...just as it did when we first moved in 19 years ago, and in precisely the same place--inside the second-floor laundry room, below the gorge formed by two roof peaks, both pitched too steeply for any gutter to hold the runoff from a hard rain. It's not as bad now--a foil turkey pan will suffice, instead of a gallon bucket. But there 's something about a leaking roof that goes beyond depressing. It's a tangible sign of vulnerability. The very concept of a home is summed up as "a roof over one's head," even the walls taking lesser priority. And it comes just as the first cold has begun to penetrate (effortlessly, of course) our big, drafty, leaky, only-partly-insulated wooden house.
Not that I'm not grateful to the roof--it has outlasted its predicted lifespan by more than a decade. It's the third layer, laid down over the first two (cheaper than a tear-off), by a crew of half-wits who came in with the lowest bid in the chaotic first weeks of our occupancy back in 1986. They drove up in a ramshackle truck and tumbled out like circus clowns, bearing buckets of gunk and rickety extension ladders. Incredibly, none of them were killed scrambling up the peaks and valleys, but one of them did managed to fall through an old window, full of ancient pigeon nests, that had been covered by a swath of roofing shingles. We figured this out when we came home from work after the "crew" had already left; the victim had left a spectacular trail of blood and pigeon guano from the attic all through the house. He was fine, we were assured; we then faced the task of cleaning out decades of pigeon droppings from the attic crawlspace. Having ascertained from OSHA that this job bore a substantial risk of contracting ghastly lung fungi, I invested in some dandy Darth-Vader masks and disposable coveralls, and lots of bleach.
One of our Nadirs occurred during the post-roofer-pigeon-guano cleanout, actually. It was a day much like today--dismal, grey, drizzly--and we were skibbling up and down the plank that served for a front steps, a horrifying sight in our respirator masks and work gloves, with black lawn'n'leaf bags full of guano and debris headed curbside. I slipped on a wet leaf and lay like Charlie Brown after Lucy whips away the football, just staring up at the autumn rain, on our plank, a bag of pigeon dung in each hand. There were other Nadirs, but this one was one of the more ludicrously spectacular.
And yet the roof has hung on, even though it appeared to have been installed by a troop of gibbons. Countless other, saner roofers have tried to patch the leaky spot and failed to find it; the area is a sort of free-form sculpture of flashing cement or whatever the stuff is called. Inside, we cut out a foot-square piece of ceiling sheetrock to try to pinpoint the leak. No luck; it trickles through some mysterious capillary action down to the windowsill and plops sadly into its turkey pan. We'll try another roofer when I can stand to think about it. But I think we should patch the ceiling with a piece of acrylic, a sort of glass-bottom-boat in reverse to keep an eye on Bagel if he decides to live indoors again. (His entryway to Squirrel Nirvana between our joists falls right into this vector of leakage; perhaps he feels that a moist environment is good for his fur.)
After this week, this month, what does one do with one's primal bit of misery over a leaking roof, when primal misery of an apocalyptic scale has been visited on New Orleans, and Guatamala, and Pakistan and Kashmir? Maybe I should be cheerfully counting my blessings instead of the drips in the foil turkey pan. Maybe just allow myself a tiny filament of fellowship, a thought sent out to someone else mopping up somewhere, feeling exposed to the mercy of some other piece of sky. Just one person, somewhere--here's hoping you find a roof over your head soon.