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Tales From My Shitty House, Part Four: There's Wallpaper on Everything

I didn't take enough pictures of my house from when we first moved in.  It's a piece of advice that everybody gave me when we first started our renovations, and which I ignored every time because I was in such a hurry to get things fixed.

For the most part, I'm not too broken up about it.  But once in awhile I catch myself thinking about some outrageous thing in our house that we had to deal with, and I realize that there's no photographic proof of it.  Sure, most people will just accept what I say because there's no good reason for me to lie - but wouldn't a picture put a nice button on it?

For example: the wallpaper.  Most of it looked like this:




Worn down by the decades and just barely holdings back the crumbling century-old plaster beneath.

That by itself was not a problem - at least, not any more so than the rest of the crappy things we had to deal with.  The real problem was that the wallpaper was on everything.  Everything.

Every ceiling in our house was covered with it.


The inside walls of our closets were covered with it.


Even our brick fireplaces were covered with it.  Who does that?  Leaving alone the problems that come with trying to affix wallpaper to uneven brick surfaces, where is the logic in putting wallpaper on a fireplace?

The greater insult to all of this was that it was never a single layer of wallpaper.  There were always at least 3-4 layers of it.  It started with the nasty rotting robin's egg pattern on the surface, a dirty '70s floral motif underneath that, a pale seasick green layer beneath that, and then finally you'd come to one of two magic choices of disgust.  You'd either get the crappy plaster if you were lucky, or you'd get a weird brown layer instead.

And I'm not talking about the gross brown residue that gets left behind when you scrape old wallpaper down.  You know, that fuzzy cardboardy stuff that looks like the crap that gets stuck to packing tape when you rip it off a box?  I'm talking about an actual layer of brown wallpaper.

Brown wallpaper.  To match the brown wood paneling and the brown trim.

So a large chunk of my time renovating so far - I'm going to guess maybe 30% of it - has just been scraping wallpaper.  When I think of all the hours that have been spent chipping away at wallpaper, I feel queasy.  There were days where I'd put in an eight to ten hour shift and all I had to show for it was that one corner of the house only had one layer of wallpaper instead of four.  Then, once the wallpaper was off, we'd still have to patch up and reseal the plaster in a variety of ways that I'll have to get to some other time, so it's not like getting the wallpaper off fixed things - it just made it possible to fix things later.

A wall without wallpaper.

So really this amounted to months of effort just to not have trash on the walls.

The wallpaper is mostly gone at this point - save for those ceilings which are still hidden away by drop-down foam panels - but every time I think about it, I'm left with a disturbing thought.

See, I get depressed easily by poor lighting.  If I am stuck in a dark room, my mood immediately turns sour and I feel helpless.  Winters can be terrible; I once quit a job because I was too depressed by the lack of sunlight to even bother making the effort of driving in.  And even if I don't feel soul-crushingly depressed, even if I can maintain a generally upbeat attitude, even if I can keep myself in check and go about my routine, I'm still going to be cranky and rude and more self-obsessed than usual just because I woke up in a dark room.

The first year of living in our house was by far the worst because there were no (literally) bright spots.  Every room was a dim corner of despair lit only ever-so-slightly by the nauseating hum of a failing fluorescent light.  Defeating the brown gloom of our shitty house has been our greatest triumph so far.  No dishwasher?  That sucks, but at least the walls are bright.  The upstairs bathroom looks like crap?  Fine, but at least I can wake up and feel like facing the world.

Now, then.  This house has been here for over a hundred years.  And judging from the layers and condition of things, I'm going to guess that at least the first layer of that wallpaper has been on the walls since the 1950s.  This means that at least two full generations grew up in this house with the stench of gloom hanging over it.

How much depression was caused by that gloom?  How many children gave up on their dreams because they were affected so powerfully by the dank as I was?  How many people went to work with bitterness and devastating anxiety because they knew they were going to come home to their murky brown dungeon?  How much misery was put off into the world, like dominoes spilling over, that could all be traced back to an upsetting attitude created by the grungy paw of all this horrible wallpaper?

Some of the former residents of this house were police officers.  What if they wrongfully arrested people or falsified evidence to get a conviction just because they were in a bad mood that day because they woke up and saw The Brown hanging onto their ceiling?

I'm not saying that the shitty wallpaper in my house ruined lives.  I'm just saying that I'm glad I could stop it before it ruined mine.