The Paint-Job: My Recent Timebank Exchange

Give me a can of paint, a few good walls, a roller, and paint-brush.  Set me to motion.  And I’m happy.

So when  I saw that a timebank member had put it out there on Community Weaver that she was looking to have her small bathroom painted, I hovered for a little while over the request.

To respond.  Or not to respond.  That was the question.

So here’s what went through my head.

I’m not a professional painter.  While I have painted enough walls in my time to know that a good paintbrush seriously beats a bad one, I lack what every professional painter has:  a seriously heavy drop-cloth. Instead, I spread newspaper around. I’m willing to take risks with the drips.

Would my would-be timebank recipient be quite so willing?

Would she accept less perfection than a professional would offer?  That’s a classic question for timebank exchanges.  And there’s also a classic answer:  Just ask and find out.

To ask would be easy. But then, on to the next question.  Painting a room, even a small room, doesn’t just happen licketty split.  This would mean a real investment of my time.  And my time isn’t just short, it’s almost always in arrears.  Do I really want to spend precious time painting walls for a person I never met?

I could think of a million sensible reasons why not to do it, and just three reasons why I should: I could do the job and do it pretty well; I could help the timebank grow; I could use my credits for who knows what?

The three won out.  It was a Yes.

So I made the call.  We set up a time to meet at her house and consider whether this exchange would work for us both. The meeting was brief. It was friendly in the way that strangers are friendly. The room looked like something I could handle, but there would be a lot of edging to do, and I just couldn’t give her a good estimate of the time it would take. Four hours at least, I said. Maybe five. Maybe even more, And I stressed again that I was not a professional – I didn’t want to disappoint.  Was that OK? She said it was.

Time then to set a date.  That took quite a bit of going back and forth.  Our schedules didn’t match. But we finally managed it, and five days later, at the appointed time, with my painting equipment in hand, I made the fifteen minute drive all over again.  I showed up, rang the bell, and was let in.

Getting Started

A brief hello, and up we went to the waiting bathroom, where a gallon of paint now sat on the floor, along with a  green plastic paint-tray liner that I’d asked her to supply – it was too big for my metal paint tray, it soon turned out – plus a roll of blue masking tape, and a two-step foot-stool to give me height.

Over my shoulder, I had my big shopping bag with all my supplies.  I put those down on the floor, and pulled out an old t-shirt to change into.

We were a bit strained with each other.  I was nervous.  And maybe she was, too.  Feeling worried that she would expect too much,  I said again: “This is the first time I’ve done a paint job for someone else.” I laughed. She didn’t.  Instead, she told me that she would be needing to go out for while – was I OK with that? Then she walked out the room and left me to it.

It had all been very quick and business-like. I found myself thinking:  Is this a person who’s just getting a job done on the cheap, and that’s all it is?  How do I feel about giving my whole afternoon to a stranger who seems to be seeing this purely as a way of saving money?

It honestly didn’t feel so good. Yet I knew this was the deal I had made.  I needed to be OK with that possibility.  I would have to turn this into a meaningful experience for me, regardless of what it meant to her.  That had to be my call.

I shut the door and turned to the task.

Getting the Job Done

I pried the lid off the gallon can of paint with a screwdriver. I tipped the can to pour some paint into the plastic paint-liner.  The can was heavy and unwieldy.  I tipped it too far; the plastic tray-liner filled up more than I wanted, and after I had put down the can, and tried to pick the liner up off the floor, its body gave way. A thick gooey wave of blue paint spilled out.

Oh my goodness.  My first paint job for someone else, and a spill!

But the paint had poured onto the thick wad of newspapers that I’d set on the floor.  And thank heavens this was a bathroom with tile floors!  Nervous and rushing, I caught it fast and folded up the newspapers, the top layers all soggy with blue paint.  Now it was clear that I would have to leave the liner in one place, and keep coming back to it. With great care, I lifted it up again, and put it on the toilet seat. There, it would stay.

Then I realized that the foot-stool was not really high enough.  I should have checked that, and brought my step-ladder. Doing the line at the ceiling was going to be a bear.

Not so good.

The room was quiet.  It felt strange, being alone in this stranger’s home, about to paint.  Yet, too, it was a lovely spring day. The color she had chosen was a beautiful eggshell blue. The window was half open, and although this was a built-up area, there was foliage between the buildings, and birds were singing their hearts out.  It was a beautiful sound and calming.

I got to work with the paintbrush, doing the slow, painstaking work of cutting-in the edges along the tops of the wall tiles in front of the basin. Next would be the medicine cabinet, then carefully around the toothbrush holder, the light-fixture, and the door frame.  Then the window and the ceiling line.  The shower walls, the most difficult to access, would be last.

fter ten minutes, the nervousness had gone.  After half an hour, I was making good progress on the cutting in.  Enjoyment was kicking in.

After three and something hours, the task was nearly done. And wow!  Standing back to survey the result, it was looking really good.  Yes, doing the ceiling line had been a bear, having to tiptoe on the step-stool to reach had made it hard; but the line was OK.  And the color was truly beautiful.

I called to let the timebank member know I was finishing up.  She came in.  “It looks gorgeous,” she said. “You’ve done a beautiful job.”  She pointed out that she had washed the ceiling.  Yes, she had, and that helped a lot. She said she would clean up the newspapers on the floor and take care of the paint-tray liner.

When I had finished, she came up again.  The walls sang with their new color.  The room was truly transformed.  She was thrilled.

We smiled.  For a few minutes, we chatted.  I learned that she was a teacher of Spanish, on spring break. And that she was originally from South America. I discovered that she had been really nervous that I might not finish and she wouldn’t be able to reschedule a time that would work to finish it off.

I changed out of my old t-shirt.  We walked down the stairs to the front door for me to leave.

She said: “Now it’s my turn to give something to the timebank.”

“Yes,” I said, “That’s right.” And smiled.

With the set-up visit and travel, it had been four and a half hours.

I walked out into the afternoon sunshine.  And the feeling?  Had this been worth the time?  Yes. it really had. There was a smile on my face. I was feeling good.