Toxic Swatch Syndrome

My friend Alan came by over the weekend to introduce his new puppy.

“What’s going on in here?” he asked as we passed through the living room. The walls were bare, the media racks gone, and the only things left in the room were the major furniture pieces.

“We’re painting,” my wife replied from the kitchen.

“We’re picking,” I told him in a whisper. “It’ll be another 4 to 6 weeks before any painting begins. And that’s if I’m lucky. It’s dragged on longer than that in the past. If you have any sense you’ll leave. Now.”

“What do you think of these?” my wife asked, walking in with some color swatches.

“Too late,” I sighed. “You could have made a clean getaway.” Before I could stop him he pointed to a color from the blue palette. The one I knew to be the decoy palette.

“I like this one,” he announced, blissfully unaware of the shitstorm he had just unleashed.

“Really?” my wife asked. “Nothing on the, uh, yellow family stands out for you?” She held up the other swatch card. The intent was obvious to anyone who’d lived with her for forty years. Alan hasn’t lived with her. Ever.

“Sierra Six to Overwatch,” I hissed into an imaginary mic. “We need immediate exfil. Hostiles are encroaching. I repeat hostiles are encroaching.”

My wife ignored me, laser-focused as she was on her prey. Alan looked at me confused. I jerked my head toward the door a few times. The puppy, who is clearly more intuitive than Alan about these things saw what was about to happen and squatted down to pee on the rug.

“Whoops,” I said, nudging the puppy with my foot. “Gotta go!”

“Don’t kick the puppy!” my wife yelled, noticing me for the first time.

“Bad dog,” I yelled at Alan who was by now making a beeline for the door.

I swear I heard the puppy say “I’ll save you!” as it cleared the threshold in a flying leap and made a break for the car, dragging Alan along by the leash.

I followed behind to make sure they didn’t double back.

“When the puppy’s done its business, come back inside,” my wife called after us from the porch. “How about I pour us some iced tea?” she asked, then headed off to do just that.

Which was a genius move, I thought. It obligated Alan to stick around without actually ordering him to do so. I could easily imagine her doing that if she thought he was getting away.

“Leave. Now. Go and don’t look back,” I urged.

“She’s pouring me tea,” he protested. Wow, that trick really worked.

“She’s pouring you bait,” I explained. “Just inside the door is an Alan-sized bear trap ready to spring. She has enough color samples to wallpaper the living room and you won’t get out until you’ve looked at all of them. Multiple times. Just go so the puppy won’t have to chew your leg off. I’ll stay behind and cover your escape.”

He looked at me, obviously confused. I could see the different emotions playing out on his face as he considered the possibilities.

“Look,” I explained, “you’ve been a bachelor all your life and have no experience in these matters. I do so you’re going to have to trust me here. She’s the Big Bad Wolf and you are the little pig who built his house out of dandelions. They don’t ever tell you what happened to that one. They just pretend there were only ever three. She will eat you for lunch and pick her teeth with the bones. Now go! Before she comes out with tea! It’s your last chance!”

Looking like he was finally beginning to understand the gravity of the situation, Alan collected the puppy, and got into his car.


When it’s my space I absolutely choose the paint colors. My home office has large windows overlooking a wooded area and when it came time to paint it many years ago, I wanted to bring the outdoor feel into the room. She dropped a tome of color swatches she’d assembled from the hardware store onto my desk. It made a resounding thump. About 90 seconds later I handed two cards back to her.

“This one for the ceiling,” I said and pointed at something that looked sky-blue. “And this one for the walls.” I pointed at a light brown square approximating the color of our lawn in August.

“But you haven’t looked at the other cards,” she objected.

“Don’t need to. These are perfect.”

I was done at that point. Decision made. Problem solved. What’s next? She had so little confidence in my process that she tested me, daily, for a few weeks by showing me other cards in the same color families, in different color families, and some that I’m sure are the black sheep of their color family. I just kept repeating “Island Atoll and African Savanna.” It was torture for me. But my process was torture for her so I guess this made us even.

Eventually she caved. It took about 3 weeks after the decision was made before I was authorized to buy the paint. When she gets to pick the color it takes twice that amount of time and she makes the decision anew every evening during that interval. Sometimes twice a night. It is agonizing for both of us.


My wife came back out with tea just as Alan’s car cleared the turn headed toward the main road.

“Did Alan leave?”

“Something urgent came up.”

“You’ll have to help me, then.”

“Nope. I already gave you my answer. Tiki Village.”

“Tiki Torch,” she corrected. “What about this one? It’s in the same family.”

“Mary and Elizabeth Tudor were in the same family.” I didn’t even look at the card she waved in my direction. “The problem is that I’m pretty much OK with any color so long as it isn’t dark. Anything pastel or near-pastel that’s in the red, orange, yellow, green, or blue families.”

“That’s everything!”

“No. I left out indigo and violet so it isn’t everything. It’s 5/7ths of the rainbow. Although indigo and violet are higher frequencies, they have darker energy and don’t work in the living room.”

“This is a big decision,” she warned. “You will have to live for a decade or more with whatever we pick.”

“No, I have to live with you for a decade or more, and at no point in that time will I break down and cry out ‘why did I go with Tiki Hut instead of Camel Toe?’ So it has to be something you like and…”

“It’s Tiki Torch and Camel. Just Camel,” she interrupted sternly. “And stop starting your sentences with ‘no’ it’s annoying.”

Whoops, I didn’t realize I’d done that. Twice now. “Honestly, honey, its no big deal. Just pick one.”

“You are impossible,” she yelled in exasperation.

“You mean improbable,” I corrected, careful to avoid the word ‘no’ this time so I wouldn’t annoy her further.

“What?”

“I’m here. I exist. Obviously I’m possible so you must mean improbable,” I explained.

She just stared at me for a few seconds while I contemplated my mortality. Finally she broke the silence.

“You just proved my point. You’re impossible.” She anticipated my objection and moved to pre-empt it. “Nope. Shut it. Don’t respond,” she said, putting a finger to my lips “Just accept that ‘impossible’ can correctly be applied to humans and you are the textbook case. You. Are. Impossible.”

“OK, fine,” I said around her finger. “But you take more time picking the color than painting the color. To me, that’s impossible. It’s just paint,” I implored with a placating gesture. “You don’t actually have to live with it for a decade or more. If you can’t stand it in six months or a year we can just paint over it.”

“Really?” She was yelling now. “And go through all this again? Are you insane?”

I considered the question. We’ve repainted several times and it has only just now occurred to me to have that giant stack of paint swatches tested for lead. Maybe she has a point.

About T.Rob

Computer security nerd. WebSphere MQ expert. Autist. Advocate. Author. Humanist. Text-based life form. Find me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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