Woke up this morning to the drumming sounds of rain on the skylight, lingered a moment in bed enjoying it, and in its usual convoluted meanderings, my brain dredged up my old neighbor Mike and his tin rooflet.
Mike owned the house across the street from the one I rented when I first came to glassland, and a few days after I moved in he’d come over, shyly, warily, to welcome me to the neighborhood. I asked him in; he declined but seemed happy to sit on the retaining wall, back of my driveway, and chat. He spent the first minutes eyeing me as if I were coming out in purple spots, but when I brought out cold sodas he broke into a wide grin.
“Well, at least YOU don’t have a stick up your ass,” he laughed.
“You can’t imagine how happy I am to hear this,” I said dryly, and the grin grew wider.
“The people who own this place, jeeeeeeeee-sus,” he sighed, “We move in, I come over to say hello and the woman grabs her kids and runs inside like the sky is falling. Slams the damn door right in my face. Can you believe that?”
Actually, I could. In the way of many gentle men, Mike looked scary as hell.
About 6 foot 5, massively shouldered and prison-pallor white, his dreadlocks cascaded past his shoulders and merged with a ZZ-Top beard. He’d walked up my drive in biker boots and leathers, patched jeans and a wifebeater tee underneath the scuffed black leather jacket. A tattooed skull leered from his collarbone and the ear not covered by his red bandanna headwrap sported three gold rings. He parked his Harley on the front porch every night, and the entire neighborhood could hear him jet off to work in the morning.
Not exactly what you’d expect from a senior development lead for a major software company who was also a noted author of highly technical books on database development, but then software developers like Mike are rarely conventional. And his wife Leann, to whom he was deeply devoted (and who obviously returned his love), added spice. A petite corporate attorney, she drove to work in a pinstripe suit and late-model BMW. She played lady to Mike’s knight on weekend biker club excursions, but in designer jeans.
Misfit recognized misfit. I fused glass tile for their remodeling efforts; Mike obligingly hauled over his plasma cutter and resized my 8-foot steel canopy bed when it turned out that the bedroom ceiling was 7 foot 6. I invited them over for my famous sweet-and-sour chicken; Mike and Leann had me in for BBQ starring the benefits of a deep sea fishing expedition.
We’d sit on my driveway wall, watching the view down the hill and talking politics, the woes of a topnotch database strategist and how Leann and I were adjusting to life on a cubicle farm. Sometimes Mike would let out a whoop, scoop his wife off the fence and stage an impromptu square dance while the neighborhood kids watched with big, round eyes.
Mostly though, we chronicled the adventures of Mike and Leann’s home. Joe, the previous owner, liked to build campfires in the living room (apparently using the living room fireplace was far too conventional for his tastes). Neighbors had called the fire department as the flames started licking the roof. Disgusted at this official interference in his personal life, Joe put the house up for sale.
“Well, that was part of it,” admitted Mike, “But it was more because he hadn’t paid the mortgage in six months and the bank wanted its house back.”
Mike and Leann got a great deal on the house—burned out living room and all—and set to work on the renovations. First order of the day was getting Joe’s airplane out of the basement.
Aviation had been Joe’s fervent passion and one night he’d decided to build an airplane in his basement workshop. Great idea, but by the time he realized that the basement door was a heckuva lot narrower than the plane, it was too late. So there it stayed. Joe occasionally slept in the cockpit of the plane that would never fly, neighbors said, but that was OK; he didn’t have a pilot’s license anyway. “I hated to see that plane go,” said Mike. “But you’ve got to admit, we’ve got a lot more room down there now,” Leann reminded him.
Their biggest project to date, though, had been replacing the tin(nish) roof. “Joe liked tin roofs because you could really hear the rain on them,” Mike explained, “and he went up on the roof, all by himself, and started tearing off the shingles, the underlayment, the whole thing. Then he covered the whole roof with tin.”
Apparently Joe classified any thin sheet of silvery metal as “tin,” and so the roof contained a lot of different metals from the scrap yard—zinc, galvanized steel, aluminum, chrome—and even a flattened tin can or two. “It didn’t leak,” Mike admitted, “but when it rained you couldn’t hear yourself think.” He and a couple of buddies spent several weekends pulling the metal off the roof and covering everything with a tarp, then had a crew in to attach conventional asphalt shingles.
We laughed about the patchwork metal roof but Leann looked wistful. “I don’t know,” she mused, “It had to come off but I kinda liked lying in bed at night and listening to the rain on that roof. It was like listening to a xylophone.”
Next week, I was hauling in groceries when I heard a shout. There was Mike, up on his roof. “Come look,” he beamed. I climbed the ladder to find a few shingles in Mike’s roof torn out and a small patch of copper and steel and tin in its place. “It’s a surprise for Leann; it’s right over our bed. Do you think she’ll like it?”
Right after Thanksgiving Leann’s company transferred her to China and she and Mike talked a farmer into renting them a small farm cottage outside Shanghai. They sold the now-renovated house to a sedately conventional couple in their twenties who never, ever square-danced in my driveway.
I wonder if they replaced that little metal rooflet over the bedroom ceiling.