Graning Paint is a family affair under the interstate that shares a stance with Ray’s Market which supplies the population under the bridge with the coldest brown paper sack they could ask for without leaving the comfort of home. At Graning Paint they have ashtrays on the sales counter, always ask “cash or charge?” and write everything on a handwritten ticket. Nothing in the store has a price tag. They flip through an enormous binder, drag a finger over the prices, and then look back up at you.
There’s always real painters in there, painters that don’t have any paint on themselves. Painter’s who came from Ray’s Market. Painters with handlebar mustaches. I said I was starting a paint company and needed to set up an account. The painters looked at me.
The man at the counter took me back to a paneled office. The white headed owner got up from a desk and shook my hand. My hand was covered in paint and I apologized. He looked very warm and serious. “I’ll gladly shake a hand with paint on it.”
Pulling out a legal pad, he asked about my company.
“Well,” I said, “It’s just me. And I have a big job going, but the homeowner already bought the paint.”
He wasn’t writing anything.
“I know they bought the paint here, though. Twice actually. It was the house where the paint was stolen.”
“Ah,” he laughed. “Did they ever find who did that?”
“No,” I said. “But she got word from a cop. There’s some painters over in the trailer park on Central who supposedly have done it before.”
“How bout that.”
“Yeah, I guess they tell customers they’re running a special on grey and yellow.”
He smiled, “Well, young man, we’re glad you’re getting started in this business and glad you came to us. Let us know whatever you need, and we’ll save you all the money we can. You’re going to do fine.”
I thanked him and signed some paperwork calling me a contractor. He walked me out of his office and that was the day I got my painter’s overalls. Nothing has been better for business than painting a big house while wearing white overalls. That and the 3 inch Purdy XL Glide. Get slapped with a brush like that, you could drown.
My bike was locked out front. I shoved the Dickies Overalls in my old backpack along with the brush. The paper sheet and my receipt I folded into my hoodie pocket for proper record keeping once I was home. Within five steps I was turning into Ray’s Market, in the pouring shade of an eight lane interstate overpass. The only lights in the place read Pepsi, Coke, and Please Have Your ID Ready. Most of the pocket change, begged gas money, and couple dollars for something to eat goes right here to Ray.
There are fine buildings for their day right across the street. Tall windows are bricked shut and doors fenced with barb wire like a prison. They stand taller than the interstate just next door. Two places are always congregated in downtown Knoxville: the shops and restaurants of Historic Market Square and right under this eight lane overpass. I saved a little Coke Zero in the backpack and got on the red bike with the duct taped seat.
I kicked a brick under one of the ladder feet. The booted tips grabbed a slat of wood about twenty feet high. I think I’m going to write pop songs. No. Well I’ve written pop songs already, or at least they could have been. Pausing near the top, I hooked the paint bucket behind a rung. Maybe if I had the marketing. Enough marketing can make any pop song work. I took two more steps and pulled the brush out of my pocket. Reaching down, I loaded it with a dip slap slap in the bucket. Rookie painters give a brush the dunk wipe wipe. That’s wrong. You only need paint in the last inch or so of the bristle. But you want it completely full of paint. Twice as completely as you think.
You’re afraid of the drip. So you peck at the bucket rim like a worried salesman. But now there’s not enough paint in the brush and you’ll make a weak stroke. Maybe even slow and wiggly. You’ve also managed to smear paint into the ferrel which will stiffen the whole thing. Do this instead: keep your cut bucket in one hand, brush in the other. Sink it and slap it easy. Paint a bold line. Anything less and you’ll be back.
I was cutting in around the windows and trim. After that I’d hit the entire wall with a cigar roller. Then come back last for the white. It’d be nice to have about seven ladders and leave one of them here. I walked back down to move it over. Ladder moves are the real science of painting.
I dropped my cut bucket in the shade and covered it with a rag. A three gallon bucket sat beside, covered in plastic. I went inside for my roller in the drink fridge of the butler pantry. The poodle followed me past toy trucks in the hallway. There was some coffee left, still cold. I went back to the wall.
The roller nap was freezing and squishy as I pulled off the Kroger sack. Careful to keep it from turning inside out, I wadded it up and kept it for later. In the three gallon bucket I ran the roller up down the grid a few times. I took a sip of coffee. Better get this roller smokin’.
My perch was only a few steps high. Lets just say for a second I wrote a pop song. After all, the baby was coming and I was going to be a father. Two neighbors had inquired about a paint estimate, probably at the sight of my overalls. That was all the security I was offering. What I need is a good pop song. Or a van with some ladders. Or a van with some dudes in tattoos and skinny jeans, and a spraypainted trailer full of guitars. I took a step down and rehooked the bucket.
With any roller, you want to make as long a movement as possible. Even if the paint starts missing a little, because you’re going to roll it back. Two passes with enough paint on the roller will get it. What you don’t want to do is go forward, back, forward a little more, back, then all the way and back and forward again, then have go back and hit where you missed, only now the roller is completely dry. You’ve just painted the board three times, wiped the paint back off, painted it again, and touched up where you needlessly pulled away the paint one last time. All that work and you’ll get to come back for sure. That’s called playing with it. You shouldn’t look like you’re painting with a handsaw. Do this. Get a lot of paint on the roller, but not the elbow. Go forward as far as you can reach. Come back smooth. Leave it. Paint does the rest.
I used to attempt the invention of chord progressions. I was young, and the neat laws of diatonic harmony I felt limiting. Very quickly a chord can be altered, sharing a tone that is stepping elsewhere, resolved into something else, and now you’re trying to land a melody in France. I’d stumble upon detailed jazz turnarounds always recognizable from something before. A couple of my songs had sounded like technical exercises around the circle of fifths. Once I wrote a song that never left the same chord, it just vamped on several voicings and then the rhythm finally changed in the chorus. It wasn’t catchy.
Chord progressions can’t be invented any more than a new road to Ohio. A new turkey sandwich. A better hiking sock. An easier rocking chair.
A dark shade of grey won’t cover white in one coat, not even close. From the street it looked good but standing nearby was spongy. Today I was putting on the second coat. And if the first coat feels most like headway, the second is pure resolution.
My roller made nothing but a squish between the smack, plus the occasional rub of the metal against wood. Clusters of notes can change or not, in time with everything else, like a grey that can look blue or a blue that can look grey. Performing less notes is greyer, with the color decided by a root below or a melody above. Like a D and an F#, they are hardly worth giving a name together. It’s two notes. But they are the root and 3rd of one thing, the 5th and major 7th of something else. A minor 3rd and 5th of something entirely different, like a blue sad and not a royal blue triad. Maybe you need D and F# because the sweet B is coming from something else.
Roll forward, roll back, all the way down the ladder. Move over and walk back up. Today we are making grey and spending a great deal of time doing simple things.