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.

I spent the early evening trying an array of remedies (a handy hint: white vinegar can help make the affected area smell like vinegar and cat pee), but I finally draped the seats in black trash bags so wife Leslie and I could bear it long enough to get to the Baaba Maal show at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Let me tell you that black-trash-bag seat covers are très creepy: you feel like you're riding in the Randy Kraftmobile or something.

I hadn't been to the UC Irvine campus for a while, and I thought I had been flung into an alternate-universe UCI. The place was teeming with new construction; it was all but impossible to tell the campus apart from the burgeoning corporate parks adjacent. We finally found the Barclay, where I found that in my spray-addled state, I'd left my money in my wallet at home. We parked illegally and left the show early, weighing the chances of my car being ticketed against the chances of the majestic but somewhat monotonal Mr. Maal ever playing a song with more than one damn chord in it.

With cash in tow this time—money: ask for it by name!—we also recently headed to HB's Old World Village (there to dine at the splendid Paolo's Ristorante) and couldn't help noticing while there how very old world some of Old World is. You know those boards with oval holes in which you stick your face to appear amid the painted image of a traditional German lad or buxom maiden? Some scamp drew lightning-bolt SS insignia on the lederhosened guy's lapel something like a year ago, and no one at Old World is apparently bothered enough to remove it. They could at least grout it.

Did you know that some Home Depots are open 24 hours a day, the same number of hours in that Kiefer Sutherland show? How hip is that? The bars have closed? Can't sleep? Lonely? Go to Home Depot. I predict that 24-hour Home Depots will become the pickup spot of the decade, though I, personally, am going to be very careful to pronounce the L whenever I ask, "Do you know where I can get some caulk?"

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