Great Stuff Revisited - Learning the Hard Way.

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Note: This is not meant to be a commentary on the recent extreme moves in a handful of heavily shorted stocks (though having worked for a hedge-fund in the past, I have lived through more than my fair share of “short squeezes”). Short squeezes are not new. However, what the markets have recently seen puts a new spin on an old phenomenon, involving coordinated attempts by people on social media to collectively target the stocks of specific companies in an effort to trigger massive short-squeezes and inflict pain on the institutional funds that are short. While I am not sympathetic to the funds being hurt (they are “big boys” and clearly know the risks of what they do), neither am I a fan of this latest type of market manipulation. I will say that short-sellers are often broadly painted in a very negative light. However, in my experience, there are plenty of “good” short-sellers out there providing a valuable service to the market. They ferret out negative aspects of companies whose fundamentals may be deteriorating or whose management teams may be acting nefariously, if not criminally. They can provide warnings to investors of risks and problems with the companies they own (are long). Further, when market prices are falling, short-sellers can provide a valuable, stabilizing source of liquidity when they cover their shorts (i.e. buy when the longs are dumping their positions if/when the short thesis comes to fruition). That is not to say that all short-sellers are great folks with good intentions (just as not all long-only investors are saints). But the vast majority that I have encountered in my life are perfectly decent people who are trying to make money by identifying opportunities and inefficiencies in the market and who are willing to take the opposite side of a trade--and at a much greater financial risk than longs. When a short-seller takes a position, he/she is taking potentially infinite risk as stocks can theoretically go up forever and shorts are obligated to cover at some point, regardless of price. A long investor only has his/her original investment at risk and not a penny more. In any event, it is a very difficult activity to do with consistent success and I certainly don’t miss it.


There is a saying that 'Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment'. I first heard this quote from my dad, though it is probably attributable to Will Rogers or Yogi Berra or someone like that. Still, when you hear quotes from your father, you tend to always attribute them to him as the original source.

You may also be familiar with a different but related quote: “You can learn the easy way or the hard way.” I’ve always translated this to mean the “easy way” is being given advice or being told how to do something in advance. The hard way usually involves mistakes and “learning by doing,” often with unpleasant results before an activity can be mastered. While the easy way is nice, the hard way seems to leave a lasting impression and is often the better teacher. Plus, the hard-way may result in discovering new and innovative ways to do things.

In my life I have come to be known as a Do-It-Yourselfer. I like to think I’m pretty handy, but I certainly wasn’t born that way. My “handiness” is a product of my stubbornness and willingness to take on a project and has not come without many “hard-way” learned lessons along the way. There aren’t many projects I won’t tackle, be it patching a hole in the wall, replacing door locks, replacing the ball bearings in our washing machine, replacing a car door actuator, you name it. If I have the tools (and I do have many) I will usually at least research a project to determine its feasibility and if I can muster the confidence and courage to take it on. My wife (correctly) tells me I’m a student of YouTube University. What follows is a story (unedited from its original) describing one of those “learning the hard way” experiences. I hope you find it entertaining. I certainly didn’t, but I’ll never forget it!


Great Stuff! – June 30th 2007

It all started with a bug…

So Saturday morning I woke up as usual…a little hungover, but happy for the long awaited weekend. Time to relax with the wife and new daughter and enjoy the warm summer weather. Not soon after I finished my first cup of coffee, I caught sight of a bug flying across the kitchen over to the bar area and disappearing behind one of the fluorescent lights. Being curious and somewhat offended by this unwelcome guest, I walked over to the bar for a closer inspection. I noticed that there was a small hole behind the light where the builder/electrician made way for the electrical conduit leading to the light. At this point I should’ve thought a little harder about what I was about to do next (having some foresight that I was about to nearly destroy my kitchen and throw away my entire weekend would’ve been particularly useful at this point, but I’ve always been a person who likes to learn “the hard way”).

Instead, I had a brilliant idea. In my garage, I had about a half a can of a leftover foam gap filler/sealant called “Great Stuff”. I figured I could just squirt a little bit into the hole, say goodbye to the bug and help improve my home’s insulation in the process. For such a small job, why bother with gloves and drop cloths or safety goggles, right? So, throwing caution to the wind, I get out my can and promptly find out that it was clogged from the last use. No problem I think—I’ll just scrape out the dried residue and be finished with this little DIY task in no time! Not even thinking that this little fix-it might be a job better suited for the garage or outside, I proceed to “clear” the nozzle in the kitchen with a drill (because isn’t that how you would do it???).

Suddenly out of nowhere there is a loud pop and what looks like a volcano of silly string and marshmallow fluff begin rocketing out of the top of the container. I am frozen in shock. Jane looks over aghast and says “What the hell is going on??? PUT IT IN THE GARBAGE CAN!!” Meanwhile I’m awash in a shower of goop. I take the can and, as quickly as I can, throw it in the garbage can, but at this point the damage is done. There is a thick, sticky, fluffy goo all over the kitchen. On the granite countertops, all over the floor, on the ceiling, the light fixture, all over the pantry doors and of course, all over me (Hands and arms specifically). Panic sets in. “What am I going to do??? Expletive, expletive, expletive!!

I would not be surprised if my daughter’s first word begins with the letter “F”, but we’ll hope for the best—maybe she’ll take interest in hockey. Who am I kiddin’.

Trying to clean this stuff up is futile. It is like foamy superglue that cures very quickly. Trying to pick it up only seems to spread it around. Jane is already talking about new granite and new floors. I’m frantically trying to pick up gobs of this stuff but it’s like trying to pick up piles of glue. A big puff of it falls from the ceiling and lands on the countertop. Great. Everything it touches is now covered by a foamy, superglue like residue. I don’t even know how to begin cleaning up this mess.

The back of the can says that uncured foam can be removed with acetone, but I don’t think the manufacturers had me in mind when they wrote this. I try to wash my hands in nail polish remover (since we don’t just keep acetone on hand) but to no avail. They are covered in foamy superglue. At this point I don’t even care about my hands. I can’t even put on gloves to try and clean any of this stuff up as it’s impossible to put a glove on a hand covered in industrial strength honey (and I shudder to think about taking them back off!).

Jane is not happy. She tells me to just go to Lowe’s and explain the problem and see if they have any suggestions. She tells me to make sure I visit the flooring department to let them know I might need a new floor ASAP while I’m at it. Great stuff… At this point my hands are dry enough to actually drive my car so I head out to Lowe’s.

Upon arrival, I run through the store, knowing that time is not on my side. I go to the paint section and get a salesman’s attention.

“Um, excuse me. I had a little accident with some Great Stuff at home—it’s all over my kitchen. Do you know of anything that can get this stuff off without damaging my countertops or floor? Please help me!”

The response is not what I was looking for. He whispers that I should go to Home Depot as he recently saw a product there called “Foam Sealant Remover.” That sounds promising. Maybe I should just keep driving.

I get to Home Depot and finally find a salesman who has no clue what he’s about to get himself into. I try to explain what happened and he stares at me and leads me over to another salesman (who is busy helping someone else, but I think my situation deserves immediate attention). He gives me the floor and allows me to try to explain my stupidity to another unsuspecting individual.

“Wow! That’s just crazy! I’ve never heard of anything like that! I have no idea what to tell you. Go ask so-and-so…” Wow—thanks for nothing.

We find yet another salesman who tells me where the foam sealant remover is. Aisle 5, left-hand side. There are all sorts of solvents there. “Try some Goof Off too—it’s water based.” Another customer gives me a suggestion to clean the granite, but at this point I’m no longer paying much attention. The first salesman asks me about getting it off of my skin. I chuckle and tell him that I could care less about my hands—at this point I’m worried about my wife and kitchen. I run down Aisle 5 like I just won a shopping spree, grabbing bottles of cleaners, solvents, rags, a paint scraper and a box of razor blades. Too bad Sanity wasn’t on Aisle 5—I could’ve used a few bottles of that as well. I promptly pay for my items, head out the door, glancing at the Costco next door as I run to my car.

Shortly after I get home and the scene hasn’t changed except that the foam is mostly cured. As if it matters at this point. At least it’s not sticky anymore! Jane is a little miffed that I didn’t bother to run into Costco to pick up a new garbage can since I was at the Depot. What was I thinking? Maybe next time…

The next 30 hours of my life can only be described as pain and suffering…For the next couple of hours I painstakingly scrape every surface possible in the contaminated area with a small razor blade, removing as much of the dried foam as possible while being careful not to scratch any surfaces. I scrape some off the ceiling, off the walls, the granite and of course, the floor. Jane gets another paint scraper and tries to help, but I explain to her that it’s my mess and I’ll deal with it, no matter how arduous a task it might be. I certainly appreciate the help though.

After I’m done scraping up the foamy part I realize that my hands are still covered in this crap, so the next 2 hours are spent standing over the kitchen sink with Orange Clean, Goof Off and a pair of tweezers. The good news is that I found a great hair remover. The bad news is that I found a great hair remover. I go over my hand bit-by-bit with the tweezers, carefully pulling off little bits of dried stuff, feeling a deep satisfaction whenever I get a nice big piece to come off in one pull.

“Hey Jane—what time are your parents coming by to drop off that stuff (not the Great Stuff)? Are they coming inside?” Crap. Hopefully they won’t notice.

I try to conceal my hands when they arrive by grabbing our slow cooker from Jane’s dad when they arrive. How they didn’t notice the patches of hazy dried goo on the floor or the obvious imperfections now on the ceiling I’ll never know. My father-in-law noticed that I had shaved off my “Don Johnson” stubble. My mother-in-law commented that I looked tired (usually on account of sleep deprivation due to the baby). Grandchildren make for a great distraction. Okay, we survived that one—back to work!

Jane offers me a beer. I could really use one but at this point I’m deep into my project and determined to be finished at some point before the weekend is over. And I’ll be damned if I’m buying new flooring! For the next 6 hours I crawl around on my hands and knees, inch by inch, squeezing sealant remover on little spots of the floor (don’t worry—I spot checked it!), letting it sit, and then wiping with as much elbow grease as I can muster until the foam residue releases its molecular bond to the floor and gives way to my gumption. Halfway through I realized that I could use a small piece of plastic to agitate/scrape the residue once it had soaked in the cleaner for long enough (as opposed to scrubbing relentlessly with a cotton rag)—this revelation speeds up my painstakingly slow process. The plastic cleaning device that came with our pizza stone made the perfect scraper—thank goodness somebody gave us that for our wedding!

Finally, I get done with round one on the floor. I wipe it down with a wet towel and look to Jane for approval. Jane looks pleased with the initial results. Later, upon re-inspection, she notes that there are still a lot of little spots that I missed. OK, at least I know this cleaner works, I’ll deal with the rest tomorrow. I’m going to take a shower. I need a drink.

On Sunday I wake up in all sorts of pain, but my job is not finished. Back to work. But first I need to mow the lawn—good thing I can’t f*&k that up. Damn does my lawn look good. Too bad I can’t say the same for the rest of the house.

Jane runs to Costco and gets a new garbage can. As the Dude would say, it really ties the room together.

Next, I take down the kitchen light fixture and use sandpaper to rub off any imperfections and then repaint it. I quickly sand down and touch up the ceiling and pantry doors with some paint left by the builders (but soon realize that the ceiling paint was not the right color). So, back to Lowe’s I go to get some paint supplies, sandpaper, etc. I get home and re-sand the ceiling and pantry door and paint them the right way. Jane is pleased. She says she can’t tell there was ever any damage. I’m feeling good. The floor still stands out like a sore thumb. I’ve got to take care of all the little spots I missed, but they’re not easy to see unless you catch them in just the right light. It seems that the best way to find the remaining patches of dried goo is to get down to a worm’s eye view.

For several more hours, I crawl across the kitchen floor with a towel beneath my stomach for padding and to ease my mobility on my stomach. A short while later I am finally finished. I ask Jane to mop the floor just to make sure it is clean and free of any residual cleaner. As I wash my hands one last time, I notice a dead bug on the counter (for sanity’s sake, I’ll just assume it is the same bug that started this mess)—he probably had a heart-attack. Somehow this isn’t the satisfying feeling of victory I was hoping for.

Later on in the day, I realize that so much exposure to sealant, cleaners, etc had basically dried my hands out, perhaps even burned them to some extent, but in any event left me essentially without fingerprints. As if I care at this point (except that it makes it particularly difficult to log in to a Bloomberg Terminal at work!) They’ll grow back.

There is no photographic evidence of any of this taking place (Unless you know exactly where to look), however I guarantee that every single word is true. The kitchen looks good as newish. I am sore. It hurts to walk. Great stuff indeed.

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