DAVID PANNELL: On the nobility of bees


Gentle reader, please do not toss the paper you are now reading down in revulsion when you read the following sentence, and remember, confession is good for the soul.

It pains me to recall it, but a few months ago, I tried stripping. I’m not proud of it, so please don’t judge me. You haven’t walked in my shoes. I’ve put it behind me now, and I’ll never do it again.

As painful and embarrassing as it was, I will have to say I learned so much from the experience. For one thing, it’s not as glamorous as it looks. It’s hard work, and it’s really hard on the body, especially the lower back. And those chemicals are super toxic. If you don’t wear gloves, they’ll take the hide right off of any exposed skin.

I speak, of course, of furniture stripping.

We’ve been working to restore an old house, and I decided to take the painted front door back to natural wood. I removed the door, laid it out on the front porch on a work table rigged from cinder blocks and a sheet of warped plywood, and started stripping.

The first step is to apply a thick coat of the stripping agent, which is a colorless, toxic gel that smells like rocket fuel, and was developed by the Soviets for chemical warfare. That last part might not be true, but it could be. It’s powerful, nasty stuff. It comes in a can marked with more skulls and crossbones than a pirate ship. When the stripper makes contact, whether with wood or skin, it immediately starts to blister and bubble like a piece of overcooked lasagna. After a few minutes, you start scraping (preferably wood, not skin). The softened paint peels away as the scraper glides through the goo. It is deeply satisfying.

The process has to be repeated multiple times, each time bringing you closer and closer to the raw wood, whose grain begins to show itself only after hours of labor, by which time the work table and the floor on which it sits are covered in gobs of nuclear goo.

I was nearly at the end of the project, lost in the rhythm of the work, when I leaned across my now-filthy table and soaked the front of my pants with stripper. I don't suppose I have ever felt more fully alive than in the moments that followed.

My first frantic thought was to remove my pants then and there, which would have been funny later, but it would have been undignified, especially since the house sits on a busy street in front of a middle school, where cars were lining up to collect children. My mind raced ahead, to the inevitable court hearing, where I would answer a class-action lawsuit brought by the school’s faculty, students, and parents, traumatized by the sight of a 52-year-old man in a wool driving cap, a filthy T-shirt, and his underwear, dancing painfully on the porch of an unfinished house. You just can’t un-see that kind of thing.

Instead, I rushed home, stripped out of my scalding pants, put on a clean pair, and returned to my stripping. The door looks fantastic. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of my brief career as a stripper. I wouldn’t do it again, but I wouldn’t take it back, either. I’ve closed the door on that chapter of my life.

David Pannell describes himself as “a recovering farmer and the reluctant pastor of Common Ground Christian Church in Wren, Mississippi.” Contact him at davidpan1963@gmail.com.

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