Last week, after papering the floor of my writing room with old book pages, using Elmer’s glue and polyurethane—which, despite the naysayers who doubted, served my purposes beautifully—I found myself ripe with creativity that counted itself boundless.
So I decided to dye a small carpet purple by boiling it in beets. After I hatched the idea I found a few blogs sensitive to earth-conservation that confirmed its potential success. You just had to add vegetable or fruit skin, salt or vinegar, and set it all boiling for about a century. That way you avoid nasty chemicals.
I confess I had more interest in experimentation than in saving the earth. Imagine getting to change the color of any fabric you wanted with vegetables—a free-spirit’s paradise.
The creative fever seizes whatever the hands can find, and counts want of appropriate materials not a handicap but a spur to unknown invention. I hoped to use beets. Beets had proven themselves my allies in other artistic binds—for instance, my freshman year when I ran out of paint and substituted a mixture of cafeteria beets and the white toothpaste belonging to the Southern belle upstairs. With it, I painted a ballerina that still hangs on my wall.
But at that moment, our house contained not a single beet.
What then? I had a carpet too white for toleration, whose telos was to splash color—any color—into the middle of the white writing room. Spinach? Lemons? Rinds of oranges?
I turned to the last refrigerator drawer, that no-man’s-land of produce, and discovered a whole bag of carrots, lean, lonesome, and quick approaching the compost.
“Use those,” my mother said. “I hate carrots.”
She began to shred them while I set the carpet to boil in a large silver pot of saltwater.
I had never before wanted an orange carpet. But like people who say they climb Everest just because it’s there, I felt overcome by the power of possibility. So I boiled the carrots. I boiled the carpet. I dumped them together and boiled them jointly. It went on this way for hours.
My mother pointed out that Rit Dye costs $2 and works magic in the washing machine without further thought. I peered over the pot, doubting. But I had to try.
The carpet soaked nightlong in salt and carrots, and in the morning came the great extraction. I drew from the water a rippled rug, whiter than before and so clogged with bits of carrot I had to enlist the might of the garden hose to remove them.
I draped the rug, by now a soggy beast almost too heavy for me, over the clothesline so that all family and visitors could observe my ignominy and laugh with me at the explanation.
Sometimes trying is its own reward. Now I know three valuable facts: My mother hates carrots, floor mats fit comfortably into the household crockery, and I can’t do everything I set my mind to. Now I’ll ransack my bedroom for eight quarters and buy Rit Dye precisely the color of beets.