The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Thursday, March 13, 1980

Archie is an old friend from hippie days who, like me, decided to support himself in the building trades while pursuing his other career.  Unlike me, Archie isn't too sure what his other career is.  Meanwhile, he works as a housepainter.

Today he's helping me paint my own house.  "People think painting is menial work," he says, "and then they don't respect the basic rules."

"Like what?" I ask.

"Like, ninety per cent of a good paint job is the prep."

"What else?"

"Do the cut-in first.  Keep a wet edge.  Not too thin, not too thick.  Don't work stoned.  Take your time and crank up the music."

Archie's music is opera. 

Archie and his fourteen-year-old collie are staying at my house.  Archie is driving my wife crazy because he's such a slob.  You wouldn't expect he could be a painter.  He's a wandering fairy of unflushed toilets, muddy boot prints, coffee stains on furniture, notes jotted on keepsake books.  Meanwhile the collie is becoming incontinent, and Archie fails to notice. 

Archie grew up controlled by a mother who washed his shoelaces every week.  He's been in rebellion ever since.  He ran away from Phoenix to the Haight Ashbury in 1967 and house-painted his way through San Francisco State College.  He's never gone back home even for a visit.

Archie is brilliant but not academically inclined.  To get a Master's degree while maintaining his normal lifestyle, he wrote his thesis on the artistic merits of pornographic cinema, engaging in extensive field work. 

Squinting, extending his tongue, Archie with a thin brush paints an edge between wall and ceiling, cutting a straight line without masking.

We're using a color that Archie selected, Kelly-Moore Bone White.  "I like it because it's a very forgiving paint," he says.

I find it reassuring to paint my house with forgiveness.

Archie has tried his hand at selling cars, producing porn, conducting travel groups, roasting coffee.  He's warm, engaging, can deliver a spontaneous lecture on just about any topic.  He'll never settle on a career.  I know it; everybody who meets him knows it.

His shoelaces are filthy but speckled with Kelly-Moore Bone White, pixie dust.

I work side-by-side with Archie, trying to help out.  He's faster.  In the same room if I paint one wall and Archie another, his looks better.  You can't point to any particular difference, just the overall effect.  Archie's a pro.  And surprisingly, Archie is a fastidious painter.  His mother might be proud.

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