November 6, 2008

The Parable of the House

Frank stepped off the ladder with a satisfied grunt. It had been a perfect day for painting; it was a balmy 72 degrees, the sun was up, and the occasional cloud made sure it didn't get too hot. Setting the paint can down on the ground and the paint brush atop, he folded his green-stained hands into his arms and admired his work. The house was beautiful, no doubt about it; he'd chosen a sober forest-green for the siding, while the window frames he'd painted a deep burgundy. It stood out from the many other houses along that street, many of which were an ordinary white or beige color. He shook his head and smirked.

"If only they'd invest and buy some paint for their houses," he thought, if only they'd put in a little elbow grease, then their houses could be as nice as mine!"

He sighed at the obvious absurdity of such thoughts. He often broached the subject with his neighbors (in fact, at every opportunity), but the opportunities seemed to be growing fewer as of late. Apparently, nobody had his superb taste in external d├ęcor, though a guy named Chin or Ching or something from a few streets over had come to him a few weeks ago asking for some advice. Frank had assured him that Navy blue was the latest style, trimmed with white. But times change, and Frank had realized that it wasn't blue, but forest green that was of better taste now. All his painting magazines said so. He'd mentioned this to his new acquaintance, whose eyes had gone wide at the thought of redoing his newly painted house. He said he'd think on it.

Moron. He just didn't have what it took to have the best house around.

Frank sighed and set about cleaning up. It was as he was putting away the ladder that he noticed the changing weather. Odd; the weather channel hadn't predicted rain today. Ah well, at least he could continue his painting indoors. He'd noticed that one room was getting out of sorts, and was time to paint again. He wasn't sure why he was painting so often lately, but to have a good house, one had to make sure it was kept in good shape. He even had a storage room full of paint cans just in case of a problem.

He went inside to the offending room, skirting around a spot in the floor he knew to make an irritable creaking sound, just as the first raindrops started to fall outside. Brush in one hand and paint can in the other, he walked into the dining room and took note of where he'd have to paint. Several long cracks had appeared in the wall, one which even ran from floor to ceiling.

"Must be those silly folks I bought this place from," he thought, "wallpaper, what were they thinking?!" The previous evening, when there was no more light left outside, he had spent several hours priming the wall bleach white. Now, he began generously applying the new paint, his brush making long strokes up and down the wall. Obviously the puce he'd originally used over top of the floral print wallpaper wasn't doing its job, so he had chosen instead to use a more dependable beige paint. But there was a knock on the door. He sighed, put down his paint, and wiped off his hands on his shirt, noting the moan from another floorboard. When he opened the door, it was none other than his friend from a few streets up.

"What a surprise!" he said, "do come in. It's Ching, right?"

"Kim, actually," said his friend, glancing suspiciously at Frank's work clothes. "Have you been painting?"

"Why yes," said Frank, "I was just starting on a room that needed some work. And before that, I painted the outside again – like I told you, Green is the new Blue!" Kim smiled, though Frank thought it seemed a bit forced. "Would you like to see?"

"Sure," said Kim, hesitantly.

"It's seen better days," said Frank, escorting him into the dining room. "I thought maybe a stronger color might do it some good." The surprised look on Kim's face told Frank more than he wanted to know. "You don't approve?"

"Well," said Kim, scratching his head as he stared at the cracks running through the wall, "it just seems to me that there's a bigger problem here than the color. Have you looked at the framing, or at least thought of replacing this drywall?" Frank was stunned. Kim had come to him numerous times for advice, why the sudden change of heart?

"Now Chan," said Frank, in a voice that hoped to impress upon him the vast experience he had with choosing paint, "I understand why you might think that, but this place really only needs a stronger color. It's always worked in the past."

Kim looked dubious. "Frank, I know you like to paint, but –"

"Like to paint?" interrupted Frank, "But I don't! I don't like to paint, but it simply must be done if I'm to have a good house!"

"But Frank, paint isn't going to fix those cracks!" Frank hesitated before replying.

"Jim ... what cracks? There are some black lines, certainly, but it's nothing a little paint can't fix."

Kim stared at him in amazement. Had he really not noticed the cracks spreading from floor to ceiling? A sudden thought hit him: did Frank do this with every household malady? Kim suddenly began looking around him at the walls and ceiling, then at the floor, half expecting his shifting weight to bring the whole place down on him at once.

"Are you sure ..." he began, then trailed off into silence again as Frank picked up his paintbrush and began painting the walls around the cracks.

"Ching, I appreciate your concern, but honestly, it's always worked before. Here, let me show you. Follow me." He put down his paint and headed for the front door. Kim followed nervously as Frank made his way around to the side of the house.

"Why, just this last week I repaired the siding with a good nice acrylic blue, and then again today with the green!" Kim looked to where he was pointing, and noticed a large ugly scar through the foundation of the house. "... sure it took some time," continued Frank, "but it was worth it in the end."

"How many coats of paint is that?" asked Kim, in shock.

"Oh, probably about fifteen or twenty, give or take a few."

It was worse than he'd thought. As Kim looked closer, he noticed that the green paint had begun wearing off in the cracks where the surface had dried, but the inside was still liquid. It gave the house the appearance it was bleeding. He brushed his wet hair out of his face before turning back to Frank.

"Frank ... can't you see that the cracks are still there?" Frank looked mortified.

"There are not, I already painted them!"

"Look, Frank, this is insane! How do you expect to make sure the house stays standing with only paint?!"

Frank glanced back and forth between Kim and the foundation. He could almost see what Kim was getting at, but then a new thought occurred to him; his eyes narrowed, and he turned on his heel and trudged back into the house. Kim followed him, worried.

"What did I say, Frank?" Frank whipped around in his face.

"You've been talking to somebody else, haven't you."


"You have! I can see it written all over your face - you've been talking to somebody else about house maintenance! Don't lie to me – I detest lies."

Kim stared at him, speechless. He had talked to someone else when he’d noticed that Frank's paint strategy hadn't worked on the termites in his walls. He'd seen an ad for an exterminator in the yellow pages, whom he had hired for a very reasonable price. The termites hadn't yet returned. But how could he tell this to Frank without losing his friendship? His painting skills were legendary, and he was a genius with a color scheme.

"You know, Quan," said Frank, ignoring another creaking floorboard, "self-deception isn't healthy. I know you've talked to someone else, but they don't know what they're talking about. Paint is what solves house problems, pure and simple."

"But Frank, the exterminator I hired got rid of the termites! My house is still standing because of his help!"

"Ping, Ping, Ping. I too have had termites. They are a lovely shade of purple now, and it worked brilliantly. They even match the inside of the basement! Trust me – paint is the only way to go."

Kim had noticed the creaking floorboard as well, and it worried him, given this new information. It suddenly struck him that the number of creaks had been increasing since he'd arrived. He panicked.

"Frank, I think I'm going to get back home. We have some friends coming over for dinner tonight and the wife needs my help getting ready." Frank had stopped looking at him directly. "Maybe you should come with me," continued Kim, "why don't you grab some clean clothes and come over." Frank rolled his eyes. "We're having Lisa's stir fry, which …" Kim stopped as another creak, this time louder and perhaps even deeper, resonated through the house.

"Look, Song, I appreciate it, but I have painting to do. I don't know if I could eat dinner with people who don't think about paint the way I do, it would just seem wrong somehow. Besides, I don't have any clean clothes; they all have paint on them."

"That's ok Frank," said Kim, thinking about his new sofa, "just come over as you are, we don't mind!" He began backing towards the door. Frank had picked up his paintbrush again and was reaching for the can of paint when some dust from the ceiling began flaking into the paint.

"Oh, will you look at that, it's ruined! Now I have to paint the ceiling again too! I tell you, Quan, the work never stops. I'll follow you out as far as the shed so I can get another can." Kim didn't care, as long as he got him out of the house.

"Sure, Frank."

Kim had just gotten down the steps to the driveway when a sound, unlike any he'd heard before, resonated from the house and echoed across the hillside. He grabbed Frank, who had begun to turn around with a puzzled look on his face, and ran, the mud splashing his jeans as the rain fell harder than ever. As they reached the shed, the house collapsed in a cloud of drywall dust and a splash of green paint.

"My house!" exclaimed Frank, as several neighbors appeared on their white front porches and stared at the spectacle before them. He collapsed on his knees in the soggy lawn, green paint mingled with rain and drywall filling in the cracks around his knees. Kim put his hand on Frank's shoulder.

"Frank,” said Kim, “I think you’re going to need a lot more paint.”


Dan said...

Where did this story come from?

Chris said...

Some pretty hard conversations about change with a church ...

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of the 6-word novel?
I'm a big fan. Here's another version of your story:
"Foolish man paints over cracked foundation."

"Brevity is the soul of wit." Shakespeare.
A. Annie

Chris said...

Are you saying my story's too long? Cause that's what Liz said ... :)