Going With the Flow

night roof 0220
Twinkling lights, a magical rooftop setting . . . what more could you ask for on a Friday night date?

Yesterday was Ben’s last day at Pat’s Screen Printing, and instead of getting all mawkish and maudlin over it, Kara left for a weekend filled with Cat Fest and a whole list of other questionably “fun” plans with her friend Suzanne. Me? I spent the afternoon fussing with a leaky roof. At work, let me hasten to add — not our beautiful new home.

A year after initiating a plan to make Ben a small shareholder in the company, with the notion that his share would grow as mine diminished, me angling toward retirement and he and Kara running the business together, he is leaving. Plans change; that’s fine, but in this instance I’m firmly convinced that it’s Ben’s wife who changed his plans, and her plan for him does not include working at his “dead-end” job (as she thoughtfully put it in writing) at Pat’s.

Eventually they will head to Denver, where I personally don’t expect her to be any happier than she is in Gunnison, but I’ll let them figure that out, and in the meantime Ben is hoping to work on his art, particularly his printmaking. So yesterday was his last day, which he spent wrapping up imparting eight years of institutional knowledge into an eighth day of overlap with his replacement, Vann. (Or, as one visitor called him, “New Ben.”)

Which is probably why I didn’t get much of an answer when I came back from lunch and asked the room at large, “Does it smell musty in here? Damp?” Only James answered, and he wasn’t noticing any unusual. However, half an hour later he was the one who noticed water dripping from the ceiling onto a closet near his desk.

Once we finally started noticing, our notice spread just like water — water that had seeped all over the closet floor, along the back wall and into the bathroom right behind it. Water, water everywhere . . .

I headed for the roof, a place I am spending more and more time these last couple of years. I had already been up there a week or two ago, after trying to store moving boxes that Tia is never going to come get (if she doesn’t take them soon, they’re getting offered to Ben, and failing that, they’re headed to recycling) in the garage that makes up the very back of the Pat’s building and which is still used by our landlord to store all his saddles.

My boxes never made it into the garage, because the roof turned out to be leaking. When I went topside, I found six inches of ice blocking access to the drainpipe, and heaps of snow that had been dumped off the roofs of the building the city, in a really misguided move, allowed to wrap around ours.

Both of those problems have now been resolved. Kara’s husband, who generally does not do rooftop work as part of his snow removal business, went up with a mallet and chunked away at the ice dam until he freed up several feet around the drain, and I fortuitously bumped into Marilyn Sargent, who manages the three-story building that coddles us in its shade, and she very promptly got her roof shovelers back to get the snow off our roof. “Where do we go with it?” they wanted to know. Answer: your problem to figure out, but you do not make your solution part of my problem.

A year ago Kara’s husband had to go up to the roof with his mallet because water was leaking into our storage area, which sits just in front of the garage. Yesterday I went past that roof to the taller one, because now the water is leaking into our customer-service area, not too far from computers and the piece of equipment we just spent money on a month ago.

In our age of New Winter, where it never drops to 20 below, let alone remain there for days on end, this cycle we are not used to — snow, freeze, melt, freeze, repeat — clearly is calling for different rooftop tactics.

In the olden days, like, say, the winter of ’08, we had to shovel the roof off because we were worried about the weight of three feet of snow sitting on the roof. But it was all snow, clear down to the rubber membrane that I’m now realizing may have met the end of its useful life. These days there is a crust of old snow sitting on several inches of ice, under which is free-flowing water, water seeking the fastest way off the roof. On a membrane that either coincides with my arrival in the building in 2003 or predates it, this now turns out to be right through the membrane into the building.

Yesterday most of my tools for dealing with this were gone. Geoff had driven Kara to Denver, and although I took the ice chipper up, stabbing at a failing membrane ultimately struck me as a possible short-term gain at long-term expense, particularly as I eyed a small tear where the aging material has spent 17-ish years stretched over rooftop rivets.

I did manage, with my trusty plastic shovel, to reach two or more inches of standing water, discovering for the first time (despite all my time on the roof) that both edges of this mostly-flat roof roof slope in to the middle, leaving no good way to get all this water off the roof.

So we did what probably every business in Gunnison has done at one time or another (it happened while I was at the newspaper, and again at the building Pat owned): you set out buckets and plastic.

James had suggested trying to siphon the water off, but it took Lynn to come up with the notion of using a garden hose. If you think you know how to party on a Friday, let me just tell you, you are way behind Lynn and me. Toting a garden hose, the splitting maul that I saved despite no plans to split wood (this is why you save things) and the bike helmet I haven’t used this year, we went back for a fun-filled hour on the roof at Pat’s.

The hose was too cold and curled to be of the hoped-for assistance, but the back end of the maul worked well for breaking up the ice dam and, I think, in the glow of my bike light, getting most of the standing water off the immediate trouble spot. Although all I did was funnel it onto the site of last year’s trouble spot, but I’m hoping that will hold until Geoff returns.

I left the hose, hoping the sun will come to my rescue even as it abets my damnation, flattening out the hose while it generates more water to find its way through fissures in the membrane.

My bookcase may never get done, because it’s entirely possible I will spend the afternoon on the roof rather than in the woodshop. Such is the way of life during New Winter.

And such is the way of life at Pat’s, where we gain a lot of water-soaked carpet and drywall but lose a valued, long-time employee. Ben has seemed quite happy at Pat’s, and we’ve been quite happy to have him. He’s not going too far, at least not right away, and even if he moves to Denver Kara is there right now doing crazy-cat-lady things.

pats ben tlYesterday he climbed up on the roof to tell me he’d located the hole in the ceiling through which the water was spilling. I doubt he has any clue that yesterday, even if it didn’t seem it, we were all far more focused on the hole he’s leaving behind. We will miss him.

Ben and me in one of our many tender moments together. Note that I always have a snow shovel with me at work.


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