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Homie Improvement

The day I hoped for my first class to begin was the day I started the garage painting project

By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: January 17, 2012


Homie Improvement


I suddenly find myself on sabbatical from my university teaching job; a socio-psychological indulgence and affectation that I have come to adore and cherish. Note to world: My academic hiatus was not volitional, but rather collateral damage from some failed economic policies.

I clearly remember talking to my Dean. We talked about the upcoming 'temporary' layoffs and I joked, "Well, I can always fall back on painting houses - my family will never go hungry!" Challenged by my own rhetoric, I decided to put myself to the test.

I am an 'adjunct professor' meaning: two long nights per week. My days are still filled with what I have done for decades. So the economic foundation of my life swims in a linear stream of banality and rote behavior. If and since I had more time than money, I decided to fill my stolen instructive hours with some heroic home improvement.

I decided to paint the entire garage by hand.

I went to the mega hardware store and talked to the life-hating clerk - who looked to me like a laid-off bus driver. I told him I needed some paint to paint my garage. His eyes brightened. I think he was happy that I seemed broker than he was. My wife, a master hair colorist, already briefed me on color selection. I told him, and I made it a point to memorize this, that we needed a flat eggshell type with a wisp of beige.

Our eyes locked in a Mexican standoff. He wasn't sure if I was gay or was just an old biker dude with a really good memory. He walked me over to the designer display. I told him, "Dude! This a garage!" He then discerned my straightness. Now he's feeling bad for me, thinking that I'm too poor to hire somebody. He took me to the 'on sale' stuff.

He asked, "What kind of a garage is it?" I told him, "Two car, two motorcycle capable," trying to sound really butch and almost military. He wasn't buying it. I teach, and/or used to teach, a class on body language. His top lip told me, as his foot pointed towards the door, that I looked too unemployable to own two cars, let alone two motorcycles. I settled on a concept, rather than a color, and then picked up a painting kit, brushes, rollers, drop cloths, et al. I made sure he saw me load all this stuff into my white Benz and I drove off - ambivalent to his puzzled gaze through the tinted windows.

The day I hoped for my first class to begin was the day I started the painting project. I laid out all of my paraphernalia, dipped into the can, and started working the cuts. "Working the cuts," for those academicians who have never had a real job in their life, means you paint all of the edges and corners by hand first with a brush. Then, when you come by later with the paint roller, the job looks cleaner. I worked the cuts like 'Rene Magritte' at first, and then quickly settled into a whole 'Jackson Pollock' free-for-all. My spiritual liaison and cultural advisor, our dog Sally, was a constant observer of the process at first. She quickly became bored because I wouldn't scurry down the ladder every two minutes to pet her.

I am also very happy to report that new, non-oil-based paint, which covers in one coat, is easily removed from a dog's coat. Especially if the dog's color shade(s) are not that far off the paint's color hue charts. Sally was put on sabbatical from the garage.

I have forgotten that there is a certain visceral satisfaction that comes with working with your hands. The results are immediate and there is great satisfaction in doing a job yourself and doing it well. I had promised Mi Vida that I would approach this as a project and not try to kill it in a few hours. Well, I tried to kill it at first. Then I decided to work the brush slowly while appreciating every detail.

As I worked, looking down from the ladder, memories of the house we loved seemed to speak to me. And it wasn't just the paint fumes, either. As a rock star DJ and biker from the 70's, the paint fumes were amateurish and a waste of my time. Remembering the kids' bicycles over the years, the eclectic and often over-the-top vehicles that slept here, the SUV's, drop-top Euros, blacked-out murdered Charger on dubs, and the time we went green with a Honda Fit . . . everything that soon no longer fit our artistic (and sometimes pantheistic) lifestyle.

I discern that I am about 25% done at this point. One gallon down and, no doubt, another two to go. Don't even talk to me about the ceiling. Suffice to say, I wish I could grow an Afro again. I have decided to take my time and enjoy the ride. Ya know, when this is done, there will be painfully less for me to do.

About Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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