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Paintbrush antics

SISYPHUS had it easy. The mythical figure was sentenced to perpetually rolling a large stone up a hill, almost to the top, only to have it roll back to the very bottom every time. He could have drawn house painting detail just as easily. The unbelievable torture of painting begins long before you take brush, laden with pigment, in hand. First you have to select the colors.

There will be people claiming to be your friends urging you to do each room in a distinct motif. Take their advice only if they sign a binding agreement to paint your house in your stead, for free.

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There are only a handful of primary colors. But down at your local paint store there are hundreds of thousands of hues to choose. Get there early and bring lunch and a mid-afternoon snack. Right off you can get a rough idea of the task ahead by reading the numbers on the paint ``chips,'' or samples: ``P2130,'' ``Base 8903X flat,'' or ``BM-39-32.''

If there are two or more of you attempting to agree on a color for each room of your house, take Henry Kissinger along. Soon after arriving at the store each of you will be in different corners of the building, refusing to communicate with one another except by abrupt, rudimentary gestures. There is one thing you will heartily concur on: there is absolutely no accounting for taste. For example, everyone enjoys a spectacular sunset with its vibrant purples, fiery reds, and glowing oranges. We all know whom we have to thank for these (and other) glories. But just try painting your bathroom one of those magnificent colors (never mind a combination of them) and see what the neighbors say.

Assuming you are in the store alone (or Henry has arranged a cease-fire), begin thumbing through the color swatches. Within minutes the tints begin to blend together, but the names for them stand out like orange in a St. Patrick's Day Parade. If you dwell for more than a millisecond (without smiling) on ``Apricot Flip,'' no longer agonize over whether you have taste or not; you don't.

As you plod through the tans, roses, and beiges, past the frosts and bisques, you discover names that bear absolutely no resemblance to the splotch of pigment they accompany.

After 3,457 shades of purples, it is understandable that the name-makers start to run out of apt descriptions like ``Grape Frost.'' So they settle for ``Little Girl.'' If you have a little girl and she turns this color, you need to do something, quick. Some tags are designed to trick you into an impulsive, possibly tragic, decision. You begin to ogle ``Thistle Dew,'' and suddenly you're saying to the sales clerk, ``This'll do.'' You go home, spread it on your living-room wall, and before you know it your marriage is in a shambles.

Assuming you don't fall into this snare, it is late afternoon and you have narrowed your choices down to a dozen muted greens and a gross of shocking pinks. Your once buoyant confidence in your sense of taste has hit rock bottom. You are about to write down a series of random numbers and hand them to the store owner and take your chances. Then you hit some classy names; maybe these are the ticket, you mumble to yourself: ``Grosvenor House Blue,'' ``Capesthorne Hall Blue,'' and ``Martha's Vineyard.'' You know you are out of high-rent district when you reach ``City Pigeon,'' ``Old Bone,'' and ``Panama Hat.''

Still baffled, your mind now numb, you start making up color names yourself: why not ``Rubric's Cube'' or ``Bozo's Nose''? For the environmentally conscious, you offer ``Frosty Nuclear Winter,'' ``The Day after Bisque'' and ``Acid Rain Talc.''

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Snapping out of your reverie you pick your paint -- any paint -- and drive home at an average speed of 87 miles per hour. You slap the paint on the walls. But you have forgotten to do one thing: read the mumbo jumbo printed on the reverse side of every color ``chip'': (for various reasons) ``there may occasionally be a slight difference between the color of the chip shown and the actual paint when applied to a surface.''

Occasionally? A slight difference? The stone has just rolled all the way back down to the bottom of the hill.

David Holahan is a free-lance writer.

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