Dave is on a mission only he can complete. He’s looking for the right stain and finishing agent for both the new and the repurposed wood he’s using to trim out a door. He’s thinking ahead to trim we still need for the kitchen, and that makes the journey much more treacherous. Well-wishers can say “Just go with the Tung oil,” but we can’t really help.
“Last night I read up on early American birch trim,” he says over coffee,” and it’s led me to shellac.” I didn’t know one could read up on early American birch trim, but I keep my mouth shut. He continues. “What we’ve probably got in the rest of the house is amber shellac.”
“Maybe go with shellac then,” I say, “if they still make it.”
“Minwax has it. Problem is, it dries very quickly. Hard to work with.”
“Polyurethane is so easy,” I suggest.
“There are several strategies here for slowing down the drying process.” He shows me pictures of shellac flakes, which are how the pros buy it, mixing in denatured alcohol when they’re ready to start. “You can buy it in cans, of course, but it evaporates.” He shows me photos of the lac bug, which secretes shellac as it tunnels through trees.
It’s like I’m watching Dorothy disappear down the yellow brick road alone, basket swinging from her arm, only he’s standing right next to me, tapping his phone. “There’s a picture in This Old Crack House, look at this. It’s a brand new pine door from Home Depot. The guy stained it with Golden Oak Minwax to age it, and then did a coat of amber shellac.”
“Wow, it looks old.”
“And here’s an earlier door, same thing, brand new pine door, but he did the Golden Oak with a poly finish.”
“It looks like the same door.”
“No, it’s different. Even in the picture you can tell, it has a slightly more plastic-y sheen.” He studies the picture, flipping back to the shellacked door, then flipping back again to the polyurethaned door. It’s a barely perceptible but legitimate difference. And it’s exactly where Dave’s senses seem to come alive. It’s where the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. He goes out and returns with shellac, denatured alcohol, and some new cans of stain, all of which he takes downstairs.
A half-hour later, he returns with samples painted on a piece of trim. “Wow, shellac does make a difference,” I enthuse. “That one over the Golden Oak is perfect.”
“Perhaps,” he says thoughtfully. “Perhaps not.” It’s just like my Godfather fantasy from junior high. I used to imagine I was at a party at my best friend Alias’s house, sitting on the couch, feeling left out because Christopher C. had just told me I couldn’t dance. (Certain elements of this fantasy are based on historical events.) Suddenly, in the middle of “If” by Bread, the doorbell rings. Alias’s parents aren’t home, of course, so she answers it, and there stands Al Pacino, flanked by two bodyguards.
The dancing couples have all stopped, and I’m standing in their midst, remembering that Al Pacino and I have met once before. (In an earlier fantasy where he was really depressed about all the bloodshed and we ran into each other by chance in an alley I told him, “I know I’m just a kid, but if you ever need anything, I’m here.”) Al Pacino looks at me silently. I ask Alias if there’s somewhere we can talk. The bodyguards wait outside while Al Pacino and I go into a spare room, where kids’ coats are heaped on the bed. He tells me the time has come. “It’s a job that’s extremely dangerous,” he says tersely. “It’s possible you won’t come back.”
“You’d have to start right now, tonight.”
He hands me a revolver. I get my coat and put the gun in the pocket. We walk back through the living room. The kids are all huddled at the windows, staring at the long black limousine waiting at the curb, and the bodyguards leaning on it with folded arms.
I tell Alias, “I’ve got to go.”
“Where? What’s going on? Can we come?”
“Where I’m going, no one can follow.” I hug her briefly, and then nod to Al Pacino. We leave silently.
Outside, one of the bodyguards opens the rear door. Al Pacino gets in first, then me. I notice all the kids are still gathered at the windows. Christopher C. looks stricken. He tries to catch my eye. I nod to the bodyguard to shut the door. We drive away into the night.
Later, when the position of the sun has produced a different set of lighting conditions, Dave re-examines the samples against various existing trim near the door and in the kitchen. He disappears into the basement for more tests. I understand. I do not follow.