THE2NDHAND marks its sixth anniversary with Austin, Texas, writer Lauren Trojniar's This Is How You Paint a House," which comprises the 20th edition of our lit broadsheet. Trojniar's story is a tale exploring the moral bankruptcy at the heart of America's current cultural moment. When a Dominican-born housepainter is contracted by a suburban Pennsylvania couple to put a coat of American Anthem on their ranch-style home, their agreement becomes something else entirely, the housepainter and man of the house reaching an unanticipated empathy -- something approaching camaraderie, even -- before their disparate backgrounds and temperaments intercede and send each back down his own well-trod path to drunken dissolution. View and/or print the 11"x17" pdf by clicking here.
THE2NDHAND is free in select locations. But to order Installment 20 by mail, please send $3 donation to:
Or by using any major credit card via PayPal (allow a couple weeks for delivery):
For a listen to a select bit of Lauren Trojniar's May 20, 2006, reading at Quimby's in Chicago, use the flash player below.
THIS IS HOW YOU PAINT A HOUSE
Tomás. He's a housepainter. He'll say women are his downfall, but it's alcohol. He keeps a sketchbook, drawn with the intent of someone some day finding it, detailing all of his sexual encounters. Each girl has a page -- composed of an elegant pencil sketch and a broken recounting of her charms. 'Lucy: sexy, such legs! She make me feel importante.' Tomás comes from the Dominican Republic. Imagine his Spanish-born father running back to Spain and his Dominican mother leaving her native country for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a fiery twelve-year-old in tow. Tomás admires his mother, Rosa, for her independence. He still lives with her. He had his own pad for a while, which was a far more desirable arrangement for love making, but after the loss of three consecutive jobs (you can't blame it all on alcohol: one boss was cutting back, another decided he preferred an all-white staff) he moved back home.
Rosa probably lost her patience after the third month of Tomás's television vigil, but one can never be too sure. Despite her deep love for him Rosa may have lost her patience right after he moved back home. But following the loss, she turned off the television, broke his bottle of Jim Beam on the driveway, and handed him the classifieds section of the Morning Call.
His first employment as a housepainter was on Sparrow Street. With the attention to detail that artists tend to have, and without Jim Beam, Tomás did a bang up job.
Moira is tired of Greg. But they are married with children. Moira had many other partners before safe and secure ol' Greg came along with an invitation to join him in prudent stability. One of those partners wanted to travel the country with her on the back of a fast hog. One of them tattooed her name above his left buttock. But she's still proud of her decision to marry Greg. How could a man with a butt tattoo be a good father?
Greg and Moira have three spanking new children! There is the two-year-old, Timmy, and there are the twins, Alex and Amanda: they're newborns. The couple is always busy feeding and playing and cleaning. After work and the babies, Greg and Moira have little time for themselves. Well, Moira has some time while Greg is at work. The twins have little automated swings, and Timmy has a play area in sight of the kitchen where Moira plans dinner.
Because Greg's deacon job has to fit the congregation's schedule, he's often out late doing marriage counseling or leading spiritual groups. It's often Moira who notices what needs to be fixed in their home. For instance, it was Moira who noticed that the exterior of their house was looking shabby. She brings this up to Greg when he is about to fall asleep. "Greg," she says, "the paint job on this house is starting to look like shit." He rolls back toward her. "What?"
Moira explains it to him more clearly. "The exterior paint is all peely and chipped. The trim is practically back to that original green." Moira props herself up in the dark.
"Well, let's get it painted." He rolls back.
"I don't want to use that guy we used last time."
"I'm sure we can find someone," Greg says. "I'll take care of it."
Moira remembers their conversation the next morning, but fears Greg does not. Not wanting to nag him, she slips in a subtle reminder as she walks in front of his car down the driveway for the paper. At the bottom of the drive, she turns to look at the house and makes a pronounced disgusted-face, shaking her head. She doesn't see Greg roll his eyes before blowing her a kiss. Moira does not catch the kiss. She lets it board her shoulder, maybe even whisper in her ear, and shake off into the morning.
"Janet used him a few months ago. She said he did a bang-up job," Moira explains to her hubby.
"Well, in case he doesn't work out, I made this list of painters," Greg tells her.
"I already called this one," Moira says, and it is settled.
But Tomás is booked solid until August, and that's over a month away. Moira decides they can wait, and Greg is relieved by her patience. So they wait.
July peels by. For the Fourth, the couple goes with some friends to the Jersey shore and brings the little ones. There, they barbecue and talk about their children. In late July Alex says his first word. It is doo-doo. Moira and Greg are elated, and promptly record this in their baby books. At the beginning of August Greg opens up a much-needed new class in religious education on Wednesday nights at the church, and Moira begins playing tennis with a selective group of women twice a week. On a Monday, Tomás makes his first appearance.
He begins with an estimate: $6,000. He is very professional, and Moira is taken with his "adorable" grammatical errors. He shows them color swatches. They settle on American Anthem, but there is some debate over Cheerful Whisper.
The following morning, Tomás arrives with a truck full of scrapers, sanders, buffers, thinners, ladders. He has two assistants with him to help move the process along. By the end of the first day, half of the house has received a good scraping. Greg arrives home from work and sizes up the job. "Hey, you guys need a hand?" he asks, but the men are already putting away their tools.
Tomás looks at Greg and replies politely, "No thank you."
Tomás and his men cannot work the next day because they have another job to finish, but on Thursday they arrive at nine and work the whole day through. On Friday one of Tomás's men is ill, but he and his partner finish scraping the house. Greg pulls into the driveway that evening as Tomás is loading up his truck.
"Lookin' good," Greg says.
"We cannot come here next Monday because the paint it is not ready." Tomás looks Greg in the eye. Greg appreciates that. He likes a nice, honest worker who can look him in the eye as an equal.
"Well, thank you for telling me, Thomas. I'll be sure to mention that to my wife so she doesn't worry when you don't show up. You know how women can be." Greg bestows upon Tomás an insider's wink.
"Yes, yes," Tomás laughs. "I do know how women can be. I call when the paint arrives."
Greg brings his bounding good mood through the door with him. "Smells good!" he tells Moira. She continues to add ingredients to a large pot on the stove -- they are having chicken gumbo for dinner.
"Daddy!" screams Timmy.
"Hey there, Buddy," says Greg. Timmy hugs his father then races back to the television set. The twins bounce in their swings and gurgle.
Over dinner, Greg briefs Moira on the status of his new religious education class. He spoons beef baby food into Amanda's birdlike mouth, and Moira tells Greg that the tennis group has asked her to play with them twice a week. With tennis, yoga, and working out three days of the week, Moira figures she'll lose the extra baby weight in no time.
"Oh, Thomas won't be here next week. He says the paint isn't ready, but don't worry, he'll call as soon as the place gets it in."
Moira takes a big slurp of her gumbo, standing up to get ready for her ikebana class. She turns to Greg to speak, but thinks better of it and scoots off while he finishes feeding the babies.
Greg cleans the dishes when the children are asleep. Moira still isn't home, so Greg passes out facedown on the comforter. A book he is reading, War and Peace, is breached open by his elbow. Greg is an advocate of reading the classics; he just can't seem to keep all those damned characters straight. Creeping up his nose are his reading glasses. They are twin circus performers escaping Greg's face by twisting their skinny bodies from behind his ears. With his face chubbed up on his pillow he looks like any one of his kids. Would you ever know that his teeth are clamped so tightly he will wake up with a headache? When Moira comes home she removes the acrobatic glasses and the book and pulls the covers over his body.
"He still has to get the paint in from the store. It's not his fault." Greg takes the ironed shirts and places them in the basket.
"Well, maybe we should look for someone else. I just want to get this thing finished." At work, Greg calls Tomás and leaves this message: "Hey there, Thomas! This is Greg -- from the house on Windnut Street. Um, my wife and I were just wondering if you had heard anything about the paint being ready yet. I know you can't do anything until you hear from them, but I was just calling to give a friendly check. I hope everything is going well for you and that you had a terrific weekend. Talk to you soon. Thank you. Bye now." Tomás calls Greg at work with apologies. He explains that he had been away from his phone and only just got the message that the paint was ready. American Anthem will be on the house the next morning.
Tomás comes home from helping a friend on another paint job. Rosa has left a note for him -- she is working a double shift and there is chicken in the fridge. The wiggly heart she has drawn around his name, Tomasito, keeps him from crushing the paper. Instead, he folds it and puts it in his shirt pocket. The chicken is not so good reheated, but thankfully in his dresser is a bottle three-quarters full of Jim Beam. Tomás spends most of his evening in front of the television, until he hears his mother's car crunch into the driveway and he is brought to his feet to hide himself. Rosa calls out: "Hola hijo mio!" Tomás does not want his voice to betray him, but if he remains quite he knows that will only arouse more suspicion. "Hello Mami." Rosa wants to see her dear son so that they can sit down and complain about their days. She worked with the most incorrigible woman, Irene, who is new but insists on telling Rosa how to do everything. She also wants to tell her son that she ran into Laura, a nice Puerto Rican girl who goes to church every week. It is too bad that Tomás decides to feign sleepiness, otherwise he could have told his Mami how the boss called him some bad names while working on a job for a friend, how at lunch he finished a new sketch of a farmhouse, how he met a new lady-friend and they hit it off just splendidly in the back of her car. Tomás sleeps off his drinks and wakes up feeling a little ill.
Tomás' partners don't show up, but he still gets the paint and arrives at Moira and Greg's before nine. Painting goes slowly working alone, but Tomás is very efficient. Greg notices this when he returns from work. The paint is going to look good, but it is going to take too long for Moira's taste if it is only Tomás working. Tomás assures him that his helpers will be there the next day.
But his helpers are not there the next day, and neither is Tomás. Rosa is at work early and not around to see that Tomás is up and showered. Tomás wakes up at ten o'clock with a wicked hangover and knows that the best cure for one of this caliber is more alcohol. He moves to call Greg, but Rosa has washed the phone number in the pocket of his jeans. After treating himself to a handle of Jack Daniel's from the nearby liquor store, he puts his empty wallet back in his pocket with a resolve to sober up for tomorrow. Before Rosa returns, he bags up all of his bottles and tosses them in his truck. Tomás decides to drive the heavy bags to the dumpster of a nearby pharmacy. While making a left turn into the parking lot he is broadsided by a Jeep. The driver of the Jeep brakes enough before impact so that neither driver is severely injured. Both cars are totaled, however, and Tomás spends the night sobering up to a bruised shoulder, a cut knee, and whiplash.
Greg is kept late by an impromptu marriage counseling session. He calls Moira to say that he won't be home for dinner. "The painter didn't show up today," she says. This makes Greg nervous. He handles her as he would one of his students. "You have to give him the benefit of the doubt, Moira." This answer annoys her. It is too late to call Tomás, but he had better be there the next day....
Continued in THE2NDHAND installment 20. Click here for the pdf version. Or to order: