Apr 15, 2007

On Being A Cheapskate, or Hidden Treasures

And no, Mel Gibson, I'm not a freaking Jew.

My parents were both upper lower class in a very big way. My father was a blue collar worker all his life, and my mother was a white collar civil servant. Both of them held thankless, low-paying jobs, but somehow they managed to build and pay for a spacious home, vehicles for themselves and for their two thankless boys, and have if not plentiful then nice things. And they both taught me a lot about how to make ends meet.

I learned that you don't throw away food, you freeze it, and if it's only a small amount then you bring it for lunch the next day. I learned that the term 'scrap wood' only applies to sawdust. I learned that tools are more valuable than gold, and you take care of them as such, and that a cared-for tool will never turn on it's wielder. And I learned that a spray can is never empty until you've used quite literally every feeble gasp it's got. And I learned that you should never be too proud to reuse things.

Case in point: this dog show business. Expensive as all get-out. And so when friends of ours were ready to throw out two very large wire portable kennels (they break down into a stack of flat metal grids) and that only one had any rust on it, we jumped at the chance. The nicer of the two was immediately cleaned, oiled, and pressed into service (along with an old pillow and some old blankets) as Belle's house kennel, where she spends her nights in safe comfort. The second, the one with the rust, was stored in the attic for later use. Which came sooner than I thought, since we've already encountered one show in which soft-side kennels (nylon popups, glorified square tents in essence) are not allowed, so this weekend found me dragging down that rusted old stack of metal bits and the Mrs. and I set to with wire brushes and paint.

See, a wire kennel in the XL size runs about $130 around here, and the biggest we can buy is slightly shorter on the inside than Belle is tall on the outside. The one we were given is tall enough that Belle can not only stand upright in, she can turn around comfortably, so it was a given that this was going to be a repair job. A few strong bends to put the crooked bits to rights again and a good going-over with the wire scratch brushes knocked all the rust off, and we set to with the Rustoleum primer and enamel paint.

A few hours later (and a number of full and half-empty cans of primer and black gloss sent to their empty and well-earned reward later,) we've got a like-new black wire break-down kennel that can be loaded in the back of the truck and carted off to shows without having to flinch in shame, plus we saved a benjamin. And where, exactly, you ask, is all this going? Well I'll tell you.

When my brother and I were kids, our fun was simple--running, bicycling, and slingshots that my father made for us out of stout branches and old inner-tubes. We didn't get an Atari 2600 until we were teenagers, and even then it was just as likely to go unused while we ran around outside like...well...boys. As kids at school we were not ashamed of nor alone in picking up pecans at recess for a fast and delicious snack, and we played things like Throw Rocks At Each Other, Four-Square (the school always provided those big red rubber bounce-balls and painted areas on the pavement,) Frisbee if someone had gotten one for a birthday present, and of course, marbles.

And that was the kicker--even marbles were expensive. You could always get a small bag of mixed marbles at TG&Y for a dollar or so, but it was always aggies, maybe one good shooter, and if you were superbly lucky, a cat's eye. If you wanted some steelies, you had to beat someone who had access to ball bearings, and if you wanted crystals you had to get the the rich kid to risk his, or you bought them separately. That is if you could find them anywhere, and when you did they were always steep. So we made do without, toting around old three-stripe sport socks filled with aggies and the occasional steelie, hoping for that stray dumb rich kid who was new. That is, until my father showed us a neat thing one hot summer day: spray cans.

Ever hear that rattling in a spray can when you shake it? Ever wonder what that was? My father knew. An empty spray can with a shaker inside was placed carefully on the ground, a long-handled flat-blade screwdriver was placed dead center on the tin and hit sharply with a hammer. Then he'd take the can and twist it open with one practiced wrench, and out would pour usually a tablespoon of liquid paint that was left over after the propellant was gone, and an enamel-coloured ball. Which, when wiped with a soft cloth and some cleaner revealed--a crystal marble.

And if you happened to go through a whole stack of old cans of primer and some leftover Krylon enamel black while restoring an old wire kennel for your show Borzoi, you get hidden beauty revealed to you, vis:

My wife had never seen a paint shaker ball; had no idea what they might actually BE, so you can imagine her concern when I laid out a whole series of empties on the ground and started attacking them with a long-handled screwdriver and hammer (both of which, interestingly enough, belonged to my father,) and then opened each carefully with a pair of tin snips and poured that tablespoon of paint and shaker out onto the ground.

I myself was surprised to see that they were all blue in tint; I remember there being almost nothing but clear crystals when I was a kid, with the very occasional ultra-rare pale green, but I guess things change. Imagine MY surprise and joy in finding something more than I expected--that palm-full of gorgeous blues, from very pale ice to darkest navy, and a lesson that my father taught me all unbeknownst to him, come back to haunt me.


Scott from Oregon said...

No shit?

I always assumed the shaker ball was hard plastic!

Who knew?

Ever pop a can in its side while it still had pressure?

we used to take out cans to the beach and throw them in the fire...

Now THAT was how you spent old paint cans...

Nancy Dancehall said...

Those are beautiful. And I love the fact that they are _different_ shades of blue.

I guess I always thought that the shaker ball was made out of metal. That is such a neat little thing. I bet you've already got a spot picked out for them in the office.

Irrelephant said...

Scott--oh no, I've... er... never... er... that is to say... well okay, I MAY have shot one or two full cans in my wilder, less attentive youth. Along with old television sets, tires, and fresh cow manure. But not where I could be blamed for it.

Nancy--I think back in the days of non-recyclable steel cans you could still find the metal shaker balls, I seem to recall Daddy finding a few, but I'm sure glass is cheaper than steel shot. And you know that's what pleasantly surprised me about this batch--all the different shades, even though they were all from the same company and same two types of paint. In this as in all, it's the little things.

And you seem to know me too well--yes, they've already got a spot.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Wow, what a find! Now I have the overwhelming urge to pull out a screwdriver and hammer and attack those cans in the garage....

Irrelephant said...

That was always my reaction, Mona. It takes a strong person not to spray paint everything they own just to see what sort of marbles they have. The good thing is all it takes is one paint-can exploding in your hands to teach you not to puncture the full ones. *wink*

Vulgar Wizard said...

Bullshit. Scott, he did all that LAST WEEK, and at the office no less! *snort*

Irr, this is one of my favorite posts.

Irrelephant said...

Thank you, VW! And Scott, don't listen to her, she don't know what she's talking about. Unless she's gotten one of those keystroke-counter programs, in which case I'm busted.