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fear of 2.3 robs
september 20, 2003
So Mary and I decided, after twelve years of living in our happy home, to revamp our master bedroom, painting it, arranging for the carpet to be ripped up, new carpet laid, carrying to the curb a lot of furniture miscellany, which we intended to replace with two long, sleek black bureaus, on the shiny tops of which we would place our electronics, in the drawers of which we would fold our clothes, both such bureaus, as of this writing, still boxed in our front foyer, where we dragged them after delivery (assembly required), the stapled ends of which our cats each day try to rip open with their fangs.
The first step, and in fact, the step we are still on, was to paint the bedroom.
We moved out most of the furniture, shrouded the rest with see-through plastic tarps.
After we committed to the painting, Yes, let's do it, but before we actually bought the paint, I would find that many an evening, while lying in bed, TV on, my eyes would wander rightwards and upwards to the first wall to be painted, the north wall, fourteen feet high, which we were going to paint a pastel blue, unlike the other walls, which would be painted white (technically, "Oxide Yellow" in the Behr color charts), a beautiful light blue over which Mary would later paint, in browns and greens and oranges, a huge, wall-filling mural, her largest yet, of a forest scene, one of our cats, Chirper, gazing down at his own reflection in a cool pool of grassy water.
I kept looking at the wall because I was trying to imagine myself being up so high on a ladder, paint brush in hand.
The truth is, I'm afraid of heights.
Not airplanes, which I love for the thrilling take-offs and landings, but none of the seated boredom in between, nor elevators, which I've always enjoyed, the sudden, almost subliminal pump against the soles of your shoes as the elevator begins its ascent, but everything else.
If my feet are more than a yard off the ground, my calves start to tingle. Whenever Mary and I go to her cardiologist, about once a month, to check Mary's coumadin blood levels, we park in the typical multi-storied enclosed garage, walk to the elevator on whatever level on which we find a space, usually Five, which causes me to glance down momentarily at the back of my hand, my fingers stiffly outstretched as a memory aid. The waiting area for the elevator on each floor, off at one corner of the parking structure, is open-walled. There's a few horizontal bars up to waist height, but that's it. If I walked to the bars, I'd be able to grasp them and see five stories straight down, little heads bobbing, but I never do.
So I was nervous not only about climbing that high in our home, but also having to do something once I was way up there, namely vigorously brush paint against the wall, tamping the bristled front of the brush against the resistant spots.
We bought a twelve-foot stepladder, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, maneuvered it into the bedroom, and opened it against the wall that had to be blue.
The first thing I did once the ladder was erected was to climb up the steps, all the way to the small top, and place my palm flat against the pebbled ceiling. I waved my right hand at the wall as if painting. Looked down, holding onto the ladder with only my left hand, at the ceiling fan, and way below that, at Mary's upturned, smiling face. I did it because I knew I'd have to get up there, from the wide base to the skinny top, countless times, so I might as well start conquering my fear.
I also calculated the height of the ladder in terms of "robs", believing that might help.
I'm precisely six feet tall.
Since the ceiling is fourteen feet high, that means the highest my head would ever be is 2.3 robs.
Somehow, that didn't help.
When the morning came to actually start the painting, we both decided to leave our pajamas on, short-sleeved and -panted, and just add socks and sneakers. Our reasoning was, even though we have work clothes, gardening clothes, which we could have used, who wants to garden dressed in blue and white paint? The particular pajamas we chose, faithful companions to many a night's dreams, could be simply rolled-up and pitched once our painting was through.
Doing the north wall in blue paint was actually not that bad. I felt uneasy the whole time I was up there, to where my calves hurt after a while from clenching them as I waved the brush over my head, and it was actually warmer up by the ceiling (hot air rises), but it went quickly, and looked really good once we finished.
We painted next, white, the east wall behind our bed, that wall only eight feet high. It was a lot of fun, covering the yellowed wall, its ghostly blocks of removed framed photographs, with this slick, wet white.
Finished with that, we gradually, over the course of the drying time, realized two discouraging things. The wall we had just painted was going to need a second coat, since the dry wall had sucked up most of the paint from the first coat. And, the ceiling, which we had intended not to paint at all, since it looked okay, did, in fact, now that we had the contrast from the newly-painted wall to compare it with, not look as fresh as we had thought.
Our north and south walls are fourteen feet high, straight up. The east and west walls are eight feet high, above which the ceiling slopes upwards, at about a forty-five degree angle, to fourteen feet. The east and west walls don't meet at the ceiling. They meet about a foot away from each other. That separating foot, the highest part of the ceiling, is a flat strip that runs north and south at the top of our room.
Also, our ceiling has a pebbled texture. It's nice to look at, in that you can imagine in it all sorts of faces and hands, but it's hellish to paint.
We went back to Home Depot, bought a couple of rollers meant for rough surfaces, and discovered they actually have a roller which can be attached to a long handle, so you can reach up high with your strokes (of course it makes sense such a long-handled roller would exist, but I hadn't known about it).
Back home, we covered all the furnishings again, and started on the ceiling.
It was hard, sweat-popping work, rolling the wet paint up, then down the slope of the ceiling, raising the roller to start again with the next stroke. Between having to close the twelve-foot stepladder, carrying it sideways to the other side of the bed and reopening it (we couldn't just drag it opened across the carpet because of the ceiling fan in the middle of the ceiling), and maneuvering our long-handled paint rollers over the shrouded furniture to be able to angle the roller itself into the tray of paint, there were many moments of classic vaudeville. Our cats helped too, all eight of them, chasing each other under the hems of the plastic tarps.
Where we stand now is that almost all the room, and short hallway leading to it, is painted. We wound up having to use two coats on the ceiling. I got so exasperated at how the pebbled texture of the ceiling wouldn't evenly coat with paint from the roller, I started hanging off the top of the tall ladder, stabbing up with the front of a brush's bristles to get the paint up past the texture. The end result looks beautiful, and in the process I got over my fear of heights.
Nothing conquers fear like impatience.