Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Day the Roof Fell Off

            In the seventies, when I was  regularly  underestimating roof jobs and paying myself  poorly or not at all,  it occurred to me that I could help the cash flow by writing  instructive articles   about things  I knew  from hard experience.  After all, writing should be the one thing I ought to be able to make a little money at;  I have Master of Fine  Arts in Creative writing.    I mean......I actually taught the course at Cornell called "Writing from Experience."  Give me a frigging break.
   So I wrote  about building a rough-sawed  camp lodge for my brother on an Adirondack lake Island       Mother Earth News bought the story, flew my brother up from Kentucky with his grand daughter, and sent a team  to  photograph us in Ithaca, then    edited, and published "Rough Home Building" as the cover story of her twenty-fifth anniversary issue. 
   See me and my brother Herb,  photo-shopped onto a snapshot of my mother and sister on the porch  of the   Round Island camp.  

 But then,  I open the mag and....... Yikes! Mother had fucked with the story! 
 She had removed the part about a dramatic little accident, that shouldn't be forgotten if I am ever going to learn anything in this life, and anyway, literary justice demands that it be restored.

     The Round Island is round around and round over the top, lumpy with bedrock    right at the surface or just a foot or two under the pine duff. 
 We had  dragged stone  on log rails from the talus slope behind the site, and laid up three rows of three stone piers from the bedrock, to support three cobbled beams to carry the building.

The unfortunate event came when we had   had the second floor walls up.
            we nailed up twelve foot post  at each end of the building and one in the middle supporting   against which we nailed one by six board running on edge 
       The generator was running and  my niece   Liz Sticker was making the plumb cuts on a chop saw outside.    Jon Morse was  cutting the bird's mouths to fit over the top plate of the wall, and then  and handing the finished rafters  up to David Morgan , who served them to me. I was up on the tall step ladder, head and shoulders above the ridge board, on which I  had marked X's  where I would nail each, plumb-cut rafter head. 
 It was fine up there above the ridge board, as if I were much  higher even.
          I nailed  through the ridge board into the plumb face, as David Morgan toe-nailed at the bird's mouth. on              
      We had half a dozen rafters up on the West side and more than that on the East.  We were moving right along.   Woopie!  Rocking and Rolling, as we say.  But, I had  fallen behind in adding collar ties to truss up the rafters.
         We   had six or eight pairs up, and a few more on the East......whenn the nails began to squeal and  rafters to slide.
         David Morgan came up between rafters,  or rather the rafters came down around instead of on  him;  Jon Morse knew it was going to happen anyway, or least that is what he told me when I ran into him at Cayuga Lumber last week,  said he  had  run out from below when he heard the first squealing of nails,  and Liz was safe at the saw.
        I was there standing on the step ladder untlouched,  still, and above it all, like somebody totally out of the body on the operating table where something awful is happening.
    in my head, it was so quiet I could have heard ashes drop.      

I don't know how long before  I came down the ladder .  Quite likely someone had to call my name.   I don't remember a thing anybody said.  Maybe nothing was said.    It was clear enough what we had to do.
    Not ALL the rafters had fallen: maybe only  a dozen; and only three or four were hopelessly shattered.   
  We started denailing the  usable rafters,  and cutting new ones;   and by quitting time we were back where we had been just before the avalanche,  but with good collar ties on every set of rafters.
    The next day we got the rafters all up and were ready  to start the roof sheathing.
     Framing is  the   exciting part of building, the basic shape of what's to come is formed so fast.  If you framed it, the sturcture is often more beautiful in its bones than it ever will be again.
     When the framers have arrived at the highest point of the building they traditionally   tie a small tree or branch to that highest point.     
    The day the roof fell, we forgot to do that.

  what that moment at the top of the ladder keeps bringing to mind another incident,  years ago in Ithaca.
  I was driving  behind a guy who was riding a on a bicycle on Stewart Ave.  He hit a brick or someting that sent him and his bike flying .  His bike landed on its side, and he landed on his feet....running.
     He kept running and was still running when I passed him. 
            I often wonder, what happened to that guy.  Did he just keep on running?
        But the thing I need to remember, is to keep the diagonal bracing up to date; bang on those collar ties as I go.  And I don't do much of that anymore, so I guess that's why I'am telling you.


Friday, July 6, 2012

My Pal the Dalai Lama

       Dalai Lama Makes Surprise Landing,  with Another  Flash Festival of Peace and Music

The Ithaca Festival, the Grass Roots Festival, The Patchy Valley Fog Festival, and well advertised events like that are fine, but my buddy the Dali Lama    comes unannounced, though not always by air and sometimes drops in just to have breakfast with Gene Toby, whose son used to work for me  and designed the main North American Tibetan  monastary on the hill opposite Cornell.  

      The Dali told Gene at breakfast one day that one thing he often missed in the West, was being where chickens wander in and out of the conversation.    
   So Gene brought the Dali to my place the next time, and it is almost a regular thing now.....if three times in five years is a regular thing. 
       We drink mint tea, and sit in my yard jabbering  with the chickens.

       It's weird how the flies love that guy.  He suffers them mostly like little children and if they get too crazy  he shoos them away like they were puppies.
           One time there was a fly that wouldn't shoo and DID want a piece of his nose. 
Would you believe he ATE that fly!?  Put out his tongue....the fly lit on it.....and was gone.
        Nothing left but that Cheshire cat grin.     
         And then he says his doctors told him that, because of his personal health situation, he needs to either eat nails or have some meat in his diet. 
   'I try to keep a balance, "  he says.  "One nail, one fly."

      I'll tell you one thing: he's a nut.... but he fucking cracks me up!