Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Jun 29 2013 12:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: On my search under the carpet, I found myself

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

I was invited to an intervention recently.

Mine.

Two friends begged me not to continue on the path down which I was hurtling.

"We're concerned about Sue, your marriage, and burning your house down," Rudy and Harry took turns saying over the course of our 30 minutes together at Starbucks.

"I'm too far gone," I said after both the coffee and compassion had run out. "That ship has sailed, sunk, and the wreck stripped by treasurer hunters."

I am five weeks into refinishing the floors upstairs. Thus far, I've ruined one belt sander (not my own), used more than 150 sheets of sandpaper, spent $500 renting drum and disc sanders and blown an inch of sawdust over every square foot of the house.

Sue, a once bubbly, optimistic person, has turned quiet and introspective. Her house. What has happened to her house?

"When are you going to be done?" people ask.

I used to answer that question. Now I smile; smile and shake my head mysteriously. "Mysteriously" because old houses -- this one is 116 -- resist haste, hurry, schedules, goals and emotional outbursts. Cry and shake your fists at its stubborn walls and floors and that deep rumbling sound, the one that resembles thunder in the Sierra, is your ancient house in the throes of a belly laugh.

When we tore out the 20-year-old stained, oatmeal-colored carpets, it was exciting. We were like Columbus discovering the New World. We had wood, old-growth pine, a friend said.

However, Columbus found mosquitos and Native Americans and we discovered a pine floor studded with staples and nails and covered with three coats of paint -- white, green and gray -- and a layer of brown glue.

You look for the magic pill, the paint remover, thinner or sander that will miraculously strip and polish the floors in an hour. There is none. If there is a magic pill, it is beer, cold beer that tastes heavenly after a session on the floor.

If you think you have no friends when you get ready to move, refinish your floors. People don't just leave town, they immigrate to non-English speaking countries without cell service.

"I'll be over and put in three or four hours on Sunday, said Paul, after a couple of glasses of wine the night before.

He didn't show and I don't blame him. I'm expecting postcards from Istanbul any day.

If there isn't a magic pill, perhaps there is somebody who has done this job before and can answer questions. Perhaps not. I wouldn't count on an appearance by the floor fairy. Floors are like teenagers. You have to find out for yourself, and whatever knowledge you glean is non-transferable.

There are some questions only you can answer.

Here is one: Can you still work hard? Hitting the computer keys is one thing, working out is another, but bending over and trying to guide a Clarke floor sander that wants to do the Funky Chicken on your old-growth pine is something else.

There is light underneath the paint, oil and glue. Satisfaction in knowing that you can still work hard, although your knees shake and back aches. You earn every inch of real estate sanding floors and if there is no floor fairy, there is 20- grit sandpaper, without which you are a dead man walking. Twenty grit is like the blue meth in "Breaking Bad." There is not enough of it in the world, and if you run out over the weekend, which I have several times, get ready for sandpaper withdrawals.

There is a moment when the room is empty and you can hear the echoes of the farmhouse this place used to be. Simple pine floors are like church, a church that requires a cleansing fire in order to appreciate.

Sometime during the project you realize it's not only the floors you are working on, but yourself. The blemishes, dark spots and the unevenness belong to you as much as they do the floor.

Moments like this can be the intervention we had not planned on, but needed.

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