It looks like I made the Varsity Writing team. I’m donning my letterman jacket in currently -30º Maine and writing for…The Paint Contractor. If you asked me as a teenager where I saw myself in 2018, I would have said, “an aging rock star, surrounded by groupies backstage at one of my concerts.” Instead, I’m in my office writing this here article. My hair is short and neat, greasy from Brylcreem rather than from long nights of music and indiscretion. I abandoned leather pants when my metabolism abandoned me, and the closest thing I get to groupies are the few-and-far-between ladies who fleetingly see mature tradesmen as the rock stars of New England.
I was going to make my TPC debut a how-to on hand-painting faux woodgrain, but since I’ve never actually done it, I’d like to use my inaugural piece to introduce myself and tell you how I came to be a rising star at Mugler Publications.
It all began on a pretty standard Friday night back in the summer. I was at the local watering hole where I have unsanctioned office space—it’s that forgotten booth in the corner where I go to unwind after work and to jot down materials lists on napkins and damp cardboard coasters, toiling under a light fixture that’s been blown for better than three years. There I sat, gritting my teeth against the predictably bad karaoke and attempting to reply to a day’s worth of emails.
I’d been corresponding with your editor throughout the day and I was forced to take a break from my smartphone when I heard my name being chanted up at the bar. Without warning, I was suddenly hoisted in the air like a ragdoll by half a dozen carpenters for an impromptu keg stand of…club soda. Feeling pretty good (you know how that carbonated water loosens you right up) I started chatting up this older gal at the bar, waxing all philosophical about life, love, and painting. After a spell of that, she excused herself, stepped/stumbled up to the microphone and dedicated a sad country ballad to yours truly.
As she warbled and caterwauled and winked at me, I took advantage of the darkness and snuck back to my blinking phone to find half a dozen new emails waiting for me. Two were from Nikita, the Russian bride I apparently ordered after a long night of club sodas. Another was from a generous Nigerian prince who always wants to send money to my checking account (he’s no good at it because he keeps ‘accidentally’ draining my funds). One more was a link to silly cat videos that a client sent me (for…some…reason…?). Yet another was from some guy named Steve Kaleem who offered me a real twofer—not only was I approved for a large same-day loan, but I also qualified for discount supplements of the, shall we say, uniquely male variety.
The last was a solicitation for a guest column from TPC editor Jerry Rabushka. A few emails and a little haggling over an inflated expense account later, we reached something that slightly resembled an agreement. Having sealed this rather lucrative deal, I swaggered back to the bar, bought my heavily-carbonated, flirtatious songbird a celebratory drink, and regaled her with tales of my fame in both the painting and literary world.
Please Turn off the Karaoke
Such is the life of a marginally well-known painter. You contractors know what I’m talking about. Our days are a whirlwind of professionalism, swinging brushes and meeting clients, and our evenings are a blur of emails, paperwork and bottomless horns of club soda. I reckon that’s just the price of our success.
Jimmy Martin, my assistant and former editor, says I’m supposed to take this opportunity to tell you a little about myself. I’d like to say my reputation as a pompous, club soda-soaked Lothario is exaggerated…buuuut I don’t want to kick off our professional relationship by lying. All kidding aside, I’m just a small-town paint contractor trying to make ends meet here in Maine, where summers are ripe for the painter’s picking, and the brutality of our long winters can’t be overstated.
I’ve been in the trade for 15 years, with occasional breaks to reassess my priorities (i.e. waiting for a lost record label exec to break down in front of my house so I can invite him in to use the phone and, while he’s waiting for a tow truck, hear my song demos). Like any New England tradesperson, I work hard and I play hard. Unlike a lot of tradespeople, I’m not an aspiring writer who uses skilled labor to pay the bills. Work is my first love and writing ranks a close 47th.
While you may have read some of my articles in other contractor magazines, you may unknowingly be familiar with some of my other work. I’ve had the great honor of contributing to various periodicals, usually under an imaginative pseudonym such as Eustace McMuggins. When you sleep only a few hours each night, writing is a great way to kill time while imparting tricks of the trade to fellow craftsmen. (And writing under a bogus name like Biff Wellington allows you to retain a bit of much-needed anonymity.) But being here feels different. I’m coming at this with fresh eyes…and without a silly pen name. The reason is simple: I like TPC and I believe in TPC. I’m not writing to kill time and I don’t feel I have anything to hide here (well, apart from a few items on my expense account that I had to cleverly disguise).
Dry as a History of England
My introduction to The Paint Contractor a few years back was notable because I found the magazine to be something of an anomaly. I’m not supposed to say this, but there are several excellent magazines available to the professional painter and each has its place in this not-yet-saturated market. Hans threatened to terminate my “lucrative” expense account if I so much as mentioned the other paint-related publications, but I already bought a new hunting rifle and a year’s supply of club soda on the company’s dime so I’m all set.
But all kidding aside, what I really loved about TPC was the human element; it’s not the least bit preachy and there’s a wit and humor not generally found in trade magazines. I can tell you firsthand that instead of merely rewording manufacturers’ press releases, Jerry and crew toil long hours crafting well-written articles for their readers.
While some publications make a conscious effort to be about as exciting as sitting at the pub watching an old boozebag crooning and winking at you like a surrealistically bad caricature of Marilyn Monroe serenading JFK, The Paint Contractor takes a different approach. (I know, that scenario does sound kind of entertaining, and it is at first, but take it from me: like reading an uninspired magazine, you quickly find yourself looking to the sky/nicotine-stained tin ceiling and crying out, “What am I doing with my life?”)
Personal and entertaining, “The Daily Grind” always struck me as being equal parts life and painting, and the professional columns are guaranteed to help you grow your business. Besides that, it’s unique in being an avenue for the professional to tell their own story. (Great for us pompous, club soda-soaked types who love discussing ourselves at great length.)
Humor and personality shouldn’t be novel concepts in our industry; there’s nothing cutting edge about that idea. We’re doing ourselves a disservice by being as dry as old paint. There’s plenty of humor in our profession and we have an obligation to laugh every now and again—or at least chuckle at big box stores where you can find caulk, strippers and work lights in aisle 4. (What a convenient world we painters live in!) At the very least, we can chuckle at the futility of wearing painter whites on days when there’s even the slightest chance of getting caught in the rain.
So now you know a bit about me, and we’ve gotten past any fear of Stranger Danger. I’m really looking forward to putting myself out there without the security of a pen name to write for you, the guys and gals of the painting and decorating trade. You keep reading (and sending letters to Hans and Jerry telling them to increase my non-existent expense account) and I’ll live up to my end of the bargain: I’ll never be dry, I’ll never do a how-to on something I haven’t actually done, and I’ll always be straight with you, or my name’s not Les Polopolopolous. (Sorry, old habits die hard.)
Erick T. Gatcomb owns Gatcomb Painting & Design in Hancock, Maine…fortunately for him, because he likes cold weather.