We can do it the easy way, or we can do it my way.

When I’m working in the house, and a bug wanders in and traps itself inside, I watch it slam against the glass over and over, desperately trying to escape. It’s depressing. If only he’d take a time out and think it over, maybe he’d realize there’s a much easier way.

I’ve often suspected that, in my career and my DIY projects, I’m missing something obvious and making things way too hard for myself—especially as I’ve been stripping the second-floor woodwork for the last two months.

I saved the windows for last, for two reasons:

1) I’m afraid of what I might do to them. Recently, Dylan cracked an original, poured-glass pane with the heat gun.

2) I’m afraid of what the WINDOWS might do to ME. See, when I was a high-school freshman, I tried to force open my painted-shut bedroom window, and ended up in the emergency room. Everything healed okay and all, but my fingerprints have been significantly altered (I could try thievery if this writing thing doesn’t work out). And, of course, I’m windowphobic.

So, when it finally came time to strip the paint from the old chains and the bits of woodwork closest to the (gulp) glass, I opted for chemicals instead of heat. I tried a couple different kinds—first the biodegradable, orange stuff; then one of the nasty, works-in-minutes brands. Both took FOREVER. I spent most of a day working on three windows, and they’re still not done.

So we asked F, the bushy-bearded contractor who lives across the street; and B, his carrot-topped wife. B was in charge of the stripping when they did their own DIY gut renovation a few years back. She recommended some kinda blue stuff for the wood. “It works great, but it doesn’t stink,” she said. For the hardware, she swore by what I will here call Liquid Evil. F concurred, saying of the latter, “Yeah, it’ll burn like hell for three days if you get it on you, but you can strip an airplane with it.”

I went to the store, bought the blue stuff, and tried it on my office window and one of the nursery windows. The paint endured, now with a mess of powdery blue residue ALL OVER the place. (No, I’m NOT smart enough to spot-test.)

I then went back to the store and bought a can of Liquid Evil to clean up the paint flakes and the smurf turds. The warning labels read: “DO NOT DRINK. MAY CAUSE BLINDNESS…. SHOWN TO CAUSE CANCER IN CALIFORNIA.” (Nice copywriting, y’all. So am I safe here in Pennsylvania?)

I tried to limit my carcinogen exposure by alternating between stripping and other projects. At one point I took a break to clean the sawdust out of my contacts…. But I put them back in wrong—two in one eye instead of one in each. The ten seconds it took me to figure it out were some of the scariest of my life. “For the love of GOD, you bleeping windows, cut off all the finger flesh you want. Just DON’T TAKE MY SIGHT!!!”

After all that, the Liquid Evil didn’t work either; just burned like hell and gassed a WHOLE lot of bugs.

Saturday I set to work removing the smurf sewage with the electric sander—a slow process, but a relatively effective one. That’s a big window, so I ended up spending the better part of the day on it.

Finally, in the evening, Dylan mentioned some kinda kitchen issue to F when they crossed paths outside. F was like, “Huh? Oh, lemme just come in and see what you’re talking about…”

B jumped at the chance to follow him in. “You’re making a CAREER out of that window!” she told me. “What’s going on?”

She’d been sitting on her front porch and watching my masochistic puppet show that whole time. “Something’s really wrong over there,” she kept telling F.

And, as most any introvert is apt to say to a not-so-introverted better half, F said, “C’mon, B. Mind your own business.”

Meanwhile Dylan and I have been stubbornly willing ourselves to do the same. We don’t want to be the annoying, whiney, freeloading yuppie couple. But as it turns out, they’re more frustrated when we DON’T ask for help than when we do. Guess it’s tough to relax on your porch swing when the idiots across the street are giving you flashbacks, Post Traumatic Renovation Syndrome.

B gave me a scraping tutorial and and window-anatomy lesson, showing me what pieces I can temporarily remove to make the job easier. Then she loaned me a kabillion ingenious scraping tools that make my arsenal look like caveman clubs. I was so happy I hugged her.

Sunday morning, I scraped the last of the flakey, Technicolor mess with ease, then removed the stops and lifted the lower part of the window. By the glow of the heat gun, I melted off several, particularly satisfying ribbons of paint. With the window wide open, a fly buzzed past my ear on its way out to freedom.

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