Rendered Fat Content


Henri-Edmond Cross: La ferme, soir (1893)
" … monkey business satisfactions."

I become different people as I engage in different kinds of work. My painter persona seems wholly different than my gardening one, and even my gardening one varies depending upon whether I'm digging or mowing, pruning or watering. Each chore demands a different uniform or at least a few different accessories. If I'm carpentering (shudder), I'll be wearing my tool belt. If I'm sanding, I'll sport ear plugs and a face mask. I'm no man of a thousand faces, but I manage at least a dozen different ones. Lately, I've by necessity taken up the temporary role of BrassMonkey on our Grand Refurbishing effort. As BrassMonkey, I've taken it upon myself to rid our venerable door hardware of a century's accumulated paint. It's a nasty bit of business involving toxic chemicals and awful smells, but I knew no other way to erase those errors.

My job was somewhat simplified by the decision that we would wholesale replace the knobs, which were mostly midcentury mediocre, cheap-looking tin.
No need to buff up those babies because they're headed for the reusable house parts store as a free donation. The hinges, though, were a different matter. Covered with between two and four coats of paint, they most faithfully carried the color history of the upstairs bedrooms. We would not need to remove old coats to repaint the walls. With hinges, we wanted to go back to original surface, whatever that was. It was, in most cases, brass plated steel. Some revealed perfectly intact surfaces while others showed up pitted and rusty steel. I cleaned each one, favoring the most shiny, withholding harsh judgement until I'd cleaned up all of them. About half still look new. The others, or most of them, will find use in closets where nobody ever notices door brass. The screws turned out to be hopeless with most all of their original brass gone and rusty threads. I ordered fresh solid brass ones but they're backordered.

My pattern for polishing brass emerged slowly. My first few hinges went excruciatingly slowly. I possessed no process, no applicable experience, and everything Homemade utterly relies upon some prior relatable experience. All Homework's related in this way. I might suit up in differing costumes to perform each different chore, but to accomplish each chore, I'm employing techniques I've borrowed from how I approach completing other chores. Cleaning brass seemed somewhat like scrubbing dishes except I needed to wear heavy gloves to protect my hands from the caustic jell softening the old paint. I moved with all the grace of a '50s rubber B-movie monster. I could not pick up slimy screws at all. I lost one down the garbage disposal which The Muse had to fetch while passing a stern disapproval. I finally, in some frustration, just stuffed the hinges and screws into a zip-lock baggie and poured paint remover in after, then left the baggie to simmer for a few days. I was never in any particular hurry to become the BrassMonkey again, anyway.

Once the paint was gone, along with much of my remaining dignity, the buffing began. I seriously considering buying some kind of buffing machine to make this step easier, but I couldn't justify the expense or the hassle. Labor-saving devices never actually save labor, they just redistribute it. I might trade off tedious polishing for dangerous automated buffing, simple rags for expensive attachments. It's always something. I chose to invest in a bottle of Brasso®, probably the BrassMonkey's best friend. I also stocked some razor blades with which to chip away recalcitrant paint bits, rust remover, a small brass brush, and steel wool. Brass buffing lends itself to routinization. It favors a repeatable process. My technique evolved from a random rubbing into a more studied scrubbing, steel wool taking the brunt of the work. BrassMonkeying becomes one of those chores that evaporates time. An hour later, the monkey might surface but quickly return to the work again, increasingly obsessed with getting it all done, a hundred percent. What I'd tolerate as close enough on earlier hinges, I went all hard assed on for later ones. I had to backtrack a bit to ensure consistently quality output.

Evening overtook me on that last late afternoon spent impersonating a BrassMonkey. BrassMonkeys get cold as the sun sets and the autumn air intruded upon my reverie. It surprised me to see a box filled with shining hinges. They'd been a mess, an avoidable job for so long that I couldn't quite believe that I was finished buffing already. I didn't want it to end. I bargained with my monkey self, suggesting that perhaps final buffings might be warranted when the brass gets mounted, and that prospect quieted the monkey's mind a bit. I'm now the perhaps overly-proud owner of yet another skill of very limited utility. I might never need to become a BrassMonkey again. I'll have to content myself with fond memories of the times I won't quite remember, the times when I kind of fell into a slumber buffing brass. A time of many bright and shiny distractions, monkey business satisfactions.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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