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As a gift of love to our highly deserving spousal unit, we offered to strip the wallpaper in the bedroom whilst she was away engaged in granddaughter worship.

The wallpaper was old, peeling in places and butt ugly. Thus was our gesture a handsome one. Also, a dumb one.

For this is the most difficult, damnable task known to man. Especially when three pre-Columbian layers separate you from the medieval plaster-and-horse hair walls. Seventeen countries have signed the international convention identifying wallpaper removal as cruel and unusual.

We Googled “wallpaper removal” and observed that there is no one, single, best method. Hot water, hot water mixed with fabric softener, caustic solvents, enzyme-based wallpaper remover and steam. We tried hot water but the progress was wicked slow. Steam sounded good so we called the rental place. Yes, they had a wallpaper steamer. We motored on down.

Expecting something light, plastic, pastel and pretty, we were most astonished when the gentleman at the counter hauled up a 50-pound boiler with a length of heavy, black hose. It was like asking for a match and getting a flamethrower.

Because we are insecure in every realm of the manly arts, especially projects involving physical labor and tools, we genially accepted Thomas the Tank Engine and staggered out of the store.

Truth to tell, it worked. The layers bubbled and warped and surrendered to the putty knife with very little fight. The dinner hour was nigh, so we took a quick break to start the oven. This was an unfortunate act, as the oven is on the same circuit as the bedroom and the steamer draws more power than Chicago. The oven started and immediately died. We hurried up the stairs to find the steamer chillin’. Then back downstairs to the basement to gaze with incomprehension at the circuit breakers. This was unfamiliar territory (see “manly arts,” above). We toggled the switch but nothing happened. Turns out you have to thrust it hard to the right — click! — then hard to the left — snap! — to reset the circuit. Learned that the next day.

Well, power didn’t happen so, clearly, the only thing left to try was a hefty glass of wine.

As luck would have it (luck being in short supply last Saturday), we had on hand a bottle of Leese-Fitch pinot noir (Rooster Brother, $9.95 — spectacular bargain for a PN). It’s light and smooth with that magical cherry accent. The brew is 86 percent pinot noir, 10 percent barbera and 4 percent grenache. Subsequent sips revealed strawberry and plum undergirded by French oak.

It’s back to the wallpaper next weekend, steamer in hand and lessons learned: don’t start the oven, thrust right and then left, have a bottle of Leese-Fitch pinot noir close by and — most importantly — when the urge to present one’s spouse with a gift of love strikes, try flowers.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]
Stephen Fay

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