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In a corner of my back yard, surrounded by drop cloths, my heavy pink rubber gloves caked in caustic, brownish gunk, I gingerly brushed paint remover on an old metal file cabinet, then scraped off layers of paint. From time to time, I cursed bitterly after inadvertently touching a bare elbow or exposed knee to the cabinet, wincing as the gelatinous, napalm-like paint remover instantly burned my flesh, and ran for the cooling relief of the garden hose.

Why was I stripping the paint from this old thing? I needed a four-drawer file cabinet. It wasn’t an antique or an interesting piece, and its quality level, even when new, was modest at best, but functional. And it came free. But free has its own price.

Just a short time ago, this innocuous piece of furniture was discarded by my wife Susan’s school after decades of service, clad in its original olive drab, a bit rusty and dented in spots, scratched and belabeled. Serendipity! We were repainting my home office at the time, and I needed file space to organize my writing and teaching paraphernalia. I snagged it and dumped it in our driveway.

Weeks later, I was finally ready to face the file. I cleared the spiders and ants playing hide’n’seek inside, then pulled out all the drawers, turned the frame on end, vacuumed deep inside, wiped it out, scraped off ancient school district logos and hand-written labels (using Goo-Gone and elbow grease), replaced the drawers, washed, toweled, and . . . CONTINUE READING: Monument