I AM HAVING THE outside of my house painted. The wood will be white and the bricks will be taupe. White is a color. I am familiar with but taupe is a color invented I think last year when it suddenly became the rage and was mentioned at several parties I attended. I pretended to know that the color was. I thought it was something like light gray. It's not, and neither now is my house.
It is instead something like a light brown. I did not know this for a long time. In fact, I did not know it all the time my wife was pointing to houses painted taupe and asking me how I liked it. I would scan the street for a gray house, usually find one, and say, "fine." Sometimes I would not see a gray house, but I would still say "fine." Life is easier this way.
My father, I think, is color blind. I'm not sure if that is the case, but it would explain the way the dresses and the fact that he is the only person of Eastern European ancestry to ever buy peach colored slacks. I am not color blind. I am merely uninformed about color, my world having been formed back in grade school when I had to make do with the single-row of crayons while the other kids, mostly rich girls, had the multi-tiered box.
This is the point where lives were changed. I am convinced that if you had the big box, you would now know of taupe and cerise and ecru and the difference between navy and dark blue and how all of that is different, at 10 paces, from black. This box not only had that most bigoted of all colors, flesh, it also had gold and silver, and, of course, that color of all colors, burnt sienna.
I have always been fascinated with burnt sienna. In school, I thought it marked the difference between social classes. Not homes. Not country clubs. No, burnt sienna. Some people had it and some people didn't. Later on, they were the same people who went away to camp and still later on they spent their junior year of college abroad. I spent my junior abroad at home. It was cheaper that way.
When I grew older, though, I realized that burnt sienna was a metaphor for school itself. It was something like geometry -- something totally useless that you learned in school and that you never used for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live -- and about which you can now remember almost zip. (Sine, cosine and something about isosceles. He was a triangle).
Burnt sienna is the same. Never once in a rather full and somewhat bizarre life have I ever heard anyone describe anything as burnt sienna. No one ever said we're the third house on the right -- the burnt sienna one. No one drives a burnt sienna car or wears a burnt sienna tie. Burnt sienna, I am convinced, does not exist in real life. It is just a color in a crayon box -- like violet, lilac and lavender, which are all purple putting on airs.
I know this now, but I did not know it when it counted -- when I was in school. It was for the lack of burnt sienna that I dropped out of colors.I paid no attention. I came from a family, anyway, where brown was considered a "neutral color" which could be worn with anything. We believed in the basics. We knew about black and white and grey. There was purple and there was maroon, which was the color of my uncle's Buick and which, until he drove it home, was a color that did not exist either.
Now I know the names of lots of colors. I know the names, but I do not know the colors. People mention the color and I nod, but all I do is imagine burnt sienna. It has become my all-purpose silly color, the color that decorators that about, the color with which to make "a statement." Burnt sienna is cerise, aubergine, Persian melon, lemon mist, chartreuse, mocha, teal, ecru, and greige, none of which I would know if I saw them and I am told I have.
So now the painters are working on my house, making it impossible for me to describe it to people. I cannot imagine telling another man that my house is the taupe one on the right. (I imagine my entire high school class laughing themselves sick.) The painter calls it brown and his assistant who can hardly speak English calls it "nice, yes, nice," but it is really pretty close to how I remember burnt sienna. This is an American success story. First I couldn't afford the crayon and now I live in the house.
It's enough to make you puce.