Border Wars

I’m contemplating making this the title of my next novel. I often wonder why people decide to own a home. Oh I’ve heard the arguments pertaining to NOT throwing rent money away and the joys of having an “Investment” and all the other upside arguments that are made for the joy of home ownership. I agree that some are valid and coherent in their logic and I would further agree that for some people having a house is a wonderful thing. For me, this weekend, owning a house was anything but wonderful.


My wife had been on my case for nearly a year to take down some wallpaper borders in our family room. Now I actually liked the borders and was therefore reluctant to accommodate her request and successfully stalled this project for twelve solid months. This, alone, was a masterful display in the art of dodging that would make any procrastinator proud. Alas, like all good things, this too had to come to an end. It was time to paint that room and it was time for the borders of those happy Mallard Ducks to meet the landfill.

Mistake 1. I set up a timetable for the job and shared it with my wife. Lesson for all us married guys; never, ever set up a time table because your spouse will actually hold you to it and nag you incessantly once you fall behind.

I was able to peel off the water proof decorative covering and was left with the ugly brown backing that was stuck to the walls. No problem I thought to myself (Stupid me). I hoped in my truck and was off to the hardware store. I bought a bottle of solvent that claimed to remove this stick on mess easily; $9.95, plus a new scraper, $12.55. I paid for my stuff and made my way home. I sprayed this awful smelling stuff on the wallpaper remains and screamed in agony as the backwash came back and fried my eyeballs. After ten minutes of rinsing my eyes under cold water and gagging from the smell I decided that it would be prudent to don some goggles and perhaps open a few windows. I waited the required amount of time and got to work.

Well, things weren’t going well, the backing wasn’t coming off. I scraped and scraped but only succeeded in getting a numbing ache in my arm and shoulder. I reread the directions to make sure I didn’t forget something. After a few minutes I assured myself that I wasn’t that stupid and tried again. Same results, an aching shoulder and not much progress to show for my efforts. At this point I had gone through the entire bottle of solvent and had no success. I decided that if I used a step ladder I could probably get better angle while scraping this baked on crap.

Mistake 2. Force, ladders and physics. For every action there is an equal an opposite reaction. I climbed on the step ladder took a few deep breaths and forced the scraper into the backing then promptly fell over backwards landing on my posterior. I literally pushed myself off the ladder and landed with a resounding thud that shook the entire floor. Now the litany of colorful metaphors flew like dandelion seeds in the wind scaring my 14 year old daughter and convincing my wife that everybody would be safer if they left the house, which they did.

I took a few deep breaths and walked off the pain from my fall. I studied the problem and tried to think of a rational solution. I figured the solvent I purchased wasn’t strong enough, so off I went back to the True Value Hardware store. I found another gel solvent that was recommended by a clerk, $12.95 and happily went home snickering. I would prevail against this hideous backing or die trying. I sprayed this gel, literally soaking it with this blue gooey substance. After about five minutes my hands started burning, not the mild tingling, but like I had stuck them in my wood stove. My fingers and palms were turning dark red. I ran to the bathroom and began frantically washing my hands in cold water. After fifteen minutes of soaking my hands in the bathroom sink filled with water and ice cubes my fingers stopped burning. Well, I emptied the sink and melted the ice. I figured that if this stuff would melt flesh, the backing was as good as off the walls. I’d be back on schedule in no time and have the room painted before the sun set.

I looked up at those pesky brown stripes imagining those little particles of paste dissolving in hideous agony from the blue death I had imparted. It was about this time that my throat started burning a bit causing me to open a few more windows. The moment of truth had finally arrived. Like some mad axe murderer I approached my foe with scraper in hand. I expected the backing to peel off like orange rind and was stunned when all I scraped off was a mess of blue goop that started burning my fingers again. I won’t repeat the language I used to express my dismay at this turn of events; fortunately nobody was in the house to be on the receiving end of my vile rant.

I glanced over at the clock, four hours had passed, and I had less than half of one wall partially removed. I looked into the kitchen at the two gallons of paint, the brushes and rollers knowing that I should be half way through painting at this time. I looked back over at the border backings and began to panic. My wife would be home in slightly under an hour she was having company and had planned on showing off her newly painted room. She was going to come home and find a room full of blue acidic goop covering the walls and not too much else in the way of measurable progress. I ignored the pain and attacked the wall with a new sense of desperation; fear of my wife’s wrath. I put all of my strength (as much as the ladder would allow) into scraping this backing off my walls. I ignored the burning sensation and continued to force more and more of this paper off the wall. After forty minutes, I was dripping with sweat and my shoulders and arms were screaming like I just went ten rounds with Muhammad Ali. I rinsed my hands off and grabbed a tall glass of water.

I took a ten minute breather before getting back on the job. That’s when I noticed, to my absolute horror that the blue goop had dried, and dried into a rock hard shell. The over spray that had dripped down the walls was now rock solid and seemingly impregnable, I shook my head and muttered, at least it didn’t burn anymore. The walls were a disaster. There were streaks of solid blue running down white walls with blotches of blue goop saturating an ugly brown border backing. As per my usual, I had succeeded in making a bad situation worse. At this point I heard the garage door open and knew my wife had come home. Now it would all hit the fan. She walked in expecting to see a painted room and saw brown and blue nightmare. She simply glared at me awaiting some rational explanation of what I had done during the last several hours. I pleaded my case in between curses. I told her I didn’t give a flying explicative if the room ever got done. To further emphasize my case I tossed my wallpaper scraper like a throwing knife and embedded it into the far wall. I went back into the kitchen and grabbed my jacket, I was leaving to get a cup of coffee and cool off.

I had my Pumpkin Spice Coffee and after a few sips, things seemed to be right with the world. I stopped back at the hardware store and explained my predicament to another sales clerk. I pointed out the product I had been sold and was informed that it was one of the strongest consumer grade solvents available. I agreed with him, displaying my chaffed red hands as proof of his claim. I asked if there was something stronger. He nodded and disappeared into the back room. Two minutes later he emerged with a small bottle of a product that needed to be mixed with hot water. I bought this and a razorblade scraper; total purchase $17.86.

I arrived home and heated a pan of scalding hot water. I dumped the water into a bucket and began to sponge the blue mess I had made earlier. To my relief it was dissolving and some of the paper actually began to fall away from the wall. I used the razorblade scraper in an attempt to get a better bite under the backing forgetting that sheetrock is mostly paper. Yes, I tore out some huge chunks of the wall during this process, but I did get a lot of the paper removed. I would have to patch the wall once I finished, if I ever finished. At this point I was tired and frustrated. The room wasn’t going to be painted tonight and I really didn’t care all that much anymore. I was frustrated and tired and didn’t have the energy for Border Wars anymore.

I awoke Sunday morning and went back at it, assuming that I’d be ready to paint by noon. I repeated my first mistake by relaying this plan to my wife. I got the snicker and the look of doubt as she took the kids out for the morning. After two more hours of razorblade scraping and using this industrial strength solvent that stunk like decomposing road kill, I had managed to put several deep gauges in the walls and finally remove the bulk of the backing. I patched the walls and went for a coffee run while everything dried and the house aired out from that gawd awful smell.

To finish this long rant, the room was finally completed around 9:00PM Sunday night. To my amazement it looks pretty darn good. The fact that I have several cuts from the razorblade scraper, burnt hands and fingers and aches in both arms and shoulders not withstanding. This whole weekend fiasco set me back $53.31 in solvents and supplies along with another $40.00 bucks in environmentally friendly paint. I looked at the room this morning and wondered why people put themselves through this torture. Is owning a home worth all this agony? Next week there’ll surely be something else that needs to be repaired, repainted, raked, mowed, cut, trimmed, replaced or assembled. Is this what it means to be a homeowner? Damn, no wonder Condo’s are selling like hotcakes up here. My wife wants the hallway painted next weekend. I smiled politely and told her where the brushes and rollers were, I want no part of that project.

About the Author
Gregory J. Ballan
Science Fiction Novelist and opinion columnist. Please E-Mail me with your comments or critiques at Sparhawk76@msn.com

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