Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Watching Paint Cure

There was a challenge to write a story to make the most uninteresting thing to do, interesting. What is the most uninteresting thing to do? Watch Paint Dry.

Watching Paint Cure

Stanley Santini had been working with paint for as long as he could remember. His dad opened this store in their small town of Springfield in 1952. When Stan’s father was alive, he was known as a master mixer of house paint, for inside or out. People came to him for a specific shade that no other man seemed able to create. Stan’s father taught him the science of mixing. Others called it talent because it wasn't a skill that everyone could learn.

When Stan was a small boy, he came to work with his dad on the weekends. He loved to watch this miracle worker of paint the people spoke of. Some ladies would come with their husbands and bring material they were using to upholster their furniture. They asked his dad to match the color in the sample and he would create the exact shade, every time.

As he grew, his father allowed him to go to the mixing room in the back and get sample swatches to bring to the customer out on the sales floor. No one else was allowed back there. A placard mounted next to the door reads: Insurance Regulations Prohibit Customers Beyond this Point.

His responsibilities increased with his age. When Stan became a teenager one of his proudest moments was being allowed to operate the machines unsupervised. Stan worked in the mixing room, gently pulling and pushing the levers, squeezing out the pigment in ever-smaller increments to mix into the original can, until the shade matched the exact color the customer had requested. He handed the gallon to his father who gave an approving nod. Which was as much praise as his father would ever give.
“Now, Mr. Smith,” his father would lecture at the close of the sale, “remember to let this cure completely before you put on the second coat. I would hate to see you break the skin and have to start from scratch.”

“Come on, Mr. Santini, you’ve taught me well,” the chided customer would respond defensively. “I promise not to put on the second coat until the first is dry.”

“No, not dry, Mr. Smith. Cured. Paint cures. The surface quality reflects another shade once spread out and exposed to air. It cures,” his father corrected for the hundredth time.

“Yes, Mr. Santini, cured. Got it. Thank you and good day.”

Stanley loved when his father explained to people the science of paint. Some did not understand, and his dad had to explain it over and over again, until they did, or until they pretended to get it. Stan knew which customer understood and which didn’t. He wasn’t sure his dad did.

Then there was Dr. Lawrence Averill, who did understand and pretended he didn’t. He and his little brat Tommy would come into the paint store once a month, just to make fun of his dad.

“So, what you’re telling me, Mr. Santini,” Dr. Averill would say in a patronizing tone, “is paint does not dry, but cures.”

“Yes, doctor, as we discussed when you were here last time. Paint does not dry.”
“It cures.”

“Yes, sir. If it simply dried, then when it got wet, it would run. Paint cures. That’s what I am trying to tell you,” he explained to Dr. Averill, again. This somehow amused the doctor and his son. Tommy would giggle behind his hand and his father would bend low and say to his son, “What have I told you about manners?”

Whatever he was told, Stan decided, the lessons didn’t take.

Stan had two best friends growing up, Petey and Bobby. They played together during school recess, ate lunch together, spent the night at each other’s houses. But Tommy the Tormentor tried to make their childhood hell. He was the rich-kid bully everyone hated. No one could have anything as nice as Tommy, or know as much as Tommy, or been to Spain like Tommy. Tommy Averill began to follow Stan and his two friends around school, calling them names, pushing them down. Even in high school, the girls he tried to date were subjected to Tommy’s rude insults when they were with Stan.

The town had grown up, grown out and gone by the time his old man passed away and the store became his.  He had endured a great deal of ribbing from some classmates for hanging onto a passing industry.

His best friend Pete graduated from state college moved away and now sends him Christmas cards every year with pictures of his wife and children. His other friend Bob followed his dream of being an actor, moved to California and now sends him Christmas cards every year with pictures of his significant other with their adopted son.

Stanley chose to stay in Springfield. He knew his parents didn’t make enough money to send him to college. They also didn’t make enough to hire anyone else to help at the store. At least Stanley did still enjoy the artistry of the paint, and he enjoyed being his own boss. He never married, since Tommy chased off any girl Stan might have been interested in. So he only had himself and his mother to support.

Stan was seriously thinking of giving up on the family business. Bills were unpaid and collection calls were becoming more frequent. The big-box store that opened down the street had stolen all of his customers. He knew some improvements had to be made to the place to remain competitive, but he was struggling to pay the monthly bills. How the hell could he afford to remodel? But, the terrazzo floor hadn’t been polished in thirty years, the ballasts in the florescent fixtures had been going out one at a time until the place was nearly in the dark, not to mention the moldy drywall in the mixing room.

Stan did have a professional appraisal done on this property last year and the ground it sits on is worth $60,000.00, without the store. The store itself was near worthless. He knew it was on his shoulders to get this place back in shape if he wanted to keep it open.

He had begun his store improvement do-it-yourself project by pulling out the old, moldy drywall  from the mixing room. To his surprise, the original builder had walled up a space the size of a broom closet. The new Dynomix Multi-Size Gyroscopic Mixer he wanted would fit perfectly there. Stan knew the space wasn’t really the problem that kept him from it, though, the lack of money was.

Doctor Thomas Averill has been persistent with his offer to buy the store, but at half the price Stan could get on the open market. Besides, he would never sell to Tommy the Tormentor.
Although, Tommy was his most regular customer, even if he only came to torment him. As if summoning him by thought, his most frequent tormentor was about to walk in now.

Stan slipped into the mixing room hoping to avoid him.

The old fashioned chime mounted above the door rang pleasantly as Dr. Thomas Averill came in. Tommy the Tormentor cleared his throat and made a loud cough to call attention to the fact he was here. Stan clenched his fists in his hiding spot. If he had to listen to this blow-hard make a low-ball offer on his father’s paint store one more time, he didn’t know what he’d do. He would rather go bankrupt than let this cretin have it for any amount of money.

Stan didn’t respond so Tom started ringing the bell on the counter next to the cash register. He let him ring the damn thing a couple of times. He knew no sale would be coming from this jackass. Tommy just wanted to pitch buying this place, again.

After the fifth ring, Tom yelled, “Stan, I know you’re back there! C’mon! I need to buy some paint. I can go to the big store down the street. It’d be cheaper!”

“Then go!” called Stan from the back room.

To his shock, Tommy walked into the mixing room, wearing his Gucci best.

“Hey, you can’t be back here,” snapped Stan. “Insurance regulations require all customers to remain in the sales area. Out on the floor with you. You might get hurt.”

“Yes, I see the imminent danger all around me. Perhaps a yellowed ceiling tile may fall on my suit. More likely the asbestos from this place would kill me,” he replied with a sadistic grin.

Stan’s dad died from cancer. A doctor told him and his mother it may have been from exposure to asbestos. Dr. Thomas Averill was the expert witness for the company Stan and his mother sued. They lost. Tom found a way to mention this almost every visit.

“What do you want?”

“Now, Stan, why so hostile? I’m here to make you a friendly, final offer. I’ll have my people draw up the paperwork and hand you a check tomorrow for $15,000.00 as half payment to buy this building.”

“Go to hell. I told you before, I’m not selling.”

“Stanley, be realistic. I’m trying to be a friend here. You’re drowning in debt. You have no ties to this place since your father died five years ago. Why don’t you want to sell? You can take the money and run.”

“I’ve told you before asshole, I would rather be buried here than sell my father’s business to you!”

“Oh, no, you still don’t understand. I don’t want the paint business. I want the ground it sits on.”

“I understand fine. Now take your ‘offer’ and get the fuck outta my store.”

“Tsk, tsk, Stanley. Your mother would wash your mouth out with soap using that language.”

“Leave my mother out of this!”

“I’m only trying to help. Thirty thousand dollars is a very generous offer.”

“The hell it is! I told you to get out!”

The two men stared at each other through a long stretch of silence. Stan fought the urge to punch Tommy’s face. His stupid voice was so soft these days, no matter how angry you got him. It made Stan feel like an idiot for losing his cool.

“Look,” Tom said, breaking the tension. “I do want some paint. Can you match the color of this coat? I wore this expensive suit here just so you could match the color. Gina wants her closet painted this exact shade of charcoal gray, and I want to surprise her with it.”

Gina had been Stan’s girlfriend at the end of high school. She and Tom went on to college and came back married. Gina still held a special place in Stan’s heart. If the paint was for her, he would do it. He couldn’t blame her for what Tommy the Tormentor has done all his life. He sighed heavily and motioned for Tom to take off the jacket.

After mixing a perfect combination of colors to match the coat exactly, Stan tapped the lid onto the gallon of paint. They still stood in the mixing room, with Tom watching every move Stan made. On one hand, Stan was proud of his professionalism. Proud of the skill he had acquired over the many years of serving in the paint industry. On the other hand, Tom made him uncomfortable in his own store. The expression on his face was not admiration.

“See,” said Tom as Stan handed him the gallon, “we can work together. Come on, sell me this place.”

Stan ignored Tom’s words and recited his father’s admonishment as he pulled the four-inch paint stirrer from the mixer, “remember to let this cure completely before you put on the second coat. I would hate to see you break the skin and have to start from scratch.”

“Yes, Mr. Santini,” said Tom with mocking disdain. “I’ll let it dry completely.”

Stan replied through gritted teeth, “Cure. Paint cures. The surface quality reflects another shade once spread out and exposed to air,” gripping the rod hard as the blades dripped with the charcoal gray paint.

“Listen, Bozo,” sneered Dr. Averill, “I cure. Paint dries!”

“Cure this!”


Stanley Santini put the finishing touches of the first coat on the mixing room’s new wall. Installing drywall in the middle of the night was the biggest problem he had with the whole fiasco of the former Dr. Thomas Averill. The closet space may have been a bit confining for a full-grown man’s body, but it served its purpose.

He resumed his seat in the chair facing his charcoal gray, blood red creation. He hadn't been sure how blood might interact with the flat texture. It turned out to be pretty nice. His old mixer did handle the job quite well. Maybe he didn’t need a new one, after all.

Perhaps this whole room might need a second coat. He would watch the paint cure, and then decide if a second coat would be necessary or not.

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