Nick keeps me going. He’s the balm I’ve needed these last couple of weeks. Since my return from Europe on May 28, I’ve felt lost and out of sorts. Post-travel depression accounts for some of my problem. But this kind of displacement usually only lasts about two weeks for me. The rest of my wandering-mind challenge arises from the fact that, for the first summer in as long as I can remember, I don’t really have a project occupying me and pulling me through what should be an enjoyable time.
Regardless of the ennui and inertia that has me goofing off or mooning around the house, Nick has pestered me for daily projects that will keep him busy. He generally does well enough on his own. But he has insisted on accomplishing things with me.
Over the school break, he cleaned up the stairwell to the basement. As much as I don’t want it to, it becomes, over time, the catchall for those unfinished and half-assed schemes we do upstairs. When I looked down there a couple of weeks ago, I saw the accretion of good ideas we never followed through on or meant to catch up on later. Empty boxes Virginia keeps for shipping presents accumulated like wood in a beaver’s dam. There were extension cords, the canoe rack we keep for the car, and a number of other trash-like objects stacked at the bottom of the stairs.
In just an hour or so, Nick had cleared us a clear passage to the basement. He recycled boxes, stowed the extension cords in their proper corner of the basement, and cleaned out the rest of the good idea that stood there useless and open-ended. He even used the crummy little shop-vac we have to vacuum up the dust and dirt that had collected around the objects that has sat in the corners for, perhaps, years now.
Another day, he tackled a particularly messy corner of the basement. He stacked paint cans, put away tools, and cleaned shelves. He made it look like someone has actually paid attention to what they were doing down there.
Several other projects fell in Nick’s advance. His room suddenly looked like a real human inhabited it. The yard gained an air of order. The garden lost its weeds. The front of the house gained an air of thought and care.
All in all, I consider Nick’s break to be an astounding success. Where once I thought his video habit would take all his attention, it turned out that he can only take so much YouTube a day. Those how-to and snarky videos of people commenting on inane occurrences and others’ faux pas can only entertain him for so long. When those wore thin, he took to doing things around the house. He even whipped me a couple of times at the chess board and we played innumerable games of Yahtzee and Scrabble—at both of which he matches or overmatches me.
Then came Saturday. For months, he’d been on me about the peeling paint around the front window above the driveway. I had looked at the flaking paint and hoped somehow it would fix itself. But by his insistence, we decided to tackle a job that has been goading me for a couple of years.
When we looked closer at what we had to do, I noticed the bright yellow paint on the front of the house was sun-bleached.
“Well, dad,” he said, “I guess that means we have to paint the front of the house.”
It was settled then. We went to the Home Depot and bought a gallon of white satin exterior paint for the window, porch, and windowsills along the front of the house. We looked at pain swatches, trying to figure out which hue of yellow matched the paint already on the house. Our intention was to paint only the front of the house. Back and forth we went over which yellow was just right. He had taken a close-up photo of the paint and we put the color swatches up against his phone.
“That’s not it, dad,” he said. “That’s way too yellow. It’s more like this one.”
“No, it’s not. It’s more sunflower yellow.”
“What about this one?”
“That’s got too much green in it,” I said, masterfully eyeing the color he indicated.
“Green? What in the world do you mean? There’s no green in this.”
“Certainly, there is,” I said. “This one tends toward the green end. We want something that purer yellow than that.”
“Try this, then,” he said, folding a color swatch against the one he held in his other hand.
“We’ll try this one,” I said. It was a color called “surprise yellow.”
We fetched a couple of gallons and had the Home Depot guy mix in the pigment. Satisfied, we bought the paint along with two tubes of caulk and a quart of primer to fix the paint better to the window trim.
When we arrived home, we set to work scraping windowsills and trim. The day before, we had sprayed the siding of the front and one side of the house with a high-pressure nozzle to clear away the years of dust and grime that accumulate on a house. We primed the window trim. With a little extra effort, we made sure we were ready to apply the final coat of paint.
Then, we began to stroke on the yellow paint around the window and trim. It turned out that the yellow we bought was about as pure yellow as you can get. Elemental yellow. Primary-color yellow. It didn’t match in the least the paint on the house already.
“Maybe, we can get away with just painting the front,” he said, stepping back from his work. “No one’s going to notice.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“But, you know,” he said, “we’ll know. We’ll always notice it.”
“I think you’re right, but I can live with that.”
“Good. We’ll paint the whole house.”
This was what he wanted to do all along. I could tell from the way he’d made up his mind and acted as if he hadn’t heard me. Nick is very cagey and doesn’t commit himself very easily. He’d rather be open to changes or, in his noncommittal way, prefer to leave things the way they are. Either way, he doesn’t like to be pinned down unless it’s something he really wants.
So, with a borrowed ladder and the addition of another gallon of paint, we will have one of the yellowest houses in Kansas City by the end of this weekend. This will, at least, keep me from dithering around, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with my creative life.
And yellow, by the way, is Nick’s favorite color.