13 March 2008

Word of the day: slurry

I most recently heard this lovely word on a cooking show, where the very gay Asian host talked about making a “slurry” of water and cornstarch, to thicken a sauce.

Today I learned it in another context. My friend the tile artist says when, after the grout sets enough (and I got an education in how long to wait and what was too soon), you want to wash it off the tile. “Wax on, wax off,” she said, describing how to work across the tiles with a wet terrycloth towel, whose little knobby loops of thread grab the grout and smooth it around, instead of pulling the grout off like a sponge does. “You want to make a slurry with the grout on the surface of the tile.” Ah, so you're not just grouting, I see now: you are also polishing the tile. She followed me with a sponge, which she rinsed often and used to wash most of the grout off the surface of the tile. “I like to use warm water; it dries faster.” (I can't imagine doing this kind of work on the east coast or somewhere tropical. Must take forever for things to dry.)

She asked me to bring gloves, and I did bring a sturdy pair of rubber gloves that fit me... like gloves. "You wouldn't believe how many people show up to work and say, 'I'll be fine. I don't need gloves,'" my friend griped to me about all those subcontractors gone by. Which brings us to her gruesome factoid of the day: If you don't wear gloves to grout, you can wear your fingertips off. Worse, the portland cement has an anesthetizing effect, so you can easily rub off the ends of your fingertips before you even know it has happened, my friend explained. “Yeah, one day we realized S. was leaving blood on the grout as he worked.” Eww.

(My mom can put that one in her 365 Things You Wish You Didn't Know Calendar. Doesn't that sound like a project that should have illustrations by Ralph Steadman or Gahan Wilson or Edward Gorey?)

After lunch (at Pupusas, one of our town's great little restaurants), we donned dust masks (I can't emphasize enough how much you really don't want to be breathing silica and cement dust) and buffed the final bit of grout off the tile with a dry terrycloth towel. The beach-glass colored tiles glowed after that treatment, but my friend thought it would have looked really good with a darker grout that showed off the herringbone pattern of the tile. Nice work.

I felt like an amateur, because I was, but I comported myself well enough to get invited back to work tomorrow. “You are eminently trainable,” my friend announced to me and her other assistant. I taped quickly and smoothly enough, I guess, adjusting my fussiness to that of the house's owner as I heard him harangue my friend, the contractor, about evening up some edges with her dremel tool. He really wanted to convince her to do the smoothing out, and she was trying to understand his desire while defending the fact that these were individually made tiles and were therefore not uniform so were designed to be uneven. He wasn't hearing it. He wanted to see that dremel tool, and when she finally got it out so he could go to town on those edges if he wanted to, the guy was totally impressed.

“Gee, that's like a dental tool,” he practically gasped. He was so impressed with the delicacy of her tool that he had to make the same comparison a couple more times before absconding with it to smooth some edges for himself.

The other oddball thing about this guy is that while his house (a rock-covered French country mansion fantasy, every room on a vast scale and with very high ceilings that dwarfed me and made me feel like a doll in a dollhouse in just about every room) is being finished, he lives in another house up the street. And the guy always drives. It's maybe two to three city blocks, judging by street addresses, and it's along a quiet suburban street with a very small amount of traffic. But he never walks. And it's not like our winters are these bitter and snowbound eras. There are lots of perfectly dry days. Most days of the week throughout the seasons, I ride the city bus with my daughter to her school and then I make the 20-minute walk home. This guy drives two blocks up the street to his other house. Unbelievable.

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