Oh, the joys of a weekend spent on home repair

The Baltimore Sun

Everyone out there who wants to decorate a room by putting up some trendy wallpaper, please, reconsider. And by "reconsider," I mean come to my place and help me strip some 10-year-old wallpaper off the kitchen walls first.

The thing about wallpaper is, it's glued to the wall. To my knowledge, the folks at 3M have not yet developed a Post-it wallpaper. Nor is there any Velcro wallpaper.

What is wrong with America? Why is it that we can inhabit a space station for months on end doing important yet largely unintelligible research on the behavior of flames, fluids, metals and protein crystals in space, and yet we cannot come up with an easily removable wallpaper here on planet earth? What we need are a few more scientists with a major in chemistry and a minor in home decor. With a little more cooperation between MIT and FIT, the world could be a more functional, fashionable place.

I've meandered a bit here, but it's understandable when you consider I've spent a weekend on a ladder with hot steam streaming onto my face while I scraped and peeled. The good news is that I've inadvertently given myself a cheap facial. Ladies, cancel your spa weekend - for best results, come on over and strip some wallpaper with me. Your pores will never be so thoroughly cleansed. You'll have that glow, all right.

To be fair, I didn't do most of the job. I didn't start out on the ladder, friends, because I have spent years climbing metaphorically to the upper rungs of management around here, that's why!

Also, because I have the attention span of a fruit fly, I assigned this task first to my college son, who has the attention span of a much younger fruit fly. I heard many exclamations of annoyance as he worked, followed by complete silence, indicating no doubt he was on his union-mandated video-game break.

I couldn't really understand his frustration. We had the benefit of a steamer, lent to us by my neighbor, Ekim Relssek, whose name has been spelled backward for privacy.

In retrospect, I should have asked Ekim to give my son the 1970s wallpaper-removal tutorial, first. This method - which I perfected with my mother removing trendy wallpaper from my trendy ceiling when I was a teenager - involves standing on a plank between two sawhorses for hours, all the while holding hot rags soaked in gluey water to the ceiling, in the hopes that you might be able to scrape off a section the size of a cereal box top every 15 minutes. This harsh method makes the steamer looks like an infomercial miracle-product.

But those in the instant-messenger generation want results, fast. The minutes holding the steamer are as frustrating to them as the seconds wasted waiting for a page to load with a faulty Internet connection.

So I stepped up and tried to help. Pretty soon I was letting off some steam myself, wondering why we ever thought it was important to wallpaper the tiny space between two adjacent doors in the kitchen, or the inconvenient surface under the cabinet bulkheads.

But all that time up on the ladder helped me identify the crux of the problem with unwallpapering: it's that when you began the project years ago, you had this mind-set that dictated, "Let's do this thing right! Let's size the wall twice and slap some extra paste on the back of each roll, to be sure no seams ever separate and no edges ever curl." Later, as you admired your work, you might have had a fleeting thought about that poor sucker of a homeowner who would have to use twice as much muscle and time to take it down.

It just didn't dawn on you that there was an excellent chance that poor sucker of a homeowner would be you.

To contact Janet or hear podcasts, visit http://www.janetgilbert.net.

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