Our roof in Vieques is a happenin’ place.
All these years I’ve been naively imagining that the real drama of our lives was playing out down below (okay, there hasn’t been a whole lot of drama, but work with me here), when in fact it was happening right over our heads.
Michael has ventured up on the roof a few times through the years, though as far as I know he hasn’t experienced any Major Epiphanies up there and honestly hasn’t given the place a lot of thought in between visits.
Maybe he should.
Our first inkling that anything out of the ordinary was happening “upstairs” came during a recent visit to the island.
Shortly after we arrived at the house Michael jumped into the shower while I migrated towards the bottle of Grey Goose that Jane had very thoughtfully parked in the freezer.
As I stood in the kitchen taking blissful inaugural sips of my bodacious vodka tonic I heard a loud gushing sound just outside the window.
Stepping out onto the balcony to investigate, I craned my neck around the corner of the house and saw, well, basically nothing—except some rather puzzling wisps of steam rising from the side yard.
“Did you hear anything unusual while you were in the shower?” I asked when Michael emerged from the bathroom five minutes later.
“Nothing but the tell-tale clink of ice cubes,” he replied, staring pointedly at my drink. “By the way, isn’t it a bit early even for you?”
“Grow up,” I advised.
He looked crestfallen but rallied quickly. “Okay. Make me one too.”
As I handed him his own double-sized cocktail I repeated my question.
“So did you?”
“Hear a noise when you were in the shower?”
He gave me a look of pity mingled with exasperation. “Okay, let me get this straight. You’re asking if I heard gushing water while I was standing in the shower?”
“Yes,” I replied, already sensing an innate weakness in my line of questioning.
“News flash—a shower consists of gushing water. That’s its whole reason for being.”
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but as deeply fond as I am of Michael he can sometimes be maddeningly linear in his thinking. As in, he tends to dwell on that whole cause-and-effect thing. Sigh.
“This was outside,” I persisted. “And it was loud.”
That got his attention.
“Go turn on the shower and let’s see what happens.”
I did as I was told.
“Jeez!” I heard him exclaim.
But my euphoria was short-lived. Next he uttered a phrase that never fails to strike fear in my heart: “I’m going up on the roof.”
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I agree. Collectively speaking, I do have lots of hang ups, including (but not limited to) electricity, air turbulence, giant iguanas and unexpected capital expenses. And now we can add “Michael careening around on the roof” to the list. Yipee.
I can’t help it. He always seems so cavalier about the whole thing. Even the way he gets up there sends shivers down my spine.
Just picture this: while I cling nervously to a much-too-short stepladder, he stands on tip-toe on the very top of the infernal contraption (the red part you’re never supposed to stand on)…
…and hauls himself up with a wing and a prayer onto the roof.
Did I mention the fact that the exact spot where he usually wriggles his way onto the roof is less than twelve inches from the spot where our municipal power line connects to the house? In other words, the whole scenario constitutes a double-header for two of my most rampant neuroses—vertigo meets fatal electrocution. Yipee.
On this occasion he had barely hauled himself up when he started hurling instructions downward.
“Turn on the shower,” he yelled. Short pause. “Please.” He’s a remarkably nice man, even under duress.
For the second time that day, I trotted into the bathroom and turned on the shower without actually getting wet.
After sneaking a couple of sips of my abandoned cocktail I wandered back onto the balcony duly fortified.
“You won’t believe this!” Michael exclaimed. It was unclear if he was talking to me or the gods above.
Gamely (because this seemed like a Seminal Moment), I climbed up the stepladder and teetered uncertainly near the top rung. “Believe what?”
“Turn off the shower.”
I should have quaffed my whole drink while I had the chance. “Really?”
Bossy, yes, but still undeniably polite. I turned the shower off, then faithfully resumed my position at the foot of the stepladder.
“I took pictures,” Michael hyperventilated. “You won’t believe it,” he said, huffing his way down to terra firma. “It’s Old Faithful on Steroids.”
He wasn’t far off the mark. Here’s what he saw.
A little background seems in order here. Along with all the bad things we inherited when we bought our house, we inherited a few positive things, including solar panels on the roof, which have always made us feel vaguely Green and virtuous without the slightest effort on our part. Sweet.
But on the rare occasion when we experienced a sunless day or two in Vieques, we sometimes received a friendly complaint from guests that they had “enjoyed” a very chilly shower. Not good.
So we decided to install a back-up heater that would warm up the water when the solar panels fell short of their task.
This innovation seemed to work fine until that fateful day when steaming hot water started spewing off our roof with a vengeance.
Even before Michael climbed up on the roof that day he mentioned that the fault might not be with the safety valve itself but in the way our new water tank was hooked up to the electrical system. “it’s causing the water to overheat way beyond the safety level,” he commented, “which is causing the safety valve to activate, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.”
And when he got up on the roof he saw instantly that they guy who had installed the heater had done an embarrassing lousy job of wiring it.”
But when he told our property manager his theory, she was skeptical. “It’s the safety valve,” she insisted. “It’s obviously faulty.”
After a few friendly rounds of “I’m right/No, I’m right,” they got bored and gave up. Instead, they decided to call a reputable electrician to climb up onto the roof and give us his slightly more expert opinion. He came by later that day. “It’s the wiring,” he said flatly after being up on the roof no more than five minutes. “I’ve hardly ever seen such a shoddy job.” Michael tried not to look too terribly pleased with himself. I’m sure it was a mammoth struggle but he brought it off manfully.
In any case, the electrician re-did the wiring, we turned on the shower, and, amazingly, there was no geyser of dangerously hot water spewing onto our bougainvillea plants. Hooray.
Once that little problem was settled it was time to tackle the other “complication” Michael had spotted up on the roof.
This was the air conditioner, which the last time Michael had looked at had seemed just dandy.
Not so much anymore.
Now it looked like a rectangular block of metallic Swiss cheese.
“Oh god,” Michael gasped when we looked at the photo.
“Can’t we just replace the case?”
He gave me one of his patented Looks. “It’s not just the outside, it’s the whole thing. It’s shot.”
I sighed. “Like our budget.”
Our new air conditioner was installed the next week, at which point we began ghoulishly theorizing about what roof-focused disaster would occur next.
Locusts anyone? How about a touch of plague?
Or maybe one of those gigantic cisterns we’d had installed to ensure that the house had a supply of fresh water at all times would spring a Titanic-sized leak.
Or, who knows, perhaps a high wind would scoop up our TV dish and catapult it into ongoing traffic like a gigantic vengeful Frisbee.
Now that would be a whole different category of fun.
The sad truth is that, despite popular opinion, the elements are NOT gentle in tropical climes, particularly regarding unprotected objects stuck up on your roof.
They destroy things right and left with savage glee–including, especially, your bank account.
[If you enjoyed this sketch of Vieques, you’ll find lots more like it in my book, Tropic of Sunshine, available on Kindle, Nook and Apple iBooks. www.tropicofsunshine.com]