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Once Up On a Roof

13 Jul

On July 8th 2000 a thunderstorm moved through our neighborhood with wind rain and hail. Normally hail is a very local and very brief phenomenon-30 seconds or a minute is typical. In this storm it hailed constantly for 30 minutes. You read that correctly, 30 minutes! Thankfully it wasn’t baseball size but it did plenty of damage to houses cars and outside brick- a- brac. In the aftermath everyone in our neighborhood got a new roof . Within hours of the end of the storm roofing company representatives descended upon our neighborhood going door to door offering to negotiate with insurance companies and take care of all the work. None of them were local. They were  storm chasers.

One of my neighbors who had lots of friends decided he would replace his own roof. The insurance company would pay him the estimated replacement cost if he would agree to have the roof inspected upon completion. The math was pretty simple. The insurance company would pay $8,000 (these are small roofs) and he would have about $2,000 of expenses. We instantly formed a co-op among several neighbors. I had never done roofing before but I leapt at the chance of a $6000 payday.

Meanwhile work crews began showing up around the neighborhood. A swarm of 10 to as many as 20 men would strip the roof in a matter of hours. There were no English speakers on those crews. It turns out that many were from Central America. Somehow they had obtained temporary work visas. (really?) It wasn’t uncommon to see station wagons or vans parked at the work site with women tending to one or more young children. These guest workers were functionally homeless. But why not. They moved like locust from one storm ravaged area to the next and wanted to save every dime possible of the roughly $100/day they were making (based on $10/hr over a 10 hr day). I don’t think that many even made that much. It was hard to learn to much about them as it was unusual to find an English speaker among them. After the swarm finished stripping the roof another smaller crew arrived to do the install. This crew often had some white guys – owners it turns out. We later learned that the stripping crew work was done by a subcontractor; which is the reason I doubt that any one up on the roof was getting paid $10/hr. But were told that ‘it was the most money they ever made’. I am still uncomfortable with that rationalization.

The economy was very good back in 2000. Economically that seems like such a distant memory now. But young people always need summer jobs especially minorities. There wasn’t much skill involved in the stripping process. Our roofs were low and gently sloped minimizing the danger. I began to wonder why with unemployment among young people so high there weren’t more locals up there. Then we started our work and I figured it out in a hurry. It was brutally hard work. There is no comfortable position to stand sit or kneel. The shingles are so abrasive that you change positions often. On hot sunny days the heat burned you through your clothes and slow roasted your body. I was hard to drink enough water. Beer never tasted so good at the end of a day.  My knees hurt, my hips hurt my back hurt and that was just on the first day. I aggravated some kind of nerve injury that made my hands and arms numb. The professional crews did a roof a day. It took us a week. My roof was the last of the three. The co-operative spirit had waned by then so I had much less help. But my roof was done faster than the others thanks to the learning curve.

It’s twelve years later. The roof still looks good. The shingles I bought supposedly have a 30 yr life. That will make me 80 when it needs to be done again, baring another hail storm. A number of the roofs done by the professional crews have been redone or are in badly in need of redoing. The cheap shingles they used deteriorated quickly. Good luck finding any of those guys. I am a big proponent of DIY but if the opportunity comes again I think I’ll pass. I still wonder about all those young men who toiled at that work 10 hours a day 7 days a week. I hope they have found some other way to support their families.

Toilet Flush Handles on the Left Side – A Sinister Meme?

4 Jul

I don’t know who discovered water but it probably wasn’t fish. I have been servicing toilets for a long time but it was only recently that I realized that the vast majority of tank style toilets flush on the left hand side. It took a right-handed flush to make me realize this. Why? I have been unable to find anything but theories in my surface skimming research.  They are, roughly: tradition (we have always done it that way), and hygiene (in a right-handed world flushing with the left hand keeps germs off of the dominant hand.) If you have better research please leave me a comment.

I would buy the tradition argument if there was more safety involved such as hot water on left, cold water on right, which prevents nasty surprises. The less obvious tradition of the fill line attachment being on the left side of the tank is building industry collaboration. It tells the builder where to place the plumbing without knowing what make and model toilet will ultimately be installed. Placement of the plumbing shut- off is governed by building code. However, there is nothing about the operational pieces of the toilet that require one-sided placement of the flush handle. The fill valve, flush valve and flapper are not affected by handle placement.

The hygiene argument might have ancient origins but those are long past in the western world. If you worry about which hand you flush with you are just one step away from wearing kleenex boxes on your feet.

While there is not an apparent body of law regarding the left hand side flush there is law that can require placement on the right hand side. The ADA (The American’s with Disabilities Act) requires that the flush handle be on the “open” side of a handicapped accessible toilet. This photo is from a bathroom in one of my favorite coffee shops. As a place of commerce subject to the ADA accessibility requirements the handle for this unit must be on the right hand side. Where do we go from here?

The origin of the word sinister is from the latin word meaning “left” (side) which later expanded in middle english to refer to omens observed on the (unlucky) left hand side. (Hey I’m not that smart I looked it up.) This brings all kinds of epistemological considerations into the discussion. Is it possible that the left hand flush is a sinister meme? Discuss.

Man Cave?

2 Jul

Not too long ago I saw an invitation to submit pictures of a mancave to some kind of contest. I don’t recall now. And then there is this show on TV where a bunch of guys show up at your house and convert empty space into a man cave. This is mine. I guess. There’s no big screen TV or mini fridge. In fact this workshop is so small I have to step outside to change a drill bit. But I have repaired and dissected a lot of stuff here. Handyman lives by spare parts so I will often strip parts from stuff that I have had to replace. I’d love to have a big workshop like Norm Abram has on The New Yankee Workshop. But woodworking guys need a big space. I do have a nice, well-lit garage for big projects but I live in cold country so its not available year round.  Still a guy can dream

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