Confession: I am not the handiest person. But sometimes I roll up my sleeves and go for it, such as I did today. I had a small painting job to do--two strips of rusty metal around the frame of a circa-1950 medicine cabinet. Off I went to the hardware store to pick up a tiny can of oil-based flat white paint and a sponge brush. We are talking about a task that would require about ten swipes of the brush, and that's about what it took; when I was finished, no more than twenty minutes after starting, I was pleased to see that the rust had been covered, and I hadn't dripped anything on the sink or tile.
But I had white paint all over my hands. And somehow I had forgotten to buy paint thinner or turpentine. I don't like chemicals or anything toxic in the house, and the all-natural Method, Seventh Generation, and Mrs. Meyers soaps and detergents in the kitchen and bathroom only made the paint stickier, and didn't take it off my hands. I thought of artists I know, the ones who work in oils, and how in their studios they always seem to have crescent moons of cadmium red, raw umber, tintanium white, and ultramarine around their fingernails, and how cool I think they are, but alas, I am not an artist, just a weekend hacker with a foam wedge that doesn't even deserve to be called a brush. So how to get the paint off?
And then I remembered: sunscreen.
If you are walking on a beach and get tar on your feet (more likely in California than Connecticut), sunscreen can strip it away. And since tar is a viscous material made of hydrocarbons, aka oil...would this remedy possibly work on the oil-based paint on my hands?
I learned the sunscreen secret while having lunch at Paradise Cove with my sister Maureen and her husband Olivier. They were visiting me in Malibu, and as usual when we get together, we went straight to a beach. Not hard to do, since Malibu is one big beach hard by the Santa Monica mountains. We had walked barefoot along the water's edge, and when we went to our table on the sand, under the awning, we discovered that our feet were pretty tarry. The waitress told us it happened all the time in the Cove, and to go ask the lifeguard for sunscreen, which would swiftly remove the tar.
So we walked over to the lifeguard, standing near the tideline in red board shorts and a navy blue hoodie, with the lifeguard's red cross on the back.
The lifeguard was Matthew McConaughey. (Yes. That Matthew McConaughey.) He glanced at our feet, laughed, and gave us the sunscreen. We took back to our table. When we were finished wiping off the tar, my sister returned the tube to him (thus the smile on her face in the photo* at the top of this post, and if you look over her left shoulder, in the distance you can see Matthew in his red shorts, keeping the beach safe for all.) Come on, are you surprised? He lived nearby, he surfs, he was giving back to his community.
Thanks to that lesson, today I was able to scrub my hands with Alba SPF 45 , and the oil paint washed off like a dream. The medicine cabinet is painted, my hands are clean, and I got to travel down a favorite memory lane. Plus, turns out I'm handier than I thought.
*This is a photo of the photo. I couldn't find the original in my files, so I snapped a shot of the one I have framed on my desk.