bounding Main,” and “Briny Deep.” I also found “Cherish,” “Warm Chinchilla,” and “Hemlock.”

Yes, Hemlock. They wanted to sell me the color of poison.

I finally settled on a burgundy that I came to refer to as Crime Scene. That’s what my carpet looked like once I got started. It was spattered with ominous dark red flecks. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I could begin painting, there was the prep work.

“The prep work takes the most time,” my friends warned in solemn whispers, as if they had attained this knowledge directly from Buddha. In my case, the prep work took seven months.

Those of you who have never painted your home before might be wondering what exactly “prep work” means. What it means is: driving to the paint store 18 times to pick up things you forgot on the previous trip.

When you paint your home, you don’t just buy paint. You have to buy brushes, and rollers, and fuzzy roller covers. You need paint trays and paint tray liners. You need masking tape, and a step ladder, and beer. You need the clothes you donated to Goodwill last month. If you don’t own any rags, you have to buy rags, which come cut into Martha Stewart squares, packaged in plastic bags that say, “Painter’s Rags.” Most people don’t know this, but “painter’s rags” is actually a Swahili term for, “We can’t believe you’re dumb enough to spend $6.95 on these.”

You also need a goofy-looking painter’s hat. I’m not sure why, but the guy at the paint store insisted my project would fail without one.

My list seemed simple, but I had problems.

Take for example, the masking tape. Nobody told me there are two kinds of masking tape. There’s the kind that sticks and the kind that falls down. I bought the kind that falls down. And the thing about the kind that falls down is it doesn’t fall down right away. It has a little computer chip implanted in it that senses when you are home. It waits until you have driven to the store to buy paint tray liners because the first ones you bought were the wrong size for your paint trays. While you are out, the tape falls down.

You have used more than half the roll by now. Forget about a refund.

Beer is another problem. It’s a basic painting supply, but I drove to seven different paint stores and none of them carried it. I complained about this — loudly. Most of the managers threatened to call the police.

Eventually, I had the sticky kind of tape. And beer. It was time to start painting.

I started up by the ceiling, carefully edging my way along the tape, holding my breath so the paint wouldn’t seep through. Then I did the adjacent walls. This was tricky because some walls would be Baby Poop and others would be Crime Scene, and I wanted to have professional-looking edges from one wall to the next.


But officer… I swear it’s just paint!

Down by the floor was the fun part. I edged my way along the carpet, not caring that I was splattering. I have hated my carpet ever since my deadbeat ex-neighbor Henry flooded my condo last year. I’d be tearing the carpet out in a week. Now I could take out all of my aggressions on it. I flung my used brushes down on the rug and watched the paint form little blood-like puddles.

Once the edging was done, it was time for the rollers. It was amazing how fast my walls transformed from sleepy off-white to elegant burgundy. The rollers made a fun, sticky noise as I swooped up and down. My home was changing in a good and exciting way. Painting my walls felt blissfully naughty.

I remembered back to when I was four, and I scribbled on the walls with pencil. I didn’t own my own condo then. I was still living with my parents. When they found the scribbles, I blamed my four-month old brother, but they didn’t buy it. Now there were no parents. These were my walls. I owned them. I didn’t have to paint solid colors if I didn’t want to. I could paint anything. I wanted to paint something rebelious.

Unfortunately, I have no gang affiliations, so tagging was out of the question. Pictures of naked people? No. I tried drawing those in fourth grade. I’m not a very good artist. I needed something that defined my existence.


I scrawled the words in bold letters, pausing only to guzzle beer. Then it hit me: I was sitting on a goldmine!

I could sell advertising! Advertising would pay for the paint and supplies. Or at least the beer. I just needed to find a corporate sponsor desperate enough to advertise in my home. So I e-mailed R.J. Reynolds.

Dear R.J. et al,I am writing to offer you cheap advertising space in my dining room. For a reasonable fee, I will paint Marlboro ads on my wall. For an extra 50 bucks, I’ll leave out those pesky health warnings.This is a high-traffic wall that sees roughly 50 visitors per year at my annual Saint Patrick’s Day party and smaller gatherings. The really good thing is that I and most of my friends are non-smokers, so you will be reaching an untapped market.Please respond quickly, as I am painting this weekend.Love,

I sent the e-mail and waited 20 minutes for a response. They didn’t write back. I tried again.

Dear R.J.,I know you are busy, but I would really appreciate a response ASAP because I need to finish this project this weekend.I just had another idea: One time I won four free lobsters in a radio station giveaway and had some friends over for a fun dinner party. I was thinking you could send me lobsters every month. I could invite different people over each time, which would help you reach more potential customers. Just a thought.Your buddy,

I waited overnight, but R.J. Reynolds was hoarding their lobster stash. Nobody wrote back. I decided to go ahead with solid burgundy.

My rollers, wet paint and all, had sat on my carpet overnight. I struggled to free them, pulling up brittle tufts of carpet yarn as I tugged.

Back to the paint store for fresh roller covers.

Up and running again, I painted over my website promotion. Onto the second wall. And the third wall. That’s when I ran out of paint.

Here is a helpful painting tip: Most people underestimate the amount of paint required to paint a room. Always buy more paint than you think you’ll need.

I drove to the paint store again.

By afternoon, things were looking good. My dining room was done. The adjacent kitchen walls were done. Even the spaces behind the fridge and stove were done. But not really.

You can’t just paint one coat, especially when painting burgundy on white. The white bleeds through. I launched into my second coat.

I had to do the edging all over again. And the rolling. Halfway through my third wall, I ran out of beer.

Here is another helpful painting tip: Most people underestimate the amount of beer required to paint a room. Always buy more beer than you think you’ll need.

Eventually I finished my project. I kicked back and enjoyed a well-earned breath of paint fumes.

Three weeks later, I put in my new flooring. Putting in new flooring is much easier than painting. The basic steps are:

1. Buy the flooring
2. Call your friend Mike the Construction Worker
3. Ask Mike to put in your flooring
4. Drink beer.

Job completed, I carried my old carpet out to the dumpster and bade it good riddance. I had a shiny new kitchen and dining room.

My living room walls are still their original murky white. They no longer fit with the new dining room ambiance. So I will tackle them this summer.

Advertising space is available.

Published on Tuesday, May 13, 2003

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