37 quarts of paint on the wall..37 quarts of paint. You take one down, ...
In the Spring of 1992, Larry of Perennial Painters received a call from a couple who lived in, arguably, the largest house in a neighborhood known for its large houses. On its third floor,this wood-framed behemoth housed two large bedrooms, a full bath, and a billiard room with a table that [as local legend reputes] was lowered into place through an opened roof by a crane.
Larry figured that the carriage house, which sat near the alley, was actually larger than his own house. Each of the 103 windows on the house proper had the original, wooden storm windows still in place.
As Larry pulled up to the curb, he instinctively dug through his brief case for the calculator. This computation, he determined, would most certainly exceed the workings of simple math.
As he circled the house, whose siding was a chalky-white steel clapboard that was probably installed in the '50's, for the second time, he heard Agnes' voice. "Larry, is that you? Come up onto the porch."
Larry obeyed the diminutive, middle-aged woman with a slight, British accent; and sat down in a wicker chair across the patio table from her. Arranged on the table in a semi-circle, around a vase holding freshly-cut daffodils, were a dozen paint swatches.
"Now,love, I've been studying these colors for a couple of weeks now; and the selection of the ones that will soon adorn our house has been a harrowing process." Larry detected a mischievous twinkle in Agnes' eyes as she peered over the top of her glasses at him. "But, thank God, I'm really good at colors. After all, I am an artist."
With that pronouncement out of the way, Agnes proceeded to wave her arm toward the wall behind Larry. "Those are some of my latest works." Larry was thankful, as he spun around, that they were no longer making eye contact. When he first noticed those paintings as he climbed onto the porch, he guessed that they must have grandkids who visit.
"Wow!" Larry spoke, hoping that his voice sounded more entusiastic than his mind felt. They were certainly colorful "works of art", but most of the color schemes were discordant and placed a strain on the viewer's eyeballs. "You do certainly have a way with colors."
When Larry called that evening to offer his proposal, husband Daniel answered. "Thank you, son. Let's do it. This is going to be a hoot. Agnes is so excited that she's painting away like crazy right now up in her studio." Larry heard some yelling in the background. "Larry, she told me to remind you that the Pittsfield Buff is going on the 2nd and 3rd floor siding, and the Yorkshire Tan on the 1st floor."
And so, over the course of the next two weeks, Larry and his crew became not only very familiar with Buff and Tan, but also with the obscured paths that wound through Agnes' flower beds. For it was upon those paths that they had to balance their extension ladders...one of them reaching a height of forty feet. As the guys man-handled their ladders through the gardens, they were startled, on numerous occasions, by Agnes' voice chiding them to be "oh so careful of my little, delicate darlings!" When she would disappear around the corner, Larry would mimic Tiny Tim's classic, Tiptoe Through The Tulips. Try balancing a forty foot ladder in the middle of a flower garden while you're laughing!
With almost twenty-five gallons of Buff and Tan now covering the massive walls, Larry showed up the following morning with seven gallons of the trim paint, Waterbury Cream. But before he could even open the first can and get the guy's brushes to work, he heard, from around the corner of the carriage house, "Larry...love. Can you please come onto the porch. We need to talk"
Daniel had always been gone [he owned a thriving tool manufacturing business] before the painters arrived on the job; but this morning, still in his robe with bags drooping below his eyes. he sat on the porch swing next to his wife whose tiny body was burrowed into the fuzzy, pink robe that she wore every morning until eleven or so.
"Larry, darling, I just can't stand the colors on the house." Everyone, Larry is suddenly thinking, experiences moments in their life when reality loses its stability; and the borders that we come to depend on for allowing us to move forward productively become blurred. It was with that skewed perception that Larry listened to Daniel and Agnes engage in a verbal duel over the fate of Buff and Tan. "Aggie, those colors aren't that bad; and they certainly are an improvement over that cruddy white." "But, Danny, I could never really be happy having to look at those morbid colors all the time! And, besides, I've already picked out some others. But this time, I'm going to have Larry put samples up on the house first."
How about 37 samples?
Over the course of the next three days, Larry made twelve trips to the paint store to retrieve quarts of paint [three per trip], which he then applied to the siding beneath the bay window on the west-facing side of the house. All the while, as Larry painted samples on the wall, Agnes and Daniel sat in their Adirondacks, assessing the new colors... and drinking. The two coffee cups that sat on the table between their chairs early in the morning were soon replaced by bloody mary glasses. Then, in a progression that became predictable, day after day, Daniel moved on to beer, then martinis. Agnes preferred a schedule of wine. rum and coke, and, then, finishing the day with margaritas in a glass the size of a small gold fish bowl.
As would be expected, the couple's assessment of the colors eroded, over the course of the day, as the kitchen sink gathered more dirty glasses. Agnes, over coffee, "Can't you see, love, how the Monroe Bisque creates subtle nuances that tend to accentuate the surrounding landscape. Kind of what I strive to create in my own paintings." But then there is Agnes over fish bowl, "I don't give a damn, Danny, if you like the Blair Gold or not. My old dress from Prague looks like that. And that reminds me of the all the times that Margaret visited...I haven't heard from her since...are you sure that's Blair Mold..Fold..Gold?"
Daniel's critiques grew more terse and sarcastic as the daylight waned, "That Norwich Brown works for me. Reminds me of latrine duty."
And so it was,,,that as the 37th sample color, Woodstock Tan, dried slowly in the setting sun on the third day of Sampling, with the fish bowl drained and an olive sitting bloated on the bottom of Daniel's glass, Agnes croaked forth,"That's it, darlings. That Woodstock Tan and,.. what was the other color, love? Oh, yes, Shelburne Buff..remember, from yesterday? Such a lovely couple. Right, Danny? Danny!? Danny!!" "Oh, sure." And with his eyes still closed, "Works for me."
As Larry leaned against the wall of the carriage house to call the paint store and order 25 gallons of paint, he could just make out, through the lilacs, the shapes of Agnes and Daniel rising up the porch steps and disappearing into the house. "Wayne, this is Larry. No, no. No more quarts. Yes, believe it or not. 37, That's right. There is a small section of this house that has 37 coats of paint on it, and counting." The patio lights went out, and Larry was now surrounded in darkness.
And that's when that simple, universal truth hit him once again...All colors look the same at night.