Color me confused

I needed paint; what I got was a lesson in how things have changed.


I think that, at root, choice is a good thing. Unless one plans on buying interior paint.

Which brings me to my bedroom, last painted when Ronald Reagan was president. The time had come for some sprucing up. Would it be basic white, or a cool green? Perhaps light blue? These were the three possibilities that came to mind. Little did I know that the culture of paint had undergone a calamitous revolution since last I looked.

Off I went to the home improvement warehouse, where I was approached by a paint "consultant." When I mentioned the three choices under consideration, the pleasant young man wrinkled his nose and asked if he could make a suggestion. "I'm all ears," I told him.

He gently revealed that things had progressed to the point at which it was no longer a question of white, green, or blue. The strictures had been removed, the imagination set free, the spectrum of colors exploded, and customers were the happy recipients of the largess. "May I suggest Coconut Milk?" he probed.

Taken off guard, all I could utter was, "How's that?"

"Coconut Milk," he repeated matter-of-factly. "Or maybe something a little duskier?"

"Ah," I responded. "You're talking about paint!" And then, "Yes, maybe duskier."

The consultant presented me with one of those little paint chip cards, showing, in addition to Coconut Milk, the following fantastic shades: Timber Dust, Dust Bunny, Brown Buzz, and the magnificently dubbed Coral Gable Biltmore Mediterranean Mocha.

Who on earth came up with these names? Was there someone – the Mel Blanc of paint names, perhaps – sitting in a remote studio, racking his brain for appropriate descriptors? Did he one day add a tad too much milk to his coffee and exclaim, "That's it! Coral Gable Biltmore Mediterranean Mocha!"?

The thing is, I've always enjoyed interior painting. There's no easier, more economical and dramatic way to brighten a room than to treat its walls to a coat of fresh paint. Perhaps my problem is that I grew up in simpler times with far fewer choices. I can still recall my father holding out two paint chip cards to me (I was 7) and asking me to choose between "eggshell white" and "off-white" for what was then called the "vestibule" of the house. When I responded with "eggshell white," my dad whistled and said, "Ooh," as if I had made the more daring of the two choices. What would he have said if I had responded, "Don't we have any Aged Hazelnut Cream or Betsy Ross House Moss?"

I refocused on my personal paint consultant, who was casting expectant glances at me. "Would you like more choices?" he asked. "If you'd prefer a green, we have a sale on Rushing Tiger River and Garden Katydid."

I gave a quick glance about to confirm that I wasn't on some hidden-camera show. Then I asked, "Do you by any chance have eggshell white?"

The consultant bit his lip. "No, I don't think so," he said, but with a tone that suggested I was someone who needed to be humored. "What does it look like?" he asked as he flipped through a few more chips. "Is it anything like Mint Bliss or Carved Shell? Or maybe Wild Lemon Basil? There's also Woodrow Wilson Putty."

My head was swimming. I had not intended to spend the better part of a Saturday morning negotiating for a gallon of paint.

"I think I'll just take off-white," I said, to which my consultant replied, "I don't think we have that."

"Sure you do," I said, taking the paint chip cards from his hand. "Just take a little Coconut Milk, add a dollop of Beige Buckthorn and a few drops of Essence of Light."

"I can do that," he said. "Take me five minutes." And off he went.

I bided the five minutes, realizing that it wasn't that off-white no longer existed. I simply didn't speak the language of paint anymore. My gallon arrived and I headed home, wondering, along the way, what Woodrow Wilson and Betsy Ross would make of how far, in the course of years, their fame had come.

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