Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter
ozma914

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next week's column: My Life in the Gutter

Emily and I are feeling better, after first she and then I had a rough few days. I've noticed that when a bug is going around I'm usually one of the last to get it, but it seems to effect me worst. Maybe I'd be better off being the first to get it! As a result of being ill (did I miss anything?) I pulled out a backup column I wrote in November -- which makes it a bit out of season.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


On the one hand, I don’t want witnesses when I’m attempting home maintenance, because I don’t like being made fun of. (Yes, I then write about what happened, but it’s less painful to make fun of yourself.)

On the other hand, it’s good to have someone around to dial 911.

Usually I compromise by positioning someone in a nearby room. “Okay, kids: If you hear cursing or general yelling, ignore it. But if you hear screams or the lights flicker, bring the phone and first aid kit.”

The rules change with outside work, where I can’t hide from someone witnessing my stunning ability to take the “improvement” out of home improvement. Not to mention, these days everyone has a cell phone with a camera. I can only hope they dial 911 first, and snap photos second.

One time I tried doing outside chores in the middle of the night, but that didn’t work out well at all.

So, on a Sunday (so the bank across the street would be free of observers), I slipped a cell phone into my pocket and slipped myself outside. Since I would be climbing a ladder, chances were good that my precaution would lead to an operation to remove an impaled cell phone from my hip.

(This story happened last autumn, by the way – I’d rather not use the term “fall”.)

But the ladder came later – best to work my way up, both literally and figuratively. First I needed to put the covering over the air conditioner, and plastic over some windows.

Whoever makes air conditioner covers has never had to actually use one.

Both the ones I’ve purchased had little elastic cords on them that are apparently designed to secure them for an entire winter. Have they never heard of “wind”? That’s why my first air conditioner cover caused a nationwide alert when it ended up plastered across the windscreen of a 747 at 40,000 feet.

What you need is duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape.

If they’d had a few roles of duct tape on the Titanic, that iceberg would have been a minor inconvenience.

I could have just wrapped the entire air conditioner in duct tape, but that would be tacky, not to mention I’d eventually want to get it off again. Instead I used, oh, three hundred feet or so, just to make sure it was secure. No UFO report will be generated from that piece of plastic.

Speaking of plastic, I then put some on windows around the house, especially the single pane ones looking into the basement. Who would want to look into my basement is beyond me. Cultural anthropologists?

The main target was a larger window, which has a broken pane, by the basement stairs. I don’t have the money to replace the glass or to pay my heating bill, but by covering it with a sheet of thin plastic I can effectively spend the winter pretending I didn’t shatter it while shoveling chunks of ice from my driveway last winter.

This completed, I broke out the ladder – “broke” being a word used quite often in these tales. Unlike most tools, I’m fairly good with ladders, having used them in the past to climb onto burning buildings. (Way safer than home maintenance.) However, fire ladders are heavy duty, well maintained devices made under exacting standards and specifications. My home ladder, built in Outer Mongolia by a team of eight year olds, was on clearance at Wal-Mart.

I had a few high reaching tasks, including cleaning the gutters, checking the condition of my TV antenna, and trying to find out why my kitchen ceiling is leaking again – a list that, now that I think of it, is in reverse priority. What do I care if my gutters are clear? The Appalachians can be up there, for all I know.

On reaching the flat portion of my roof, I saw a nice layer of shingles. Unfortunately, that area is rubberized roofing – there aren’t supposed to be any shingles. They’d joined sticks, leaves and assorted debris to form little dams in a couple of corners, which might have been the cause of the leaks -- although I found out in December that they weren’t.

Ironically, the pitched roof that’s shedding shingles is mostly intact and shows no signs of leaking. This is classic misdirection, but I wasn’t fooled for a second. I cleaned the flat roof off, took some notes, screamed a despairing plea into the ether for a roofer who’ll take reasonable payments, and looked up to see how well the antenna wires were attached to the antenna.

They weren’t.

Well, that explains a lot. My antenna reception would be a whole lot better if I was using an antenna.

How ironic is it that the wires have been just laying there, draped across the roof peak, apparently immune to the worst wind, while nailed down shingles are raining down like … um … rain?

No way was I climbing up on those shingles to mess with the antenna. I’ve got books. So, having accomplished pretty much nothing, I moved the ladder around to the south side of the house to clean the gutters.

Those gutters are 25 feet in the air.

My ladder is 20 feet long.

Picture me standing on the top rung, holding onto an overhang that required me to lean outward, while reaching over my head to pull various black gunk out of the gutter and toss it at passing cats. I mean, to the ground. This is why I don’t clean those gutters often.

In fact, I felt like a farmer taking in a harvest. It turns out very old leaves make a
wonderful compost, so my roof had become host to grasses, weeds, tree seedlings, a raspberry bush, and a small group of chickens that I left alone because we need the eggs.

Half a dozen times I climbed down, moved the ladder, climbed back up again, and then perched as precariously as any movie action hero, except without the dramatic music. With one trip remaining I climbed down again, grabbed the rope to lower the ladder, and was left standing there while the ladder extension clattered down and the broken rope draped itself over me.

So I called it a day. If that’s not a message, I don’t know what is.

What am I going to do about my roof? I dunno.

But I’m not doing it with any of my tools.
Tags: column, new era, slightly off the mark
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