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Mutt & Jeff: Scenes from work

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My father and I started a painting company years ago, at one point trying to talk businesses into letting us repaint their signs. Once, we parked in front of a meat-packing plant in Loveland, Colo. I went into the office while Dad stayed out in the car to pray. I told the proprietor, “Your sign needs a fresh coat of paint.” He replied, “If I want that done, I’ll hire a bum off the street.”  

I reported back to Dad, who said, “Go tell him we’ll trade straight across for a carload of meat.” So we ended up painting the company’s logo—a bushy-bearded prospector—in exchange for just that. We proudly pulled up to the house, where Mom and my wife waited patiently, the back seat of our car piled high with neatly wrapped packages of pork chops, spare ribs, bacon, and sausage.   

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Here’s an incident from the coal mine: I was stacking bags of rock dust — that was my job description: material handler — when the boss came up to me and told me I was never to speak “that name” on the job or he’d have me fired. It was pretty clear he meant the name of Jesus. There was a fierce determination in his eyes when he said it.   

It never came to anything, but years later a friend told me that he’d had the same experience. He’d been witnessing to some fellow miners and then was threatened by that same boss. He started praying to God and asking him to work in the situation. A week later the boss was removed from his position.  I don’t think my friend asked specifically for that outcome, nevertheless that’s what happened.

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I spent seven years underground, and as many or more in the painting business. Sometimes my wife helped me with such projects as painting a 60-foot tower on Red Table Mesa and various murals in Vail and Aspen.

One time we found ourselves rolling epoxy paint onto a concrete public restroom in Glenwood Canyon. At the same rest area, I was asked to paint bolts underneath a bridge spanning the Colorado River — a challenge since there seemed to be no access. My solution was to fix a row of C-clamps to a steel beam, advancing on slings clipped into the clamps. That was some kind of triumphant feeling to see the waters of the Colorado River swirling below me while I slopped the paint where it needed to go. It took me back to the fifties when Dad contracted to paint a pipeline over the Animas River. He had devised a wooden contraption with roller skates that allowed him to scoot along and paint at the same time. He was so proud of that.

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Dad and I were hired to paint a luxury home in the Boulder foothills. The owner, who had fought in World War II, suffered from chronically cracked lips, a result of dehydration he had experienced while stationed in North Africa. He kept his mustache waxed and exuded an air of mystery like the bald figure in some of Dali’s paintings. After the war, he distinguished himself in the field of electron microscopy by inventing a camera with a millionth-second shutter speed. His den featured a photograph of a bullet captured in mid-flight. There were shaggy trophies on the wall and, startlingly, a mummified elephant’s foot serving as an end table next to a stuffed chair.

His wife showed us around the premises, proudly displaying the full-length drapes in the living, dining, and master bedrooms which she’d had custom-dyed a subtle shade of chartreuse. Dad and I took note of this because we would be spraying the exterior of the house with solid color stain and didn’t want any droplets of oily mist migrating inside. We sealed the windows carefully with plastic, then blew down the house, soaking the wood with oleaginous Oxford Brown stain. When the job was done, we pulled the plastic off the windows.

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The owner’s wife began noticing little specks of brown on her drapes. What on earth was going on? How could our stain have penetrated those windows? We could see our profits swirling down the drain. We went home sick with worry. She had the drapes analyzed by a local laboratory, and they informed her that the mysterious brown specks were only spider poop.


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Stan Badgett shares this column with fellow conservative Paige Meredith.

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