The Pink Chicken Antique Wallpaper


Many years ago I worked on an independent film in Chicago. And not just me, David too. I got a call from someone who was flipping a house in 3 days (seriously) using local carpenters and I mean the type that build houses and rip 2×4’s with a circ saw with a cigarette in their left hand and a steel eye on the cut. We went in to repaint and wallpaper the entire house in those three days overnight.

The really special part of this was that there was an antique chicken wallpaper applied in 34 degree weather in a house that had plaster walls with NO heat, across the street from a house that was dealing crack cocaine, and we stayed up 3 nights straight to do all of this AAAAAND Jennifer Tilly starred in the film. Jennifer Tilly was indeed the high point although we merely peered at her through a nail hole in the kitchen.

We came in late on the process. We were given a ton of materials  and literally worked as hard and as fast as we could to get it done. This is not art. We needed the money, and David was in film finals at Colombia and I had a full-time job. We slept a little, but not much. Most of the paint and other wallpaper was done very quickly, no problem. The chicken wallpaper came last. The designer really liked this stuff. She paid some insane amount – like 80 dollars a roll, for decaying antique wallpaper. Not replica wallpaper…  old ass wallpaper that required paste, proper hanging and no waste. We started at around 7pm and finished the chicken wallpaper job in the tiny kitchen maybe around 3 am. It was freezing. The wallpaper kept falling off the walls, and we kept catching it to prevent it tearing. David kept saying “But it’s a Jennifer Tilly movie….” . We were laughing, and then we were fighting hardcore because we were just so tired. Then that point came where you just start to roll with it, words drop, and the only form of communication is doing.

The night ended not at 3 am, but in the hallway that led to the second floor. There was something to be done in there and I cannot remember if it was wallpaper or paint, but I remember the ceiling was like 20′ tall and we had an improper ladder on stairs with an 8 ” tread. Nobody fell, but it was so cold we could see our breath and we just barely got it all done when the sun came up and the crack house slowed down business across the street.

We got in the car and drove back to the Dr. Caligari apartment that we lived in. He went to school and I went to work. I kept the piece of chicken wallpaper. I kept it to remember how hard we laughed even when we needed the money, and even though we laughed, we finished the job and continued into our next day. I keep it because when I look at it I remember it was one of hundreds of goofy jobs we did to keep going, to make money, and we were good traveling partners. We got eachother through. I also kept it as a serious reminder that giving people crappy stuff to work with usually slows the process up and I truly beleive that equal results can be acheived by not making the most difficult of choices even if the difficult choice happens to be your favorite.

When we got our house, I framed the chicken and put it on a kitchen shelf. There have been difficult times and there was that damn pink chicken wallpaper reminding me to finish the job. There have been times I wanted to be looking at a different life, a different wallpaper. That chicken was still there reminding me lives are made, not given. You don’t get to create a life and coast. Nobody is going to sweep you off your feet and make you feel as good as you would make yourself feel if you commit to being self sufficient. Opportunities come up that are good, but that is different, and it usually isn’t luck, and luck can’t take the place of bullheadedness when things get tough.

That chicken wallpaper smacked me every time I thought instant gratification might solve the inherent catch of trying again. When you are working with a fragile thing in a difficult enviornment, it takes care, and patience and resiliance to complete a task. Normal people know you should never push your materials or conditions. We do it all the time in the arts. It is a breed of insanity that makes the rest of the world (and rightly so) peer through it’s fingertips at the process. You don’t always get to pick and choose. Release the safety net and have rent on the line, it will straighten you up fast and give you the ATP to get to the finish line. If you have somebody who gets that process, you are one lucky chicken.

Opening night we went to the theatre, sat down and watched the movie. We were late, we were getting off work again. We came late, and after watching the film, and realising we did not know how to comment on what we’d seen, we left early. We drove around the city and laughed a lot, ate Thai food, and never thought for even another second that we never even properly met Jennifer Tilly.



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