Removing layers of bad taste is grueling work |
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For a while there, my new favorite thing was peeling off wallpaper. I spent several blissful days ridding my old Victorian house of the ugly walls I had been complaining about for so long; I was getting my ya-ya’s out skinning the place alive.

There is nothing so cathartic as lifting a corner of an egregious purple floral and seeing how much you can shuck off in one piece. My personal record is 20 square feet at once.

Before I can free my house from the gaudy Steel Magnolia grip of the previous owner, we must get rid of the wallpaper. Scott, our painter, began Monday by hauling steaming equipment and vats of acid up to the master bedroom. After draping smocks over the shoulders of a chair and dressers, he set about giving our room an exfoliating facial.

The top layer came off as easily as a blistered sunburn.

“This is fun,” I yelped as I went around the room grabbing loose corners of the paper and stripping it off with big dramatic swoops of my arms. “Ta da!” I would sing as another uninterrupted swath of skin rolled off the wall with a satisfying crackle. Scott would move toward a loosened panel of paper and I would leap over him, shouting, “That’s mine!” as I cut him off, reaching out to flay another sheath.

Why was this so exhilarating• Part of it was the sheer joy of removing an aesthetically offensive layer from my house. The bedroom was covered with corrugated wallpaper the color of margarine with flecks of burnt toast and a pattern of cattails in brown flocking. The paper was a sin. But was my glee in removing it more complicated than that• Perhaps it reflects my need to reveal my true inner self. Perhaps I secretly wish women could lose weight simply by peeling off layers of their bodies. I don’t know. But I will say that while peeling the paper I did have a flash-back to my days as a Brownie, when a bunch of us were banned from the craft table for deliberately covering our hands with Elmer’s Glue so we could peel it off.

That’s the kind of fun I was having with the wallpaper. Until things turned ugly.

“We’re not done yet,” Scott said as he scratched his knife across a patch of dried wallpaper paste.

Beneath the paste was a layer of birds and gazebos, an oriental pattern in blues and metallic silver. It did not come off in big sheets. I spent most of one night hacking at the birds with a putty knife.

Once, when I lifted the wing of a bird, I was horrified to find what appeared to be grapes. Under the birds and gazebos was a layer of paper featuring green grapes and zaftig ladies carrying buckets. The steamer would not budge that layer, so Scott had to exfoliate the ladies with his acid.

Living for all those years beneath the grapes and ladies was a blue and beige geometric print. And under that was another round of fruits, this time apples and pears. I was beginning to fear that by the time all the wallpaper was gone the room would have grown by a few feet and I would have to call the carpet man back to re-measure.

As we got down to layer seven, I wasn’t having fun any more, and I abandoned Scott. I would walk past the room and hear him muttering about the poor taste and laziness of generations of women who thought fine decorating meant slapping another fruit pattern on the walls without bothering to remove the previous layer. That’s 120 years worth of ugly fruit and birds.

If these walls could talk, they would thank me.

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