07/17/2013 05:04 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

The Paint Job


"The workmen are here," my husband informed me at 7 this morning.

This was not happy news. I had no intention of fixing up the house. I'd hoped to move before anything else broke, disintegrated or collapsed. But one recent night, with no provocation whatsoever, water started dripping from the ceiling. Plop. Plop.

"Do you hear something?" my husband asked, looking up over a pair of pink reading glasses (mine).

"I don't hear anything at all."

The leak persisted. I moved a potted plant (a water-loving fern) under the mysterious new spigot. The rain outside neared biblical proportions; the drops inside grew larger and longer. A chunk of ceiling broke off and crashed on top of the fern, leaving behind a hole the size of a fist. I had no choice. I called a carpenter first.

His job was to go up on the roof and find the source of the leak. A pinhole, I requested, or a loose shingle. "Find something easy to repair, and not terribly expensive," I said as he climbed the ladder.

He returned with cell phone photos. These are never good.

"The window needs to be replaced," he said. "That's easy. I can do that for you right away. But the siding is exposed, and the eaves are peeling and there's mold everywhere." He held out his phone showing clear evidence of his findings, but I refused to look. "You need to have the whole house treated and painted."

You can't just paint a house. First you have to collect and compare estimates. When the first quotes arrived, we hunched over the sealed envelope like vultures protecting a meal. "What do you expect?" I asked in a whisper. My husband sliced open the first packet with a letter opener. "Let's just see," he said.

The first price was shocking. "That can't be right," I said. "Call him up. He must have added an extra zero by accident." The others were within the same range. Our first car didn't cost as much!

We signed with a very reputable painting company. Next, we had to choose a color.

"Choose a color?" I asked my husband. "Why can't we use the same color we had before?" Our house color can be summarized, for purposes of specificity, as "beige."

He didn't hear me. He was halfway to the car with excitement in his step. "Let's go get some samples."

I hate paint samples. I hate the names of the samples, the nuances of color, the barely visible differences between the hues. Cream. Ecru. Off-white. It's all the same to me.

"I give you full permission to make this decision without me," I declared. "Pick whatever color you want. Red. Black. It makes absolutely no difference." I urged him out the door. "I promise I will love whatever color you choose." And I meant it.

He came home six hours later with eighteen three-fold sample booklets. "I think we should stay within the lighter tones," he said. For days, he compared the whites. Some were the color of teeth. Some looked more like tea with milk.

His nightly discourse ranged from obsessive to manic. "I like Dappled Sunlight," he said. "But Summer Bloom is nice too. What do you like better?" He tried to lure me in. "Sonoran Desert or Nevada Sand?"

I was not to be had.

At the end of the weekend he pleaded with me: "You have to help me!" I followed him outside where had taped the likely samples to the garage door.

I wasted no time. "That one." I pointed to a sample in the top left corner of a sample sheet. Cottage Walk. "I choose that one."

He peered at it thru the reading glasses. "I think that has some coral in it," he worried. "Are you sure you don't like Farmwood better?"

"That's my choice. You do what you want."

He chose Farmwood which is, like all the other samples, white.

The "prep" work will take ten days I'm told. I will work in the public library for the duration, out of cell phone reach of the project participants.

I got dressed quickly, and dashed out to the car. No fast enough! One of the painters stopped me as I pulled away from the curb. I lowered the window.

"What color do we use for the trim?" he asked.

With minimal forethought and even less studied interest, I made an instantaneous decision.

"White," I said with a carefree shrug. "Paint it white."