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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Case Of the Shingles

Our house is a very very fine house...
With shingles in the yard...
Life is really really hard hard hard
And nothing is ever easy ‘cause of you...

And I do...Lalalalalalalala...

Yeah right!

Never never ever ever ever put on a new roof.


I am a teller of tales and this is a tale that MUST be told.

Pull yourself up to the campfire, and lie back, as the tale unfolds. This tale is not for the squeamish. It is only for the bold. The risk takers. The pitch of the roof ridge line walkers. Those who tolerate the sun radiating down on tar paper patchwork, while we stand in the yard with arms extended, ready to catch the fallen.

Our story begins on a bright and shiny Monday morning in August. One of the hottest months of the year in these here climes. We imagined it would be bad. We had no idea.

At 7:30 AM the shingle scraping begins, the scrape scrape scrape, the nail biting nastiness, as the shingles and the tar paper and the detritus fly off the roof, escaping their worldly existence, while the roof deck, long under exposed, faces the sun for the first time in 15 years, begging for an SPF lotion of 45.

A skeletal wooden image appears, as the roof line walkers tiptoe across the open beams, hurling the shingles onto the ground below. Exposed, the shingles shriek . We are exposed to the elements. And for a moment, I too barely tolerate their loss. This shake shingled roof wore well. Sheltered us from high winds and hail. Ice storms and pellets. Squirrels scampering and wrens nesting in the eaves.



Boards cover the surrounding shrubs. Tarps provide a protective barrier from the high flying shingle soloists. But nothing, I repeat, nothing can spare you, you the insider, from the footfalls overhead, the banging clanging rearranging of, so long old and hello new, cascading from one corner of the house to the other. 

This, this Cirque De Soleil dance high above the rafters, is not for amateurs. This story, this fable, this tale, is not for the faint of heart.

It is however, a moral tale. A light to hover over the cheaters of the roof line majesty. Those roof whisperers, who conjure up an enticing, let’s go screw the insurance companies, door to door shape shifting nasties, who lure people in, with promises of free stuff.

When oh when will this world ever learn that NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING is ever free. For every cheat, there is some poor sap unknowingly about to get a raise in their coverage, an unexpected rate hike, thanks to the creepy guy selling ROOFS FOR FREE.

No thanks we say. We pay our own way we say. Thus the whispers begin, down the block and across the street, that we are chumps. Fools.

Brave, we tell our most honorable roof, that has protected us over 15 years, you have been brave and honest and true. and we shall be too.


Day Two. Shingles shed. At 7AM, with precision, the generator fires up, loud and insistent, piercing the morning air with its shrill and other worldly scream, as the plywood lands with a sickening thud at the highest most peak, and I run to the porch, fully expecting to see a body prone on the stone steps below.

Whew! No, no bodies, but the thud thud thud continues on into Mid Morning when the crew, sweaty, thirsty and exhausted collapses on our front lawn. I readjust my Nurse Practitioner cap on my head, and race out with ice water and doughnuts.

Ok, so doughnuts may be a bit of a medical stretch, but they wolf two dozen down as though they are trapped on the edge of the Gobi with no oasis in sight. I eat one too, as it is important that the medical response team be equally charged with a glucose infusion, so as to be available for medical emergencies.
The truth is, my adrenaline level is soaring, I cannot get out of my garage, I am trapped inside an echo chamber of clamor, and because....

Doughnuts help me think.

Think clearly.

Clearly and LOUDLY that I should never HAVE AGREED TO THIS.

Signal the elevator music. The pallets rising floor by floor, up the moving ladder, up up up to the rooftop, where the roof line walkers await. They hoist the heavy bags over their shoulders and climb, somehow, slipping and sliding across the slimy black tar paper, to the very peak.

I, safe and secure, on solid ground, shimmy and shake with fear, that this will be the day I will stand arms outstretched to catch the fallen in my arms and break their fall. I hurry back inside, and resume my role as the aircraft carrier captain, navigating through ice berg laden seas, peeking out windows, filling the ice chest anew, and thinking to myself that tomorrow will be a cupcake day, if we all survive. 

The second day ends, the workers are safe, and I lie in bed unable to rest nor relax, as I know that tomorrow will begin again soon, and I must be ready to stand at my post, to encourage, to comfort, and to clean up.

The yard is littered with empty water bottles, crumpled tar paper, shattered shingles and the glittery dust of new and show off shingles.


A disease reserved for the elderly. I am old. I have a severe case of the SHINGLES, and I am unable to rest. This, I tell myself, is a moment of extreme vigilance. I will not abandon my post. I will not rest until it is over. I will buy cupcakes, brownies, an assortment of pastries until the walkers have reached the end of their rope, or me, mine.

Day Three. The day begins hot and humid, and it is as if the world has slowed down to match the beat of the sun on the shoulders of the roof walkers. They take more frequent breaks. They lie under the shade of the redbud tree in the front yard. Guzzling water and the cupcakes. 

The Red Cross symbol emblazoned across my forehead somehow reassures them that they are in safe hands. Ha! I do not feel safe. I feel trapped amid the dust and debris as a song plays over and over in my head...

My house USED to be a very very fine house....Please please please make it be so again.

The day ends on a crazed impassioned

plea...questions. They have questions. It is too hot to finish. Parts of the roof are exposed to the elements. The ginormous skiff in the driveway must stay or be moved to the street. They search my face hoping for answers.

I have NONE.

So I resort to underhanded Mother-Like tactics.

I say.

If I were YOUR mother, what would you tell me to do. 


Respectful silence. Then agreement. Leave it. Leave it all until tomorrow.

So I do.


Until 2 AM, when I walk the perimeter, fully expecting the skiff to loose its bonds to earth and hurtle out of control into the street. I look up to the heavens, to the stars twinkling overhead, and I offer up a prayer. Please...please NEVER MAKE ME DO THIS AGAIN.

I am not worthy. Worthy of all of this responsibility.

I toss and turn and avoid sleep until the roar of the generator echoes through our bedroom and lurches me awake. 

Day Four. The Heat is intense. The roof walkers rev their engines anew, scale their ladders, and begin their tight wire tiptoe across the peak of the roof. I am shattered and shuttered, huddled like a Peeping Tom, forever ready at the window, ice bucket in hand, sugary treats at the ready. But I am fading. Fading fast. 

Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang as hammer hits nail. One poor soul perched on the peak, pulls shingle sheets from the pack, then scoots them down the slip and slide tar paper.

Bang Bang Bang

I am antsy and nervous and anxious, but a venture out of doors is dangerous. I DO not walk under ladders, and there are ladders EVERYWHERE. It is raining shingle leftovers, slivers of sliced shingles flying fast and furiously. Shingle dust lands on my shoulders. This is not the dust of fairies and elves and magical kingdoms.

I lay my palm across my forehead. I have SHINGLE FEVER. I am hot and sweaty and overly excited and this is not some erotic tale.

I know what this IS.

This, this panorama inside, outside and around my castle moat, is the very definition of BACK BREAKING WORK. Laudable, commendable, praiseworthy, honorable, decent, tear down and rebuild, WORK.

Backbreaking, leg aching, sweat soaking, muscle making, full out labor.

I have two children. I can IDENTIFY.

But there is no way I am climbing up the ladder, dancing across the roof, shingle laden, to prove a point.

All I can see from my vantage point, straight and solid, feet firmly planted on terra firma, is a red ball cap on the head of a man, pirouetting on the roof line. He moves back and forth in a dream like trance, to and fro, with no visible sign of concern. 

I am reminded of the movie I watched the previous evening...The Walk. The truer than true tale of Philipe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Towers in 1974. Watch it if you dare. I have to pause and freeze frame, when he reaches the apex of the walk, lies down on the wire, and rests, oblivious to anyone and anything surrounding him. I, am terrified of heights, but am an admirer of those who are able to block out their fears, and focus on the job at hand.

My house, my home, is awash with Wire Walkers. 

And I, I am in awe.

Amazed that there are those who choose this profession. Awed by their courage, their endurance, and their refusal to be overwhelmed by the elements.

I, cocooned inside my AC cooled house, am stunned by their fortitude. Honored by their presence.

I buy more cookies and cakes. I fill the coolers with ice. I prowl the exteriors, and do all that I can to support their journey to the top of Everest.

But to be honest, I am SO OVER IT.

And SO ARE THEY. As the day comes to a close, they rake and sweep and blow away the dust. They gather the fallen mess, load up the skiff and are anxious to be on their way. As am I. But first, I must give them my thanks. For doing a job my resume does not cover. I thank them with gratitude, and some dollars for their pocket, but as they depart, I clasp their hands with such sincerity and kindness, we somehow connect one person at a time. 

The sunset looms, the trucks are loaded and the crew waves good-bye. I am sure they are as weary of me, their hovering med-act soloist, as I am of them, my wire walking dancers.

The very next night, severe storms crowd into view, and I stand on my porch whispering words of comfort to my new roof. I tell it quietly and secretly, in roof walking sign language…BE NOT AFRAID.

Sure enough, when the sun rises, the roof is washed clean. The air is fresh and the light glistens on the leftover shingle dust. 

What is old becomes new again.   

That is until 7AM when the generator for the painter roars to life, and a new day begins. 

Power Washing.

Pray for me.

Pray even harder. The guttural cry you are about to hear, is me screaming into a pillow. The Gutter Man is here to tear off the old gutters. There are six ladders leaning against the house, and two Super Mario Brothers leaping from one level to the other in an attempt to out generate the other.
Time For Tequila. Raise your glass and repeat after me…
NEVER EVER ever ever ever ever…fade to black. 

The End.

Post Script:

The gutters have been removed. 
The painter just started.  
The weather forecast for the next 5 days…
steady flooding rain.

And I am out of tequila.

Pray for me.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

You Have the Right Stuff

Channel surfing, as a means of a temporary escape from the screeching headlines and daily influx of bad bad terrible awful news, I stumbled upon a movie classic, one I had not revisited in over twenty years.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff, the movie, was adapted from Tom Wolfe’s book of the same name and directed by Phillip Kaufman.

The story follows the selection, training, and participation of seven test pilots, selected for Project Mercury, our first manned spaceflights. The film was released in 1983, some twenty-two years after Alan Shepard manned the first mission that lasted 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes, when I was not yet fifteen myself, but I remember as though it was yesterday. If you were born less than fifty some years ago, you will carry no mind memory of the event. Even some of us my age, missed the events that led up to the actual launch. From the beginning of the space race in 1957 through the three orbit knuckle biting ride through the skies at 17,000 mph by John Glenn in February of 1962, the trajectory into the universe, before unreachable, accelerated at a frantic pace. 

This amazing mind memory of mine, and perhaps yours, is as distant to our children and grandchildren, as the stars. We can share our memories with them, but we can never adequately retell the story, without the embellishments of lore. Our stories passed down through time are so preciously personal. There are those seconds, minutes, hours and days of being completely present and engaged. Parked in front of our black and white TV screen, my family huddled together mimicking the countdown, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1....

Liftoff. We have Liftoff.

We were not alone in those moments. The roar of the Red Stone rockets firing, the gantry falling back and away, the hovering few seconds when nothing moved, no one stirred, was perhaps a solitary moment in history when the entire world held its breath, not out of fear, but of a rare unified hope that all would be well. 

The late 1950’s and the early 60’s are spaces in time that our children love to mock as Vintage and Retro. Our clothes, our cars, our politics, our homes, all elicit laughter and guffaws. Crew cuts, bouffant hairdos, tail fins, leisure suits, shirtwaists and pearls.

It is impossible to recreate the pace of those years. How everything changed so fast it was difficult to keep up. What was In was Out. What was Out was In. What was most surely IN was the age of the media. The golden age of television. The nightly news. The days of large cities with not one but three major newspapers, and three television networks on the scene reporting. Live broadcasts with no time for editing or changing the narrative. 

Live. Right Now. Right this minute. Right in front of our eyes, with no one to pontificate, or change the narrative. Because we were there. We were ALL there. In the moment. Witnesses to...

The Right Stuff

What began as a race to the heavens, between the United States and Soviet Russia, turned the world upside down. In school we ducked and covered, under ours desks, in fear of the arrival of a nuclear winter.

One technology to destroy. Another to build.

Somehow the world chose the latter. The world chose Humanity, Courage, the Desire to Go Beyond, to Dream, not for cataclysmic catastrophe, but for the pure joy of a joint human endeavor. 

I remember watching the nightly news as John Glenn circled the earth. There were glimpses into every corner of the earth, crowds huddled outside shops and stores with a TV in the window, whispering, wondering, praying, then glancing up to the sky, on the chance that they might see the space capsule hurdling by.

The Right Stuff

As we so often do, me included, we disregard history or dismiss the past out of hand. Or more dishearteningly, we mold our history into the formula that fits our beliefs. People do tell stories. No one knows that better than I.

The Right Stuff, the book and the movie, tell a good story, but for those of us who were there, who waited and watched, it is a story worth retelling. Again and again and again.

The sky is no longer the limit.

Anything and everything is possible.

Take a day off from the headlines.

Stargaze and revel in the wonder of your place in the universe. Then reach out a hand to anyone and everyone willing to dream, to create and to DO the seemingly impossible. 

                           Shoot For the Moon

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