I need a new back-up plan (Originally published 6/1/07)

I need a new back-up plan. Not for my data: In that case I would have spelled it "backup". No, I need a new back-up plan for my life. For years, whenever I have found myself on a "death march" project, and the stresses of work have pushed me to the edge, I have fallen back on a very simple little phrase to lift my spirits. "I could always be a roofer."

As it turns out; no… no I could not be a roofer. I know now that I wouldn’t last a day; and if somehow I did, I’d be dead by the end of the week.

On Tuesday, the roofers came to do the house. I decided a while back to take advantage of having a dumpster there and do my garage at the same time that the professionals would be doing the house. It would give me an easy way to dispose of the old roofing, and an excuse to be outside all day so I could make sure that all the proper materials were being used in all the proper places. No-one wants to pay for fiberglass-reinforced underlayment and wind up with 15 lb. felt instead. Not that the installers would intentionally rip you off, but when the guy with the truck that drops off your stuff is missing some of it, and has the wrong colors of other items, you really ought to check the rest of the load. If I had paid for 15 lb. felt, then that would be fine, but the shingle manufacturer requires you to use a certain kind of underlayment (which they just so happen to manufacture) in order to qualify for their warranty. This specific underlayment, by the way, was one of the items missing from the aforementioned delivery truck, resulting in the job coordinator having to drive around town scraping together three rolls of the stuff from various stores so that the job could continue, and I’d get to keep my shingle warranty.

So while the pros were setting up 30′ extension ladders, I was setting up my 10′ a-frame. How hard could it be? The detached garage is only 16’x22′, the pitch is maybe 15 degrees at the most, and I did a garage roof much larger than this with my dad back in high school. What could go wrong? Well for starters, I think the 2007 Mel is about double the mass of the 1988 Mel, a little stick-figure of a boy by comparison. Secondly, the garage I did with my dad was a new roof with nothing to tear off. Tearing off is precisely all that I accomplished over the course of an entire day in which the pros tore off and reinstalled the whole house, with the exception of a small trim section that had to wait until the next day. My progress was slow, even after one of the pros loaned me a vicious looking shovel/pry-bar/spikey thing that reminded me of a lirpa from the Star Trek episode "Amok Time"… you know the one I’m talking about.

(Note: I didn’t actually know the name of the Star Trek weapon… I had to look it up. I’m not that much of a geek)

Also, I found out that there’s a very good reason that the roofers show up at your house at 7:30 in the freaking morning. Once the sun gets high in the sky, not only does it become heat-stroke-inducingly hot up there on the roof, but the shingles become gooey, sloppy, floppy, and generally damn-near impossible to remove. In retrospect, after tearing off the first half of the roof in a pretty decent amount of time, I probably shouldn’t have taken a "break" to go buy the materials for putting the roof back on. The second half of the roof was your basic living hell to remove. Everything turned to glue, and the nails were no longer simply coming along for the ride with the shingles. For the rest of the day I played hide and seek with the sun, climbing up on the roof to scrape off some more liquid shingles whenever the clouds rolled in, and then dashing back inside the house when the sun came back out.

I managed to get the tar paper down (15 lb felt: after all, it’s the garage) before the sun disappeared on me for good, but not a single shingle. So that became my project for the rest of the week. Fortunately, putting shingles on is a lot faster than taking them off. Oh, and while I’m on that subject, I’ve seen some commercials for local roofing companies boasting about how every shingle they install is hand-nailed like it’s some point of pride for them. Why would nails installed individually by the hands of a precariously balanced, sweaty, heat-stroked dude be better then the extremely consistent results of a nail gun? My father was quite the woodworker, and told me to use a nail gun whenever possible because you don’t want to be repeatedly shocking and stressing your project. One good focused shot is better than several clumsy unfocused hits. Hand-nailed shingles? No thank you. Any miss with the hammer results in a bruised and damaged section of the materials that are supposed to protect my home for the next 30 years. Of course, I hand-nailed the garage because I don’t happen to HAVE a nail gun, or indeed the air-compressor required to run it, and I’m perfectly happy to save that money and spend it on something that I’ll have a future use for. Nail guns are very specific to particular ranges and sizes of nails. It’s not like I could buy a roofing nailer, and then use it to build cabinetry. They’re different animals.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more full days to devote to the installation phase, and the weather man kept saying we were about to have a monsoon, so I was up on the garage roof until 11:30 on Wednesday getting as much of the roof covered as I could before the rain hit… which of course it didn’t. I had to finish the roof on Thursday, the day that it was supposed to rain like crazy… and still didn’t.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have the curious ability to manipulate Murphy’s law. For instance, when we’re waiting for a movie and it’s just not starting on time, I’ll pull out the phone and start up a game of Tetris. Before I’ve cleared the first row, the lights go down. I never realized I have this power over the weather, though. So I guess tonight I should wash the car so that it will finally rain, and make my last three days of living hell worthwhile. The bright upside of this whole thing is that I’ll never ever have to do it again. Not because the shingles are going to last forever, but because I’ll be in my 60’s when they finally wear out, and somehow I don’t think I’m going to volunteer for the job again at that point.

So, in conclusion. I need to think of something else to keep in my mind as the fall-back plan if this business ever does finally drive me over the edge. I’m thinking I could drive a garbage truck. Especially now that they have those kick-ass robotic arms that do the heavy lifting while you ride in air-conditioned comfort. It’s as close to driving a battle mech as any of us are likely to get anytime soon. Sure it’s not a glamorous job, but the massive robotic claw more than makes up for it, I think. And the odds of repeatedly smashing my fingers with a hammer would be greatly reduced.

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