The Paint Can from Hell

 (My regular column is suspended during the pandemic, but we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  Someday in a better world, people will have alternatives to the things that frustrate us today.

  They’ll have conquered gravity, achieved world peace and outlawed robocalls.

  If they’re really lucky, they’ll have found an alternative to paint.

  This occurred to me after cleaning up a paint spill the other day.

  And I hadn’t even been painting.

  The paint was left over from a room painted months earlier.  Normally I take old paint to a hazardous-waste truck at a fire station, but this particular can was all but empty when I put it in the trash. It couldn’t have contained more than a thimbleful of paint, which appeared to have dried up.

  Appearances, of course, can be deceiving.  

  During the night, one of the neighborhood dogs had knocked over our trash can. The “thimbleful of dried-up paint” had come out, leaving a mess of shocking proportions on the sidewalk. 

  Have you ever noticed that when you’re painting something and have a small amount of paint left, it’s never enough to finish the job? Just try spilling it, though. What won’t cover a square foot on a wall will make a stain the size of a wading pool on your new hardwood floor. 

  Wondering how such a small amount of paint could cover such a large amount of sidewalk, I began the cleanup. After half an hour of repeated blotting with paper towels, vigorous scrubbing with a wire brush and high-pressure spray from a hose, the sidewalk almost looked normal. 

 Late for work by then, I took the can back to the garage to dispose of later. That’s when I noticed that the can had a crack in it and had leaked paint on both the driveway and the garage floor. A trail of paint that would take even more time to clean up.

  This was the moment when one of my daughters arrived on the scene, perhaps drawn by the sound of spirited cursing.

  “What’s wrong? she asked

  “This # )%! paint can! It was almost empty and now it’s spewing paint like Old Faithful. If it was food instead of paint it could end world hunger.”

  Offering to help, she picked up the can and watched in dismay as it dribbled paint all over her new pants and jacket. 

  Where was it all coming from? True, the paint obviously wasn’t dried up, but the can really had looked empty. 

  “Stay here,” I told her. “I’ll go inside and get more paper towels.”

  That meant walking down the sidewalk and across the front porch, through the entryway, and into the kitchen. 

  By now you may have guessed that in addition to being nearly everywhere else, there was paint on the bottoms of my shoes. 

  And the the porch, the entryway floor, the kitchen floor …

  All from a supposedly empty can of dried up paint.

  That night, I made a deal with God. If I ever put another paint can in the trash instead of taking it to a fire station, He can strike me dead.

  Outlawing robocalls and conquering gravity would be great. Achieving world peace would be even better.

  But in a really perfect world, there won’t be paint.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

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