We have a family room in my home, and it sits over top of my garage…therefore, we call it the FROG (Family Room Over the Garage) Cute, ain’t it. It was one of the things we loved about this particular house when we were shopping for our new home in PA. The FROG is a large room, with nice storage areas for my guitars and their accessories, a bar, plenty of room for a nice home theater system; all the things that make America great. The previous owners had it decorated like a sports bar. It had team pics of their two boys, Miami Dolphin memorabilia, a mini-fridge full of ice cold beer; it was awesome. This room was ‘da bomb.
I remember how excited we were after we left the attorney’s office at closing. I could barely contain myself as I walked through the door of our new home. I remember how my son and I raced to the foot of that steep stairway that would lead us to the great expanse of our new multi-media room. But what I mostly remember is that “oh shit!” feeling as we reached the top of the stairs and turned the corner. I think my son actually said, “Oh Shit!” …he was six.
As should have been expected, all the things that made the room so cool, all the things that gave it its vibe, left with the previous owners. We felt like that little Cindy Lou Who chick, from Whoville, in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” … we felt like how she would have felt had the classic Dr. Seuss story been a work of non-fiction instead of some bullshit parable about the spirit of the season and all that. If I lived in Whoville, and some jerk-off took all my stuff on Christmas morning, I wouldn’t run across the street and grab my neighbor’s hand walk out in the middle of a cul-de-sac and start singing a carol…I’d be lookin’ to bust a cap in someone’s ass. But that’s just me, maybe you feel differently.
Everything on the walls had been removed (obviously). There were nail holes that seemed like they were the size of Frisbees, the things that weren’t held up with nails or screws were held up with adhesives, and they were just pried or ripped off of the walls, leaving large gashes and bald spots on the painted drywall. Even the corner and floor molding had been removed, exposing the non-painted areas. It looked like a Wal-Mart after Black Friday, like East L.A. after the Rodney King verdict, like my daughter’s room on any given day … bombed out and depleted.
This was an anti-climactic moment. This did not make us happy. We just stood there, and stared. This was un-Large.
So, we moved the furniture that we didn’t like into the room, put our crappy TV up there; it kinda became storage area for ugly things. It became something of a cave. The FROG would have to be a project for later. As these things usually work for me, later became much later, and then it sort of evolved into way later. Because of my proclivity towards laziness, I don’t exactly rush into home improvement projects. The room stayed as it was for 4 years.
Despite my wife’s sociopathic personality traits, and the poor table manners of my children, we became friends with several families in our new neighborhood. We sit around campfires in the fall, we gather in each other’s kitchens during the winter, we libate, and we tell tales of our personal days of yore. For years we heard tales of how the previous owners of our home hosted these fabulous parties and gatherings in “…that room over the garage.” We were told about watching football and movies on the Large screen TV, and these tales and remembrances would always be followed with suggestions on what we should do with the room, and questions about when we would get to work on it.
The room became my unfinished symphony, just like Schubert’s. The only difference was that I never really started my composition. Well, I guess there are several differences, like I was painting a room in a shitty house, and Schubert was creating a classic and historical piece of music. But other than a few subtleties, it’s exactly the same kind of thing.
I couldn’t get started. I’m too much of a neat freak. Because of my picky, shoe polishing, crease ironing, personality I couldn’t put that room back into a serviceable, functioning family room unless it was going to be perfect. I have the ability to do the things that needed to be done, to make it the way I want it, but I don’t have the patience. It needed to be done in portions over several weekends, but I need to do things and get them done. Since I couldn’t do it in my desired time frame, I didn’t have the desire to start. I didn’t want something good enough…I wanted awesome.
And then, as will happen with any good home improvement story, fate stepped in…
Last year I decided to take a few days off in between Christmas & New Year’s, and about halfway through a cold December 26th afternoon, I found myself up in the FROG for who knows what, and I looked at the scarred walls, and I thought I would take a shot at spackling a few spots to see if I still had skill at the wall patching game. I popped a few CD’s into my old school player, poured a pint of Troeg’s’ Mad Elf Christmas Ale, and started patching. I just wanted to figure out what kind of effort this possible project was going to take.
The FROG is essentially a separate, but connected section of our house. You can be up there, and your activity will go undetected by the people residing in the main part of the house – that’s a big part of its charm. However, on this particular day, there was a 10-year-old boy who needed some Papa time, so he came looking for me. Being a skilled hunter, he followed the sound of Doobie Brothers music to its source, and there was his Dear-Old-Dad spreading white stuff all over the walls.
“Whatcha doin’?” he asked with a quizzical expression.
“This is called ‘spackling’.”
“Why ya doin’ that?”
“Because I’m trying to patch all the holes and scrapes on the walls so maybe we can get it ready to paint. You writing a book?” I replied.
“No, I’m not writing anything, I’m on a break. This looks cool. Can I try?” he asks.
There is nothing “cool” about spackling; it’s kind of like how sex is for married women…it’s messy, it’s a little bit smelly, and it’s boring. What he was really asking was, “Can I hang out with you?” Luckily, because I’m a “people person”, I immediately picked up on his subliminal message and I said “Sure.” I tooled him up, gave him a pan full of mud, and showed him how it worked.
“This is fun,” was his immediate comment.
There is NOTHING fun about spackling.
“I know” I replied. “Just be careful not to drop the stuff on the carpet, and if you do, tell me so we can clean it up quickly. OK?”
“OK,” with a 10 year-old smile, and his classic full body twitch that always happens when he’s happy or excited.
You have NO idea how difficult this was for me. The kid, the child, the fruit of my loins, my pride and joy, one of only 3 recipients of my unconditional love, couldn’t patch a nail hole to save his ass. He didn’t really take my “tell me when you spill” request to heart either; within 5 minutes it was on the carpet, and he was stepping in it – pressing it into the fibers. The only thing that could make this more painful for me would be if his older sister came up and discovered our little fun fest and asked to join in.
“Hey guys! Whatcha doin?” asked my son’s older sister as she walked into the room – thirty seconds later.
“This is called spracklin,” her excited little brother replied.
“Spackling,” I said.
She walked around the room inspecting our work. She has a way of looking up through her glasses that reminds me of my Mom, and melts my heart. “This looks cool. Can I try?”
“Sure, sweetie. Let me go get you a putty knife and a pie pan.”
The unscheduled FROG renovation was underway; my two unskilled laborers and I had a project. I just wanted to patch a few holes and ponder the task. My spawn had a different plan. And it was a disaster.
…if there is such a thing as a beautiful disaster, this was that. We patched holes for the rest of that afternoon all the way up to dinner time. We listened to tunes; we talked about Christmas, school, and friends, whatever. At least once every 30 minutes or so, one of them exclaimed that this was “…so much fun.” All I could do is smile, and agree. Initially, with every smile, on the inside, I cried a little – I just didn’t see how I would be able to fix the mess that was being made. But about halfway through the project, as I observed the commitment of my children to this menial task, I stopped caring. Whatever we ended up with was going to have to be good enough, and good enough was OK. We spent the next two days painting the room, and those kids never quit…it never occurred to them to walk away before the job was done. We finished our symphony. It’s a little rough, a little splotchy, but it is complete.
Today, every time I walk up those steep stairs to the FROG, I notice every bulge in the walls, every flawed patch, and every bleed over in the paint. These blemishes are my Large Man cave drawings, my reminders of a time when my kids thought I was so cool they were willing to commit acts of labor just so they could hang out with me. These things make this place great, for me. When it’s time to sell, a realtor will likely find these things less charming.
These cave drawings will remind me that there are more important things than smooth, flawless walls. The finish of this room reminds me of all the great things in my life. Perfection comes in many forms, the FROG is perfect. It’s good for one’s soul to know that someone would want to spend time with you, any time with you…even if that time was spent spackling walls during your Christmas break. Definitely, home improvement.
Thanks for reading.
The Large Man