Monday, November 08, 2004


"I am an expert." It's the phrase I use to allay my wife's concerns that I am about to hurt myself really badly in an act of home improvement. I am not what is known in the common parlance as "handy". And yet I must soldier on, because in spite of the fact that I will probably knock myself unconscious at least once during my chosen task, I must not let my fellow experts down.

Exchanges like this are fairly commonplace:

Wifely friend: Are you OK in there?
Kafkaesque: I--I am fine.
WF: What was that WHAM! sound?
K: What do you mean? I heard nothing, and I am an expert so I should know.
WF: OK then. Don't make any holes in the wall or in your extremities.
K: Ha. Very funny. Being an expert, I am unconcerned with my own personal safet--
WF: Husband?
K: Ahg.
WF: Husband?
K: I will be fine. Where is the tourniquet?

This sort of high-level experting is best exhibited when working with either really heavy things, like particle board furniture or really dangerous things, like your larger saws. My friend Chimichanga proved himself a lifetime expert a few years back when he cut his thumb almost entirely off in an inspired run-in with a table saw (and was heard to say later: "I had the situation under control. I am, after all, an expert.") *

I recently managed to put my expert skills to work, peeling multiple layers of wood paneling off the walls in our guest bedroom. One of the previous owners of our new house was obviously a paneling enthusiast. Such a paneling enthusiast, in fact, that he would not settle for just one layer of ugly, crappy paneling. No! He had two layers of paneling!

This is the same guy that put rock walls everywhere in our house. The rock hearth he made around the fireplace is great. I have to give him that. The rock wall he put up in the living room? OK. Not one of the features I was actively seeking when shopping for real estate, but OK.

But the rock wall in the bathroom? The line should have been drawn is what I'm saying. Sure, sometimes after one of those really big bran muffins and three cups of coffee on a lazy Sunday, I'm in the mood for a little rock climbing target practice in the lavatory, but not every day.

Anyway, back to the paneling.

I had to get this paneling off the walls. It was mocking me. Also, I couldn't unpack any of our 8,000 books (approximately 60% of which seem to be copies of Black Elk Speaks and Crime and Punishment -- I blame liberal arts degrees) until the walls were freed from their paneling bondage. So I began prying the paneling off the walls with a small scraping knife. Or putty knife. I am too much of an expert to bother knowing the accurate names of the myriad tools I have at my disposal, so vast is my arsenal. Let's call it a scraper.

I started prying the first panel off, which was not easy. To begin with, the installer of the paneling had used lots of nails. Lots and lots. There were so many nails in my wall that frankly I began to suspect the paneling guy had an eye to this eventual return to sanity when he installed it in the first place. BAM! BAM! BAM! Yep BAM! BAM! BAM! They may BAM! BAM! BAM! take off BAM! BAM! BAM! my paneling BAM! BAM! BAM! but not BAM! BAM! BAM! without BAM! a BAM! BAM! fight.

Incidentally, all that BAM! stuff was supposed to be the guy hammering.

I finally pried off the first panel. I accomplished this by prying a small section off the wall and then pulling the panel really, really hard, until it came off the wall with a pop. This resulted in me staggering around the room, which was now covered in dust and nails, with about a 4 foot by eight foot wood panel with nails sticking out of it. Opportunities for injury abounded, needless to say. But, oddly, and despite my expert status, I remained unharmed. Apart stepping on a few nails, but I figure that is par for the course.

When the first layer came off, I was of course very happy to see the second layer. The second layer was heavier, and yes, uglier, wood than the first.

But I persevered and kept tearing the paneling down, revealing big holes in the wall, and some creative wiring.

It turned out there was also some creative writing. Paneling man had written his esoteric and enigmatic calculations on the wall before he began installation.

I was starting to hate the installer of the paneling. But I needed a name. A target for my wrath. Who had knocked holes in my wall? As I pulled off the last panel, I found my answer.

So. Steve. I don't know what to say to you, Steve, except that you were sick. A sick, putting-up-two-layers-of-paneling, writing-on-the-wall, day-glo-sticker-sticking freak. But I salute you, Steve, because I know, deep down, you were an expert too.

To wrap up this overly long tale, I finally finished the room. This included not just fun with paneling, but acoustic ceiling scraping and ceiling fan removal. My injuries, surprisingly, were only slight. And now, I can look at my guest bedroom, feast my eyes on my inadequate spackling job, and know that I will forever be an expert.

* This is not to say that particle board furniture is not inherently dangerous in and of itself. Especially when one considers those pointy little allen wrenches supplied with your IKEA furniture by crafty IKEA Swedes who secretly want to kill America with the slow poison of modular storage and funny looking lamps.


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