Lost About Town

Id like to teach the world to grout

Photo courtesy of Jim WashburnI like to think that in this column, I go to the places Commie Girl doesn't go. Like my bathtub, for instance. I just spent the better part of two days there, and Little Miss "I'm Where the Action Is" was nowhere in sight. Too bad because grout is what's happening.

I've been living in the same abode since the Carter presidency, but it wasn't until I got this wife thing going that the old grout became a topic around the hacienda, specifically the bit about it reaching a level of decay usually associated with Shane McGowan's teeth.

I rent, so you might be asking yourself, "Isn't that what landlords are for?" Maybe in some households, but I have a more or less unspoken understanding with our landlady: she graciously keeps the rent below my neighborhood's horrific norm, and I don't trouble her every little time the front wall is pulverized by a crack-raid battering ram. That's what spackle is for.

(In case she's reading this: No, the police haven't been here! I don't smoke crack! I don't sell crack! I do sell spackle to school kids, but that's just to teach them a lesson.)

(And in case Commie Girl is reading this, I will put some names in bold type.)

I bought some Price Pfister bathtub valves at the Home Depot near the LA Times building where Mike Young works, but I had the wrong sized Allenwrench for the knobs.)

Home Depot seems to be hiring younger, hipper workers these days, so when I told the tile-section clerk, "I'm looking to do a half-assed job of grouting my tub," he knew just where I was coming from. He steered me to a nifty grout saw and a premixed little bucket of grout, and when asked the appropriate trowel to use, he suggested I instead use latex-gloved hands to work the grout in.

In the plumbing section, meanwhile, an august representative of the Greatest Generation directed me to buy the entirely wrong shower-diverter valve, leading to much subsequent squirting and sadness in tubland, believe you me. What is this graying nation coming to?

Grouting is a bitchen experience, right up there with being a dental hygienist. First you scrape out the rotted McGowan-esque grout like so much Cajun-blackened plaque, then lard in the fresh stuff, which is very like that poi they take dental impressions with.

After trying more impersonal grout manipulation devices, I took Depot Dude's advice and used my hands. It is a sensual sort of finger-painting, this kneading and slathering of pliable clay into the slits between the tiles. It was probably better for me than for the tub—we both smoked afterward—as it gave me the hands-on impression that if only you had enough grout, you could smooth out all the ugly wrongs in the world. Not getting along, Mr. Palestinian and Mr. Israeli? Let's mend things with some healing grout. Why so cranky, Mr. Ashcroft? Have some grout!

I am so excited about grout that it is all I can do to wrench away to instead talk about the city of Brea. The northern burg doesn't get much respect (suggested town motto: "Richard Nixon Could Have Just As Easily Been Born Here") but they recently did a pretty cool thing. In updating the city's general plan, they actually asked for input from the citizens who live there, unlike the Nixon breeding ground of Yorba Linda, which has planned a makeover of its historic downtown without asking its historic citizens what they thought.

"We're really trying to get folks to seriously dream about the future," Brea city planner David Crabtree told the LA Times. I do most of my dreaming at night, so I drove around Brea one recent evening: there are quaint old neighborhoods; there's Choice Burgers in the shell of an old Taco Bell; there's the Bada-Bing Pizza Co.; there's mandated public art that looks, well, mandated; there's downtown Brea dolled-up to look like Toon Town, a makeover at once fanciful and fascistic, in that your only role there is to consume, pay and leave. My dream for Brea would be that they'd just leave well enough alone for a while.

I called Commie Girl—unlike some very few of you, I have her cell phone number—and asked her if she ever went to Brea. Not hardly, she said, though she had seen its glittery downtown and pretty artists' lofts that artists couldn't afford. I asked if she'd been in my bathtub. "No, but I bet it's full of guitars," she said, showing just how behind the times she is.

I fetched one of my guitars out of the guest bathroom where they now reside and went to a Suspicious Trash Firesband practice with Danny Ott in Cowan Heights. Loading out afterward, we smelled something awful and wondered if it was smoke from some new strain of reefer, figuring, where can you go after skunkweed but to catsprayweed? Nope, a genuine cat had jumped in my open window and sprayed both the passenger and driver seats, a fact confirmed when Danny and I walked into a Wahoo's Fish Tacos a short time later and realized we both smelled like cat pee squared from sitting in said seats.

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