Striptease

Despite layers of wallpaper―of various and questionable materials (wicker? burlap?)—underneath it’s still my Dream House.

“Geez,” Tony sighed with disappointment when he walked into my new house. “It looks like a Taipei whorehouse in here.” We were standing in my garishly wallpapered dining room. “How would you know?” I retorted. This followed his commentary on my entryway, “Is that a basket stuck to the wall with glue?” I had never actually seen wicker wallpaper, either. His meaty hand reached out in a caressing motion, but he pulled it back, like the wall was a hot stove. “Gonna need some help with this one…” he shrugged and continued his tour.

I had enlisted Tony to help me redecorate the Dream House, which included removing some very interesting wallpaper choices. “The previous owner,” I explained, “was a decorator.” Tony brayed with laughter. We were now peering into the powder room tucked under the stairs. “This is Pierre Deux,” I stammered. “Very expensive, and very…”

“Ugly,” Tony finished. “It looks like Elvis’ billiard room at Graceland.”

Ouch.

Tony was a professional painter some 40 years ago, and he is one of my closest friends, even though he is old enough to be my father. His presence that day in the Dream House was the equivalent of the cavalry riding toward my rescue. The old place was a zoo of wall treatments that he would need to strip off or paint over: stripes, toile, floral, fauna, burlap, murals—you name it. Live and let live, I say on matters of decorating and taste, but two of the upstairs bedrooms were really bad. In our family’s folklore, we call these The Room and Burlap City.

Tony had the same initial reaction to The Room that I did. It would eventually become a place where the whole family could feel at home in front of the TV, but in the first few days, shock, horror, and a sick thrill greeted us. Hundreds of Field & Stream magazine covers had been decoupaged across two walls, another wall was painted a shade of “bland” (as described by Tony), and yet another was devoted entirely to Texas A&M University, painted in the school’s signature color, maroon, and emblazoned with its logo. Across the top of the wall was a variation of Psalm 75:10, “I will cut off the horns of the wicked.” My friend Nancy said it best, “Oh… wow, I didn’t know God was into state schools. Isn’t there a separation of church and state?” There was a lot of work to be done.

Informally, I compiled a ragtag band of friends to help me un-paper the Dream House. In their number were Tony, Nancy, and Jennifer. Armed with Dif wallpaper remover, spray bottles of fabric softener (which I highly recommend), and 7-in-1 tools, we launched our initial assault inside Burlap City, stripping and scraping with gusto, despite the 100-plus-degree heat (the upstairs air conditioner died two days after we took possession of the Dream House). Thousands of quarter-inch staples, which had been placed end to end to secure the burlap, had to be yanked out of the walls. I had originally hoped that I would be able to “salvage” the wall texture underneath, but my aspirations died as chunks of Spackle and dry wall cascaded to the floor. As the last of the burlap fell, a ferocious life-size poster of a deer (glued, of course) stared back. Jennifer was polite up until that point. She was our cheerleader of sorts, the one who scurried without complaint to Chick-fil-A for infusions of sweet tea and chicken nuggets. The deer looked on, unblinking. “Y’all,” Jennifer exhaled, her eyes wide in shock and amazement, “that’s just wrong.” We sprayed and scraped him next.

Maybe I don’t get it. Or maybe I do. The original owner was a decorator, after all. Most of the wallpaper is gone now, replaced with a gentle old-world texture and fresh paint. It’s tasteful, mostly. The rooms, one by one, continue their transformation as the Dream House is restored.

I’m crazy. Nuts. I’m certifiable, I admit it, but I love this house. I’ve coveted it since I was old enough to wade in the creek behind it, fishing for crawdads. I’ve adored it since I was old enough to pedal past it on my metallic purple banana seat bike with sissy bars. I bought my Dream House, and all the layers beneath.

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