Chris Erskine: We’re in need of a little refinishing


By Chris Erskine - Los Angeles Times



Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)


We are a house of half-done things. The tomatoes are semi-planted, and the old dresser may never be refinished. The other day, I noticed the electric pencil sharper has a little stub in it from when someone broke off a tip. One of the inmates was probably making a shiv.

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“When you’re done with the dresser, can you fix the kitchen faucet?” our daughter Rapunzel asks.

Yeah, sure. Don’t you know it’s baseball season? Don’t you know the Cubs need my help? Each day I spend a significant amount of time listing the things their hitters need to focus on. It’s a half-done list, as is everything in this haunted and confused little house.

You might, maybe, blame the lack of accomplishment on the tragic circumstances of the last two months, but half-done things have dogged me for a while now.

I was stumbling through the book fest the other day searching for a bathroom, which is how I spend a significant amount of time these days — looking for loos — when a dude held out a pamphlet.

“How to Achieve Success in Your Life,” it said.

I took it, because accomplishment has been elusive lately, what with the dresser half-done, and the pencil sharpener broken, perhaps permanently. I mean, it took me four months to finish the front yard that I was sure I could knock out quickly, in four days or so.

Lately, life seems a little frappy and unguided, like a movie in search of a plot.

The other day, for instance, White Fang stepped into my flip-flop while we were getting a beer. The pup is underage, but as long as she drinks at home, where I can keep an eye on her, I’m totally OK with it.

You parent your way, I’ll parent mine, OK?

Anyway, White Fang was following me to the fridge when — shadowing my every step — she stepped between my heel and my flip-flop. We became tangled, like two NBA players chasing a paycheck. I spun around gracelessly and cursed like a loan shark.

Just another day in paradise, I guess.

Fortunately, our half-done house has the Hall of Arguments, a designated place outside the bedrooms where the inhabitants go to sort things out when there are rare disagreements.

When the wolf tripped me, Rapunzel pulled me into the Hall of Arguments to explain that shadowing me was the baby wolf’s “love language,” which is a term millennials use for gestures that indicate love without actually voicing your love.

Like helping the Cubs’ hitters, for instance.

The half-done dresser has special significance. Our older son started refinishing the old chest of drawers before he died, and there it sat in the middle of the garage in the weeks after, still crusted on the edges.

“Hey, slugger, can you maybe finish that dresser?” Posh asked with displeasure.

We weren’t in the Hall of Arguments at the time, so I just let it go.

Only the difficult paint was left on the dresser of course — the easy stuff had already come off with chemical goo and 100 rounds of sandpapering.

I haven’t refinished a dresser in years, so I put the project off as long as I possibly could, preferring to concentrate on the Cubs’ hitting woes and occasionally wandering off in search of a loo. Properly done, those two activities alone can pretty much soak up an entire day.

Gradually, I came to the dresser, as you would a stranger at a cocktail party — unsure of what you will find, or how bad the chitchat might turn out.

As I said, the dresser was largely sanded. The top was perfect, but the drawers were blemished, like chalk along the sidelines, craving — as we all do — human touch and a certain degree of manic obsession.

Hiding in each crevice were three coats of bargain latex, applied in a hurry 30 years ago when the kids were small and we had no time at all for such activities.

The point now was to bring back the beautiful wood of this old oak beast, which is heavy as a piano and well-made in that way you don’t see much anymore. It once resided in my boyhood bedroom in Chicago. Before that, it was at Grandma’s house a block from Wrigley Field.

Once finished, it’s headed to the little guy’s room, his big brother’s last gift.

Whether it’s an old Corvette, a vintage violin or a piece of family furniture, there is something reassuring to bringing lovely things back to life. That Christopher’s fingerprints are all over the surface is not lost on me.

Some days, I imagine that we are actually shaking hands again, here where he grew up, in the house of half-done things.

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/05/web1_Erskine-Chris-cmyk.jpgChris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

By Chris Erskine

Los Angeles Times

Email Chris Erskine at chris.erskine@latimes.com, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.

Email Chris Erskine at chris.erskine@latimes.com, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.

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