You say magenta, I say vermillion

My home office needed repainting. OK, it didn’t need repainting so much as it needed a good, long sandblasting. But my thinking was that painting it would be cheaper and faster than cleaning it. That turned out to be wrong on both counts. It seems you just can’t paint over spaghetti on a wall, and you’re supposed to remove all pictures and light-switch plates – not just paint around or over them.

And it turns out, that if you get paint-upholstered furniture, it’s what the professionals call “ruined.” Apparently you’re supposed to use a thing called a “drop cloth.” Who knew?

“Everybody,” Sue explained.

That’s why I don’t let her in my office very often, entirely too much negativity. I’d rather do this stuff myself and learn from my own mistakes.

“What color are you going to paint it?” she asked.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“Remember, dark colors will make the room look smaller.”

And I always thought the stacks of unread newspapers and magazines were what made the place look smaller. The three out-of-date printers sitting beside my filing cabinet don’t help. What am I thinking? That the longer I keep them, the more in-date they will become?

It’d been a long time since I painted anything, and I was surprised at how much things had changed in the paint store, like the prices. When did paint become $40 a gallon? I can buy a gallon of fine wine for that kind of money. OK, it’s not-so-fine wine, but it goes better with the spaghetti than anything in the paint store.

The paint store was full of special rollers that could make my walls look as if they were made out of Italian marble or knotty pine or stenciled by an Amish housewife. There were all kinds of special tools and gadgets that seemed to make any paint job much easier: masking tape that could be removed without damaging the paint, leak-proof buckets, roller extenders, edgers, sandpaper, disposable painters coveralls, turpentine, paint remover, rubber gloves, brushes, washes, spackle and trowels. The only thing I couldn’t find was paint.

“Sir, you just pick a color from the card and we’ll mix the paint for you.”

“You don’t have to mix it. All I want is a couple of gallons of white paint.”

“You mean like Morning Frost or Calla Lily?” said the 18-year-old salesman.

“No, like white.”

“We have Venetian Blind. We have Bat Guano. Did you bring a chip of this ‘white?’ Our computer could analyze it and tell you it’s real name. Then we could custom mix you a batch of it. But I have to say, I’ve been working here two months and I’ve never heard of ‘white.’”

“Two whole months?”

“If you count the six weeks of training.”

“Is the manager around?”

He returned a few minutes later with his boss, a 19-year-old. Finally, we’d get to the bottom of this.

“Not a problem, I’m sure we can find this color ‘white’ you’re talking about. Let’s just start looking through the sample book.”

I felt like the witness to a crime, trying to pick out the perp as he slowly turned the pages. It wasn’t all the different colors that stunned me, but that they all had names. Thousands of names simply for brown and brownish: Apple Butter, Labrador Retriever, Spring Break Sun Tan, Maple Syrup, Cleveland, Guernsey, Guinness, Cocoa, Baked Bean, Coffee Stain, Oak, Wookie, Mud Flap, Arizona Thatch, Yellow Snow ...

“Snow! That’s it. That’s the color I want. Snow is white. Snow White!”

“Snow White? Where do you old guys come up with these weird names? Let me look up snow. We have Slush. We have Black Ice, we have Blue Ice, Melting Salt, Zamboni Dust, Slurpee ...”

“What about this?”

“That’s just the edge of the page, sir, that’s not a color chip.”

“But that’s the color I want.”

“Paper-colored paint? Hmmm. I’m pretty sure that’s a special order. What would your accent color be?”

“My accent color?”

“What color paint are you going to be stencilling or sponging or stamping on top of this ‘white’ so when you’re finished it won’t look ‘white?’”

“Where do you keep your wallpaper?”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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