How To Roll Up A Window Shade

Many people think they know how to perform this simple task, but fail to realize its deep philosophical imprecations

How to Roll Up a Window Shade

Look, I realize that “rolling up window shades” sounds like an absurdly dry subject for a juicy dare I say succulent? website like this one. I’m also aware that, when I whisper into your trembling little ear that my kitchen’s window shades are malevolent, violent, and wholly evil, you might suspect that I have a few screws loose or what­ever your favorite cliché is for misunder­stood visionaries like myself. But you’d be wrong.

Me? Loose screws? Holy mother of that’s the most flagrantly erroneous thing you’ve ever said! And I don’t even know you.

The first thing you have to understand is that these window shades are old. Bwa ha ha ha ha! I can’t believe I said that! I’m sitting here shaking with laughter like I don’t know, a lunatic or something.  Old?  They’re ancient enough to interest an archae­ol­o­gist. Or an unchae­ol­o­gist, anyway. (That’s an unemployed archae­ol­o­gist.)

What was I saying? Oh yeah, old. It’s hard to tell from eyeballing these stained, ripped, decrepit relics, which look like the wrappings unwound from an Egyptian mummy or maybe from a mob hit dragged out of a New Jersey swamp but these blinds are actually made of vinyl, and used to be white. (I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong again. Of course they had vinyl in ancient Egypt. Look, I’m a technology guy, I know this stuff, alright? Besides, they wouldn’t let me say it on the Internet if it weren’t true.)

San illus: Man pulling window shade

It’s all in the wrist action.  note 

What was our topic again? Oh, right, window shades. My kitchen has a high ceiling and the windows are quite tall, which means that the shades, when in their rolled-up state, sit way up in the air. However, it’s been decades since they had those pull-strings with the little round doohickeys hanging down from their bottoms. I’m not sure why; my, ah, string theory is that they rotted away long ago.

The shades’ no-strings status is not a problem, however. I’m a tall, powerful guy, and I simply snake one sinuous arm up into the air, sneakily snatch the shades’ svelte tushes, and yank them right down. Fwoop just like that. Easy!

However!  Making them go in the opposite direction (that is, rolling the blinds all the way up to let in the daylight) is astound­ingly difficult. The explanation for this may sound a bit Rube Goldbergish or even like the biggest pile of hooey you ever stepped in but it’s all perfectly logical. Trust me? Good! Okay, fasten your seat belts, here we go:

Life is a Tapestory

Because these shades were already rather elderly back in the Paleolithic era, by now they’re all frayed, torn, and chewed up, not to mention abraded, corroded, and disintegrated. Since I usually procrastinate about replacing stuff you have to measure and install even relatively simple things like vinyl blinds and since I have an impressive collec­tion of many different kinds of tape (stored in a dilapidated card­board box which is itself, naturally, held together with tape), I typically fix everything with the stuff.

In fact, to tell you the truth, I’m a tape fanatic.

Gaffer tape and Gorilla Tape hold together what I laughingly call my furniture; hand-​lettered white artist’s tape and five colors of electrical tape are festooned all over my computer keyboard to label the many macros I’ve coded; and the sticky side of clear packing tape helps me to snag the adventurous (but foolhardy) ants that forage for crumbs in and around the keyboard. The broken straps on my antediluvian backpack are held together by black gaffer’s tape. In fact, there’s tape behind the ripped seams and inside the little coin pocket of the bluejeans I’m wearing right now, to stop the pennies and dimes from falling out through the hole in the bottom. (Which they do anyway, rolling down my leg and tinkling on the sidewalk as I walk along, sometimes trailed by grinning panhandlers.)

Ah, the glories of tape! It is, I believe, the fourth most essential invention in history right after air conditioning, sex, and pizza, in that order.

In short, almost everything I own is held together with tape. So I know this sounds ridiculous, but I’m simply being honest here instead of replacing my cheap blinds like a normal person, I keep reinforcing the ripped and shredding surface with a hellish mix of clear packing tape and white gaffer’s tape, criss-crossing and overlapping it in various directions and thicknesses.

I won’t actually claim that this behavior is rational, but it does have one good side effect and one bad one.

San illus: Window shade with skull

Is it my imagination, or is something dark and sinister grinning at me from this window shade? note 

The good side effect is that (I’m guessing) it makes my abode less appealing to potential burglars. Who’d want to break into a place where the window shades are all taped together? Doesn’t that make it a presump­tive hovel? They might go to all that trouble just to find that the place is filled with worth­less junk that’s all held together with tape! (It is.)

The bad side effect is that all that tape makes the window shades less flexible and quite uneven, so they don’t want to roll up smoothly any more. Stop, I know what you’re thinking: plastic blinds can’t “want” anything, so I’m committing a teleological fallacy. What are you, some kind of pedantic radical mechanist? Anyway, what the goddamned shades want (or at least, what they do) is to roll partially up, and then stop rolling and just sit there, frozen at the halfway mark, alternately glaring and smirking at me. At least that’s my impression.

Hey, Yo, Keep It Technical

Well, never mind their alleged emotional state; let’s focus on the, you know, engineering considerations. No matter how carefully I guide the shades while the spring pulls them on their upward climb, they go only about halfway up and then stop. The reason isn’t obvious, but I’m not a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan for nothing.

Most site maps are just boring lists, but not this one! It has comments and personality, and is the only way to find out everything that’s available on the Santhology site.

I examined them closely and then craftily deduced the following: in order for the shade to make it all the way up, it has to roll in an exactly vertical direction. But being old and warped and with unevenly tape-thickened edges makes this difficult. Any minute (I mean my-NOOT, as in tiny, not MINN-it, as in look at your watch) any minute, invisible angle to the roll-up process, and the increasingly thick roll ceases to be composed of purely concentric layers of window shade, but, in fact, becomes somewhat spiraled.

In other words (I trust you’re thinking visually here) the overall roll becomes ever-so-slightly wider, with spiraling shade edges sticking out of one side; and this loathsome spirallic extrusion rubs against the inside of the corresponding window-shade bracket, stopping the whole show dead in its tracks.

Elementary, my dear Watson. So what do I do? Not one to be defeated by insensate vinyl, I patiently roll and unroll the blinds as far as I can pull them down and guide them up, down, up, down, up, over and over again — a motion I’m somewhat familiar with anyway — trying to constrain their ascent to be precisely vertical, so they’ll roll all the way up to the top of the window, which they rarely do.

San illus: Hand pulling window shade

This is the most meaningless and boring illustration on this entire page. Its purpose is to make my other drawings look good by comparison. note 

I’m sure that my neighbors, seeing me repeatedly raising and lowering the shade like that, must think I’m either a foreign spy or a political whackjob sending secret semaphore-like messages to my terrorist cell, and they probably start frantically dialing 1-800-MANIAC or whatever the phone number is. I can picture the National Security Agency rushing cryptographers onto the roof across the street with binoculars and portable computers to decipher the code, or maybe the FBI breaking my door down “Okay, buddy, who ya signaling with them shades” well, okay, maybe that’s just a bit paranoid, and to tell you the truth nobody ever actually shows up. Which kind of disappoints me. But the non-alerting of The Authorities is probably just because I live in an artsy-but-seedy neighborhood , where it would be considered unhip to do such a thing.

But I digress — enough sociology; back to physics. (Parental warning: it gets a little violent a few paragraphs down. You might want to lock up your toddlers. Or at least tape them to their cribs.)

So, just to recap ad nauseam what I’ve already reiterated to you multitudinous times, the lousy blinds, utterly ungrateful for all my careful patching, like to go halfway up and then suddenly jerk to a stop. I think it may be their way of telling me that they’re tired of working all these decades, and want to retire to the window-shade old-age home, or maybe just get a decent burial in a landfill, with a quiet, modest little service.

However, I don’t give a crap what they want. At one time, aeons ago, I bought and paid for these shades. Actual cash money! They belong to me, and in accordance with several Constitutional treatises, footnotes, and numerous Supreme Court decisions, they’re my Lawful Property, capitalismus über alles, not to mention omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina, and I demand that they bow down (or at least roll up) and obey their master. Which is me.

The Little Bastards Spring Into Action

Enough political theory, back to engineering. You know that in the center of a window shade is a cardboard roller, and inside of that is a long spring, right? (Think about it.) You can vary the spring tension by removing the shade from its bracket, and then manually winding or unwinding the vinyl sheet while the endcaps remain stationary relative to the cardboard tube. (Look, if you’re not mechanically inclined enough to picture this, why are you reading an essay in advanced basic applied physics to begin with? Sheesh.)

San illus: How Window Shades Work

So, to compensate for the shades’ unforgivable lassitude, I took them down and manually wound the living bejeezus out of them. (I may be a little weak in the head, but I have strong arms.) This way they’d have much, much hey, I said MUCH! more spring tension than normal, so when I apply the appropriate wrist action they should snap all the way up with a decisive, macho, unstoppable WHAP! despite the spiralled taped edges. This is known, in window-shade-aficionado circles, as the hardass/ terminator/brute-force approach. So now you know.

Unfortunately, window shades don’t really lock into both brackets. The little end brackets, which are typically nailed or screwed to the insides of the window frame, aren’t identical. On one side the little pointy nail-like thing that sticks out of the shade goes into a regular little hole in its corresponding bracket, which is kind of locked in. But on the other side, the thing that sticks out of the shade is more like a spring-loaded flat strip. The corresponding bracket opening is like a narrow slit with a little hole at one end (keep your nasty thoughts to yourself); it's designed to let you remove the shade easily without having to unscrew anything. And as you probably know, deciding what to screw or unscrew can be a major life decision.

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Pondering all this, I worried that when I’m opening the shades in the morning, if I let them just snap up of their own volition (which is what I assume most people do) but given all that mucho-macho spring tension that I’d added to compensate for the tape stickage problem they might do the exact opposite of freezing in mid-glide: they might, in an excess of overwound and exuberant malevolence, jump right the hell out of the brackets.

A Tense Situation

It turned out this wasn’t just some irrational fear on my part. Ever since I insanely jacked up the spring tension, this is exactly what’s been happening. Not only that, but I forgot to mention an impor­tant detail: there’s precious life at stake.

No, I don’t mean mine my tax preparer (at least that’s what the toothless fossil downstairs claims to be) assures me that, mathe­mat­ically speaking, I’m worthless. The precious life I’m referring to are the leafy philo­dendron vines hanging down adjacent to, and somewhat in front of, the shades’ edges. They emanate from flowerpots, which are suspended in mid-air by sexy leather thongs, which are attached to curvaceous metal brackets boldly sticking out from the wall high above the windows.

San illus: Window shade attacking plants

The window shade spun around on its axis with a loud “whap-whap-whap” while the plants screamed — or maybe that was me.  note 

Their leaves are useful in disguising (or at least distracting from) the ragged tape repairs, which frankly are something of an eyesore, although, come to think of it, it would probably be less work to buy new blinds than to keep the finicky plants alive. Why, the demanding green things actually expect to be watered and stuff! By contrast, the plastic shades have no such expectation, although sometimes they too get sloshed if I’m sloppy with the watering can.

Anyway, enough with the horticultural logistics. After I’d insanely intensified their internal spring tension, what do you suppose the hyper-caffeinated shades would do?

Exhibiting far too much confidence in my new strategy, I actually flicked the bottoms of both closed shades simultaneously, so the two shades could roll up in a coordinated and dramatic movement. That was a mistake.

It was dramatic all right the blinds snapped up at blinding warp speed, jumped completely out of their brackets and went flying through the air! They made a weird whistling noise while spinning in erratic arcs narrowly missed key components of my face as I cringed in abject terror dismem­bered segments of the houseplants while smacking their containers which sent the flowerpots into wild mid-air oscillations, spewing wet dirt and dying (sometimes even screaming, unless that was me) fragments of quivering philodendron all over my wood kitchen floor are you following this? all because I trusted these son-of-a-bitch over­wound tape-slathered relics to roll up in a civilized fashion! Hah.

It was like something out of a horror movie, but I thought ‘hey, I’m a real man,’ determined to rise to the challenge. Okay, that’s baloney. What I actually did was whimper pathetically while bandaging my hands and cleaning up the mess, occasionally pausing to kick the damned shades where they lay on the floor, cursing them and my fate and life itself. I thought I could hear a faint moaning maybe it was the plants. But anyway “determined to rise to the challenge” sounds better than “whimper pathetically,” don’t you think?

Did I mention that I’m scientifically minded? So after teetering on my ancient, rickety wooden step-ladder and narrowly avoiding crashing down onto the floor and snapping my neck, I eventually managed to re-insert the unrepentant shades into the warped little wall brackets. Then I exper­imented with a hybrid technique: the afore­mentioned extra-​macho spring tension, but also slightly guiding the blinds in their upward migration with a hand carefully positioned on their bottom edges, barely restraining them but also gently steering the aerial voyage so they’d move in a precisely vertical direction while my bare arms warily maneuvered through stray philodendron vines and dodged whatever exotic creatures (aphids and ladybugs, maybe even dangerous spiders, who knows?) might be lurking amongst the foliage. Made me feel kind of like Indiana Jones wending his way through some dangerous jungle. Sort of.

Well. Despite my thoughtful, balanced approach and careful guidance, what do the despicable overwound shades do but give a loud screech and jerk themselves right out of my hands leaping clear out of their brackets while maniacally rotating in mid-air at ultrasonic speed with a sound like WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP then still in mid-air one of them launched itself clear across the kitchen like a demented spear berserkly plowed into the dishes peacefully minding their own business drying next to the sink smashed them into shards of pottery and glass while simultaneously the other goddamned shade flew straight up into the air then zoomed almost straight down spinning rapidly on its axis severed two philodendron vines and bonked me on the head gouging deep into my scarred, cringing, and overheated cranium!

San illus: Hiding Behind Shade

Bet you can’t see me! note 

Tell me: what did I ever do in my life to deserve this treatment? This unprovoked aerial attack? What am I, a target at Pearl Harbor? Where is justice?

All this is made even more ironic by the fact that I’m well known to be mechanically inclined. Anyway, this morning, when it came time for the joyous daily ritual of Let’s Raise The Kitchen Shades, I found myself contemplating all this in my sleep-befuddled brain (which had not yet had the benefit of even a single medicinal dose of coffee); and I further found myself thinking about what a non-​mechanic­ally-​inclined friend told me about changing his inkjet printer cartridges. If he carefully maneuvers one into the slot, it never works; but if he mindlessly shoves it in (just like a young guy!) it prints fine. “Worth a shot,” I thought, not sure what that meant.

So I steeled myself, got a grip on my courage (I was about to say ‘on my manhood’ but that might be misinterpreted), yanked on one of the overwound shades to release the tension-lock and immediately let go and leaped back out of the way not guiding it at all!  Instantly it snapped all the way up, perfectly, making a loud and alarming “whirr-whirr-whirr-WHAP!” sound while executing several extra slapping turns around the roller bar at the top, something like a showoff gymnast who’s much too full of himself, but without even a hint of fouling itself on the brackets or window frame, or launching itself into space, or assaulting either the dishes or philodendrons or the frontal or parietal bones of my skull, or any other surfaces or objects whatsoever!


Emboldened, I tried my new cazh technique (I’m not actually sure how you spell that, but it’s a hip abbreviation for “casual”) on the other shade. Unfortunately, this time I leaped out of the way just in case something went wrong a little too aggressively, wrenching my back and dislocating several ligaments and tendons in various regions of my thorax, and ripping the tape that holds up the left side of my pants; but once again the window shade snapped up perfectly, all by itself, with no problems of any kind.

Shade chasing man illus

Run run run run run run run! note 

Now, any positive-thinking, can-do, optimistic American would have been elated at this success. But my first thought, while holding up my pants with one hand and fumbling around for the aspirin with the other, was that all this proved was that I’m such a screwup that a goddamned ratty window shade, which doesn’t have the intelligence of a cockroach, can roll itself up, all by itself, better than I can by carefully guiding it.

But then, closet physicist that I am, I began pondering the equalized tension across the entire length of the spring inside the roller. Of course it can align the vertical thrust better than I can and this despite my years of experience in vertical thrusting. That’s about as far as my physics got me (I’m too busy with quantum entrainment and n-dimensional time­warps to be bothered with such trifles), so I turned to Zen, which is easier to fake: Of course the shade can roll itself up better than you can, Grasshopper. You’re not a window shade, but it is: it’s in its nature to roll up.

See, nobody can say I’m not deep.

Analogies “Я” Us

Before you send a message informing me that I have a tortuous mind (don’t bother, I’ve already gotten several), or that I’m a hopeless neurotic (It’s a lie! Quit persecuting me!), allow me to get to the point of this little essay. No, wait, forget that. Let’s see, we’ve done taped ants and thrusting inkjet cartridges and angry window shades I know! Let’s try yet another delaying tactic pertinent example, so that you can figure out the point of this essay for yourself. Bwa ha ha ha ha! Okay, let me tell you about my drawing practice.

See, I was already an above-average illustrator (he says modestly) but I decided I wanted to be much better than that, so I’ve been studying, and practicing, and sketching, and generally agonizing over my old art-school books for the last several years. And, as I’ve gotten better (actually much much better, he says very modestly while looking over his shoulder to see whether there are any illustrationless art directors within grabbing distance), I’ve noticed that I don’t really sketch that well if I’m consciously thinking about all the new arty things I’ve learned.

San illus: Alien Bearing Window Shade

Window shades were introduced to Earth by worm-like aliens with a strange sense of humor.


In fact, I sketch better when I stop thinking about them, just kind of let them fend for themselves, and let my pencil kind of take care of itself, too. Now I don’t want to get too heavy on the left-brain/​right-brain thing (an over-used metaphor, and I wish everybody except me would stop using it) or the conscious/​subconscious/​unconscious trichotomy (I generally prefer unconscious) or the ‘Zen of Whatever’ medley which is, frankly, and despite my having an entire shelf of disinte­grat­ing tape-reinforced books about the Zen of Entropy, a bit out of my league; but it does seem to be the case that the conscious part of my mind is adept at learning, say, geometric perspective or artistic anatomy but not so good at doing anything useful with it afterwards. So I’ve learned to turn down the volume on the didactic quadrant of my inflamed cerebrum when actually scribbling drawing. (Or, in plain English, not to over-​think the thing.)

What does that have to do with printer cartridges and window shades? Hey, if you can’t decipher my mystifying analogies, don’t worry about it neither can I. Speaking of which, here’s yet another dubious analogy to illuminate my central theme, whatever it might happen to be:

Let’s say you’re planning a party, and you work hard at getting everything set up right inviting just the right ungrateful guests, figuring out which are the cheapest brands of booze you can buy, trying to remember where you stashed the empty expensive-brand bottles with the little labels on them that say "Do not refill under penalty of law" so you can pour the cheap booze into them all the precise details of modern bacchanalia-organizing. But that’s just, you know, foreplay; when the party’s actually happening, if you’re really a ninja-level saturnalian, you’ll stop fussing and just relax. Otherwise you wouldn’t enjoy yourself, right? And if you’re not going to rock & revel or reek & revile, if you’ve forgotten to shower then why’d you throw a wingding in the first place?

Man on window shade illus, birds eye view

“Well, I don’t think I’m so strange.
I think YOU’RE strange.”

Okay, I just realized that the nebulous similitudes I’ve been spewing not to mention my vast and super­fluous vocab­ulary have brought us to a point somewhere between incomprehension and outright stupefaction. Good grief, my stream of unconsciousness is threatening to overwhelm this whole magnum hokum! Enough with the dumb examples, San! (I’m talking to myself here, you can go get a cup of coffee and come back in a few minutes.) The moral see, I really do wrap up my rants eventually, especially when I’m not being paid by the word is simply this:

There are many activities that benefit from careful practice, planning, and precision what I like to call the three pee’s. But some don’t, and maybe rolling up window shades is one of them. When it comes time to do something that’s intrinsically simple, it might go better to just let it happen. Or, as an unemployed jazz musician might say: If the thing needs to swing, don’t sweat it baby just let it roll! Or roll up.

Don’t Blame Me, I Just Work Here

Fey and febrile psychic that I am, I know exactly what you’re thinking now. You’re cross, irritated, and consternated that my minute (that’s my-noot), overly reiter­ated little preachy-point was so obvious, not to mention clichéd, that I didn’t need to make you slog through this rambling and inter­mi­nable psycho­babble just to get here. You’re thinking that this essay has just wasted a huge amount of your precious time with its pseudo-mechanical claptrap. Of course you’re right. You may even be contemplating sending me a bill for the allegedly valuable time you spent reading all this. Well, forget it! I won’t pay it, I tell you!

The Contact San page gives several ways to get in touch, including a quick text-message box. Who says a contact page can’t be fun!

But what you’re missing is that my real purpose here wasn’t to instruct you and certainly wasn’t to conserve your time, which, to tell you the truth, didn’t cost me diddly.

No, my purpose in publicly exposing my epic struggles with combative window coverings was purely psychological manipulative. You see, I’ve learned to my shock and horror that some people are actually intim­idated by me, which, as an egal­i­tarian champion of the common people (hoi polloi, vulgi ignobilis odorat et omnes) pains me deeply; so I wished to demon­strate that, beneath my dazzling veneer of Olympian erudition and artistic contusion, not to mention my famous humility, I’m really just a simple guy with simple thoughts; despite my being perhaps the last person on earth who still writes long formal essays and endless sentences like this one with actual semicolons in them, containing no meaningful content whatsoever, I am, deep down, just a regular guy with whom you might have a beer not, as some might assume, some kind of pretzel-brained polymath with spaghetti syntax and a hopelessly convoluted mind.

I did convince you of that, didn’t I?


P.S. My new Zen window-shade technique has inexplicably stopped working. Do you suppose the shades might have read this essay? Now when I let them snap up by themselves, they rocket out of their brackets, sever or mangle assorted plant creepers, and then crash into my increasingly scarred skull just like they used to! Oh well.

Windowshade Footer Animation  note