Contrary to popular definition, the Domino Theory is not about countries falling to communism. It describes instead the effect of a falling wallpaper scraper slipping off the ladder, landing on the radiator and knocking the bucket of wallpaper stripper onto the just-cleaned couch. Trust me, I know. (And now so do my housemates.)
We rent a turn-of-the-century Victorian, complete with turret, round windows, cathedral ceilings and hardwood floors. A year ago the great beauty of the house was hidden under years of decay and disrespect.
In the '70s it was redesigned as a two-family structure, some wallpaper stripped and hallways painted. But since then the only decorating had been in the bedrooms. Two of them had been painted purple by a woman.
But this same woman also designed floral stained-glass patterns in the windows to the sun porch. That was just enough encouragement to make the effort to restore the house. After consulting magazines, hardware dealers and friends, we began the project in all seriousness. What we got was something less erudite.
First, there had to be color in the place. Over time, aging paint and wallpaper had turned every common area but one to a green-beige. The exception was the black, white and green "Art-Deco nightmare" bathroom. So after restoring the purple bedroom walls to antique rose and refinishing the floors, it was time for the hallways and the living room.
To work on both at once, the entire house had to be on active duty. While stripper soaked into the four layers of living-room wallpaper, the hallways were turning peach-pink by degrees.
The incremental process had to allow for the first of pink paint to seep into the beige. We scraped the wallpaper to expose wallboard where plaster was supposed to be and applied a large amount of spackling compound to repair the "scratches."
My housemates learned to find me by the location of the portable stereo and kindly ran for the phone I was never able to catch. "She's occupied at the moment" became the gracious way of saying she's got paint all over and she's, uh, hanging off the banister again. (At 5-foot-6 it is the only way to reach high ceilings.)
At times there was the help of 5-foot-10 Joyce, but she and the other housemates quickly were developing active out-of-the-house social lives. So along with becoming an expert on whether to use brush or roller, how to get tar off the floor and how to avoid knocking paint cans off ladders, I got cozy with local radio programming.
Billboard's Top 40?
Adult easy listening special?
"Bedtime Magic," weeknights from 8 to 12.
And thanks to "Saturday Night at the Oldies" I can outwit my baby-boomer parents, and am convinced Elvis lives. But even if he appeared on the porch, he could not have outdone my barefoot rock 'n' roll just-polished-living-room-floor dance.
Other residents had their moments as well. Tanya did a mean "jungle boogie" to funk and rap while turning her room into a peach-and-green botanical fiesta.
And when Erica was doing woodwork, the paint was ordinary white, the music socially conscious progressive rock. She has a phenomenal voice and working on the house came to include the benefit of her practice sessions.
Along with the cultural aspects of our operation, we talked about politics, religion, media. And men. After sorting out the deepest puzzlements of gender relations, we decided men at best would be useful for reaching top window sills.
This is, however, no small thing, considering how frequently we needed to repair windows--no small task because they still operate on ropes and pulleys. The windows and their 90-year-old fragments had to be dismantled and dusted to replace frayed ropes or knots that have slipped.
For widgeting windows back into place, the landlord was most helpful. Since he is a Soviet history professor and interested in local activity, we discussed house hunting and local drama as well as the latest in perestroika and Eastern bloc upheaval. As time went on, he signed a contract to write textbooks, so now his lessons will be read by other students.
Our lessons from the house will also be a textbook of sorts. After one year, gallons of paint thinner and several permanently spackled and splattered pieces of clothing, it is finished. Almost.
The formerly beige boarding house is now a residence. There are art prints on the refurbished living-room walls. The hallways and the upstairs bathroom are pink; the former "Art-Deco nightmare" is now pale green. Bedrooms have been redecorated according to their occupants' tastes, and the kitchen is soon to be bright white.
Our manual on how-to includes surviving housemates moving in and out, painting, spackling, refinishing, and getting paint footprints off the stairs. We also mastered a new language.
"What do I do with the you-know-what? And where is the what's-a-fritzz?" actually get answers. Correct ones. As does the late-night yell: "Who put the couch upside down in the hall? And is the cat under it again?"
But by far our most important advancement is the concept of sharing. And to prove it, I'm going to share the kitchen with a friend, a boyfriend and a cousin. "Gentlemen, the sandpaper is on the table, and painting equipment on the counter. I just know you'll do a wonderful job!"