Stripping Is Hard Work

One of my flaws is that I jump right into things, without really giving much thought to what the task at hand involves. Often I find myself smack in the middle of a project, cursing myself, “What in the world was I thinking? Oh, yeah. I wasn’t.”

When the manager of my new apartment pointed to the half stripped kitchen cabinets in my new kitchen, a project the previous tenant had begun, and asked if I wanted to finish the job or have them painted, I, gazing at the beautiful redwood cabinets already exposed, casually replied, “Oh, I’ll finish the job. Thanks for asking.”

I jumped into the project with unabashed enthusiasm. After a trip to Home Depot, I returned to my new abode with stripper, putty knives, brushes, safety goggles, ventilation mask, protective rubber gloves, varnish, drop cloths, masking tape, sandpaper, and mineral spirits. I cleared my calendar for an entire Saturday. I awoke early, envisioning what my beautiful redwood cabinets would look like by the end of the day.

The ventilation mask was anything but. After I strapped it around my head, adjusting it so that it rested comfortably over my mouth, I realized I could hardly breathe. Yes, it prevented me from inhaling dangerous toxic fumes, but it also prevented me from inhaling oxygen. Off with the mask.

I put the safety goggles on. As I turned to don the bright orange protective gloves I ran into the wall. My vision was distorted just enough that I constantly bumped into things. What’s safe about that? In addition, the angle of the top of the goggles cut the light in such a manner that it always appeared someone or something was moving just at the edge of my peripheral vision. So all day I suddenly turned, looking for the something or someone sneaking up behind me. If the fumes didn’t drive me crazy the paranoia the goggles induced surely would.

I applied the stripper, I scraped, I applied more stripper, I scraped, I applied more stripper, I scraped. Like most San Francisco apartments, my kitchen had at least 8 solid layers of paint applied over the past 75 years. Two hours later, I had stripped one surface of one cabinet. Ten more to go. Ever so slowly it dawned on me I might not get the entire project finished in one day. (I also had bought paint to paint the walls a lovely sunshine yellow after refinishing the cabinets, thinking I might have extra time. Probably wouldn’t get to that either.)

As I worked on the second surface, I leaned over to get a better grip. Suddenly, a hot pain seared up my forearm. I jerked up and looked down. There, on my forearm, was a smudge of stripper, creating bubbles on my skin like those in the stripped paint. I jumped down from my perch, threw the faucet on, and with relief welcomed the cool water rushing over my arm. By about the sixth time this happened, I decided it was time to call it a day.

After ten long hours, about half of the cabinets were stripped. I was supposed to have dinner with my friend John and realized I (as usual) was running late. I can only imagine his reaction when he heard this message on his machine, “Oy. I’m running late. I’m exhausted. I didn’t realize how difficult stripping could be.”

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