Here at Fish in a Barrel Pond, all paints, stains, caulks and putties come inside for the winter so they don’t freeze. I was down in the cellar this morning, looking for a can of stain for a table I’ve been working on and I came across one can that had been put away empty with a note on it, from my friend, Eugene, indicating that we needed to save the label because it was a custom color. We will certainly need more of this stain so Eugene can finish a project he tried to start this fall, but the can was not empty for the reasons you might think.
No, this is Eugene we’re talking about, and an empty paint can does not necessarily indicate painted wood.
The deck at one of the cottages has been needing a new coat of stain and I put Eugene in charge of the job, mostly to keep him out of my hair for a while. He chose a lovely, oil-based, clear green stain and while he was loading his brushes and other supplies into the truck I reminded him to be careful because he would never be able to get that stuff out of his clothes. Then I asked him to hammer down any loose nails he found on the deck and, in a nifty bit of foreshadowing, I added, “And no spills!”
It may have been because he cared about his clothes, or it may have been because it was just such a darn nice day, but the first thing Eugene did at the job site was get naked. He carefully placed his shoes, socks, jeans and T-shirt in the shade (No underwear for Eugene. It’s too confining.) and poured some of the deck stain into a small coffee can. Then he selected a brush with which to begin cutting in the edges and headed to the far side of the deck.
Half-way across, the protruding head of a loose nail was waiting for him, and Eugene rammed the ball of his right foot into it. Reflexively, he began hopping up and down on his left foot, sloshing a good portion of the stain out of the can and onto his chest and stomach. Thinking quickly, Eugene cupped one hand beneath his crotch, pulled his thighs together to slow the run-off and scurried off the deck, back to his clothes.
Still scrunched up, Eugene put the not quite empty can of stain on the ground and grabbed his shirt to use as a rag. Swiping furiously at a green trickle below one knee, he turned the trickle onto a wide smear that ran to his ankle and when he removed his cupped hand from his privates (a mis-nomer in Eugene’s case) the shock of what he saw caused him to slap himself on the forehead with his open, stain-filled palm. Sensing the mistake he’d just made, Eugene started to do a slow burn, rubbing his face and staining himself even more.
Muttering to himself and trying to stay calm, Eugene wiped at drips and wet spots, not sure if he was making things better or worse, and when he was reasonably certain that at least he was drier he put down the T-shirt and took a breath.
The breath became a gasp as he saw that part of the shirt was in the coffee can, soaking up more of the green stain, so he grabbed the shirt, hanging it out of the way, over his shoulder.
A cold trickle running between his buttocks told him that, for sure, he had managed to get green stain pretty much everywhere it was possible to get green stain.
Knowing it would not wash the stain from his body but might provide some relief from the burning sensation he was feeling from the solvents in it, Eugene headed for the water. The water was cool and soothing and, as he stood in four feet of water next to the floating dock, Eugene began to calm down. He took comfort in knowing that the situation could not get any worse and he even started to think it might not be so bad after all.
Admiring his green-ness and thinking of the possibilities that might arise for a guy with a green pecker, Eugene became lost in thought and might have stayed there for hours if not for the approaching sound of voices. Looking to the south, he saw, coming straight at him, a group of four canoes carrying the Women’s Wildflower and Outing Club — sort of a Ladies’ Auxillary to the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society — and, sensing that they meant to land right where he was standing, Eugene quickly ducked underwater, scooted sideways and came up beneath the dock in a space between the floats.
Unable to stand up, Eugene half kneeled and half floated with just his head out of the water. The diffused light was dim under the dock and, while his eyes adjusted, Eugene listened closely to the sounds around him. He could hear the canoes coming closer and voices chatting about gentians and solidago but there was another, nearer, sound that caught his attention. Somewhere between a snore and a growl, this sound was definitely coming from beneath the dock, somewhere to his right.
The first canoe bumped against the dock with a thud and the snore/growl became a low hum. Another canoe, another thud and a scrape, and Eugene caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Straining against the dimness, he made out the familiar shapes of braces, boards and barrel floats but none of these explained the noise he was hearing. As another canoe slid into place, there was movement in front of him and Eugene realized he was not alone under the dock. A pair of eyes glinted in the dim light, then another and another, and the humming turned into snorts. Eugene was sharing his hiding spot with three otters, who had holed up for a little siesta after filling their bellies with crayfish!
Otters have many of the same qualities as the average weasel, including claws, sharp teeth, speed and nasty temperament, but they are bigger and they swim. Eugene has experience with otters and, when they snorted again and dove into the water, he was not sure of their intentions and he panicked. Desperate to escape, he turned but ducked too late, hitting his head on the submerged frame of the dock and involuntarily taking in water. Trying again, Eugene ducked further and pushed off hard, surfacing in the bright light, gasping and choking, directly under the bow of the third canoe, which rose up on his back and out of the water before tipping over, dumping its occupants and gouging his shoulder causing him to make a noise that sounded like “ROWR!” but might not have been spelled that way.
The women, apparently not used to being ambushed by green men exploding from the murky water beneath docks, acted quickly. Those who had been dunked scrambled for safety while those still in their canoes covered their escape with a protective barrage of swinging paddles, wine bottles and hysterical screams . Blows rained down on Eugene, who began to thrash and howl in pain. His cries of anguish were misinterpreted by the women as aggression and the paddles and bottles did not stop swinging until Eugene was floating motionless in the water.
The women regained their composure but kept their guard up as they poked at Eugene’s limp, green-streaked body with their paddles. One of them hooked the handle of her paddle under Eugene’s arm and rolled him over, at which point the little group gasped a collective gasp.
“Look! It’s Eugene and he’s green all over! Even his thingy!” exclaimed one of the women.
“Just like the Incredible Hulk!” exclaimed another.
“Well, the color is right, anyway,” said a third.
The women helped him up onto the dock where he lay for a moment before someone handed him one of his socks with which to cover himself. One woman knelt and cradled his head while another held his hand and they all cooed their apologies to poor, battered, green Eugene as he told them how he became green, hid under the dock and was attacked by otters.
If there is anything Eugene deserves credit for it is his ability to elicit sympathy from women and the sympathy he elicited in this case was exceptional. They loaded him into one of the canoes and brought him to me (still with no clothes, just a sock — something I have unfortunately seen before) and told me what had happened and how they would take care of him for the rest of the afternoon, if it was okay for him to take the rest of the day off.
How could I say no?
Knowing that Eugene would be just fine, I headed up the shore to see what kind of mess he had made with all that stain, but I have to admit that Eugene was very neat. Not a single drop of stain made it anywhere near the wood of the deck.