The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 5, 2012

Tom Lavis | Coming unglued when trying to peel wallpaper


— I walked into the Suds and Grub Café about an hour before closing time Monday night.

“You were supposed to be here four hours ago,” Crutch Crupnik said.

Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem, but there were only four blocks left on the Super Bowl pool, and the guys were waiting to see if I wanted any of them.

As I wrote my name in the blocks and handed Crutch a $20 bill, Junior Miller asked me how I got the cuts on my hands.

“My wife and I have been removing wallpaper,” I said.

That prompted a loud groan from the café regulars.

Sam Shady of Shady, Fishy and Krooks, the accounting firm that handles my taxes, was quick to respond. He, too, arrived late because he is busy with tax season.

“I would rather pick gnats off a stink bug than remove wallpaper,” he said.

I didn’t have the guts to confess that it had taken my wife and me nearly two days to remove several layers of flowered paper from an upstairs bedroom.

The chore started innocently enough.

“Since there’s no football game the Sunday before the Super Bowl, why don’t we paint the guest room?” she suggested.

But before we could paint, the old wallpaper had to be stripped off.

Anyone who has ever removed wallpaper will associate with my dilemma.

I knew that disagreeing with her only would have landed me in the doghouse.

We decided to tackle the task as a team.

After gathering a couple paint scrapers to peel the paper, we entered the room.

Had I known what we were about to experience, I would have brought some sledgehammers and chisels.

We are not novices when it comes to peeling paper. We had a bucket filled with a mixture of two-parts fabric softener to one-part water that should dissolve most glues.

We scored the paper and dabbed the walls with a sponge, then waited for the mixture to do its job. We even chatted about what color to paint the room.

“It’s not coming off,” my wife said as she attempted to pry a corner.

It soon became apparent that the pressing question was, how do we remove the wallpaper without damaging the wall – or ourselves?

I swear it took us four hours to remove just one 5-foot section.

In an uncharacteristic fit of rage, my wife threw her scraper across the room and said she had had enough.

“We’ll just paint over it,” she said, storming out of the room.

Desperate, I went to the computer to see if any other concoction would help us remove the paper.

One website suggested mixing vinegar and water in a spray bottle.

Since I didn’t have a spray bottle, I got the brilliant idea of deploying my pump garden sprayer that I use to apply insecticide to my tomato plants.

The vinegar mixture seemed to work as one corner of a wallpaper strip actually came loose.

I was making a real mess, though, and the carpet was getting soaked from the spray.

It was then that my wife regained her composure and came back into the room.

As the carpet squished under her feet, I thought I was going to get an earful for not putting down a drop cloth.

But she spied the loose corner and wrestled the sprayer from my hands, saying, “It’s working. Give it to me.”

By spraying and scraping, we finally started to make progress.

Our kitchen is now the only room in the house with wallpaper.

My wife suggested we hire someone to remove the last vestige of wallpaper.

“You mean someone does this for a living?” I quipped.

If I do win the football pool, I know part of my winnings will be used to purchase a “help wanted” sign.

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