Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Roof Over Your Head

The value of a roof – the literal structure above your head – is something I constantly feel. I grew up in a world where every day I saw countless people without this one basic necessity and it made me appreciate how much a home meant to a family.

A little over a year ago, my partner and I finally made our move and became homeowners for the first time, leaving behind the apartment life. With it has come the stark realization that everything to do with the home falls on our shoulders – the garbage? No, the porter won’t separate and drag it out for you any longer. The furnace sounds funny? You’d better call a heating company because you certainly don’t have any idea what to do with that block of gurgling, churning, fiery metal. The carbon-monoxodie alarm went off and we called 911? That was a fun evening.

Still, it has been a good year, all things considered. The house was well-kept and we’ve managed to keep it going with barely any work, along with a little bit of help from relatives. My nephew has been particularly helpful, building and installing railings, putting up our many wall-hangings, fixing the plumbing, and so forth. Of course, I have paid forward with the only currency I have to exchange – money.

The thing is, I’d love to take value and pleasure in home improvement work, particularly the relatively simple stuff – fixing everyday things here and there, but I don’t enjoy it at all. Everything feels like a chore. But the thing about owning a house – it comes with a sense of pride, and man that pride can push past a lot of things to make you do things.

When you see a gutter askew, you want to climb up two stories and hang from the rafters, an electric drill in one hand, correcting the angle. Walking up to bed at 1am after a night of code and there are a  couple of left-over dishes in the sink? Well, it’ll just take a minute to clean them up, won’t it? The cat spilled a bit of his food over the kitchen floor while eating? Let’s just sweep it up before we head out.

But the big stuff? I have no idea how to deal with it.

And lately, we’ve had the weight of the house on our heads. Quite literally. When we bought the house, we knew we had to fix the roof – it was accounted for in the price of the house and we were prepared, but expected to have some time before it became necessary. What we didn’t anticipate was the amazing winter we’ve had, with weeks of ice and snow packing in layers on the roof, water freezing between shingles, and the constant worry of snapping beams and collapsing wood crashing through the floors to impale my little son while he slept.

So, when the weather paused for a week in New York, we contracted and sneaked in an entire roof repair in a single day. It was quite a thing to watch, a small army of people scrambling up and down ladders, pieces of roof falling all around the house along curtains that veiled the building like a shy bride. It also made me appreciate the physical work these guys did, since it wasn’t exactly a balmy day – barely above the freezing mark, and a low but constant wind that chilled what the sun tried to warm.

At last, the work finished, the cleanup made it seem like nothing had happened, only the different colored tiles above the house hinted at any change at all.

Well, that and the hole in the living room by the skylight, but let’s ignore that for now.

The warranty says thirty years.

Thirty years.

When I got married, I knew it was a long-term commitment. My son was born and that felt pretty damned permanent. After signing up for life-insurance, the weight of years and the consequence of very long-term planning settled on my shoulders like a heavy cloak. But it wasn’t until I got a 30 year warranty for my roof that I really got a sense of what owning a house means, how it feels in one’s bones.

Because until now, everything felt transient, like it could change, I knew it would be hard, but we could still move if really necessary. We were putting down roots for over a year, but it didn’t feel like it. The house still felt like a large apartment, still as easy to move out of as a co-op, but now?

Now, I can feel the grip of stones under my feet, the moisture feeding the branches, the sun on my shoulders, the security of a sound roof for my family. And my roots are clutching back at the bedrock and digging in. Maybe it took a major construction but goddamn if it doesn’t feel like this is my own little plot of the world. It’s our home.

Time to roll up the sleeves.

Sunday Interrupted

A few minute ago, two handsome young men in well-tailored suits knocked on my door, clutching beautiful leather-bound books in manicured fingers. Under the guise of doing volunteer work they asked if I thought religion had any role to play in our world. I shook my head and began closing the door, “I don’t think so. Thank you.”

“Why not?” The young man asked.

An old instinct kept my hand. Politeness – an instinct that compels one to invite a guest in, offer tea, and ask after their family. I paused. “I grew up very religious and didn’t find any value that it brought to my life. Now, I’m quite busy, thank you.” I reached behind me for the doorknob again.

“What turned you off?”

Rehearsed questions. I could picture them in a room somewhere, role-playing these encounters. Talking past the objections with specific questions inspired to keep the person talking long enough that they can get a pitch in, or even a step into the door. It wouldn’t really matter what I might say in reply to the questions, but some ideas came to mind.

I might have mentioned my absolute hatred for the institution of prayer – that cornerstone of the faithful – and my disgust with the belief of any sort of interventionist divinity. On a more material note, I might have gone into the corruption of religious orders, the manipulation of texts to fit trending political ideologies, the institutional racism, sexism, and the hatred of sexuality; not to mention the role religion has played over and over in global conflict. To put a cap on the shit-mountain, I might have mentioned the offensive act of evangelism itself.

For a second, I even considered inviting this person in to actually fight it out, but nothing depresses me more than atheists and theists talk past each other for hours accomplishing nothing, and I didn’t want to include myself among that doomed population. I’ve managed so far in life to be content with my own lack of belief seeking to inspire no-one else and I think that might be the best way to live.

So, I laughed, shook my head at the arrogance of this man who assumed I might discuss such intimate topics with a stranger and told him that I didn’t need to talk about this right now, bid them both a good night, and finally, shut the door.

And then I winced, because I didn’t offer them a cup of tea. If only they had wanted to discuss relief work in Africa, environmental preservation, increase government oversight of corporations, removing outsider funding of political campaigns, or, hell, game theory, the current console war, the slew of Oscar nominated films, the new M83 album, Game of Thrones theories, True Detective, Batman, anything but my personal belief about God, I wouldn’t have hesitated in inviting them in.