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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

I razored the stickers off the door. "Wavelengths," "Once a Driller, Always a Driller" "SBI Board Shop" and the black sticker that said "Rancid" and had a skull and cross bones on it.

I took down the Nerf basketball hoop slung over the door with the net torn off. Unscrewed the brackets for a pullup bar that disappeared a long time ago.

I'm painting the upstairs. Painting the landing and the children's bedrooms. The kids are adults. They might come home but they might not.

It's like archeology. Under books are more books. Inside desks are notes hidden from parents but not posterity.

"The stickers will have to go in order for me to paint the door," I said.

"That's OK," Sue said.

I was surprised. Deconstruction can be sensitive. Sue is more inclined to view the children's bedrooms as national monuments, if not shrines.

Her philosophy is that the rooms should stay intact. People might visit. Pilgrims in search of the birthplace of notable 20th century saints.

If not pilgrims, how about the saints themselves? What if they return to grab a meal, shoot a few baskets and lie down on the beds that used to comfort them nightly after they had done their saintly daytime work?

It's tempting to park a dumpster outside the house and start filling it. Months ago, in order to refinish the floors, we moved beds, tables, dressers, books, clothes, lamps, and posters of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix into one room.

Do you want to move the same stuff back into a room with refinished pine floors and new cinnamon- colored paint on the walls? Shouldn't reasonable people be able to have a conversation which could lead to a reassessment of inventory levels and a measured purge?

"I'm going to throw all of your clothes away," I said to Thomas a few weeks ago. "Your mother doesn't want me to do it, but I want to obliterate every trace of your existence."

He laughed. I laughed. It was almost funny.

"Throw everything away," he said. "I don't wear those clothes and my feet have grown."

Please tell that to your mother. Don't tell her that I asked you to tell her. Remind her that you live 276 miles away.


Sam's room had been dark green. A green so dark it might as well have been black. It's the black version of green. A green that goes well with the skull and crossbones theme.

Picasso went through a blue period. Teenagers go dark. Sam had wanted to paint his room black.

Sure, Sam. We'll paint it black, board up the windows and extinguish all available forms of light.

The green was so black it took two coats of primer from Sequoia to cover it. The green laughed at the first coat of primer and smiled at the second. Even then, green peeked through. The dark green paint was as stubborn as Sam was in his earlier incarnation.

Empty, the rooms look good. Music sounds clear. There is beauty in empty.

You start with an empty house. Then you fill the rooms. In a flash, the rooms become quiet again and the books, posters, tennis rackets, old wetsuits that don't fit remain.

New paint, new floors, new beginning. Visitors are welcome. Pilgrims and saints alike.