Roofing Day


As I start this post, eight men are tearing the roof from my house with square-pointed shovels. The noise from yesterday’s shingle delivery was horribly upsetting to the cats, but it was nothing compared to this. It bothers me too, but at least I know that it serves a good purpose. There are so very many things that cats don’t know and might not wonder about, things like where their food comes from; why we let strangers poke thermometers up their asses; and what keeps the rain out of our house. Perhaps the cats don’t wonder about the source of the current noise; perhaps it’s noise itself that scares them.

Clearly, cats have thoughts, but I know tragically little about what they think. Cats also have feelings—joy, lust, rage, trust, terror, hunger, safety, happiness, affection, suspicion, uncertainty, and curiosity—and I think I do understand these. Descartes—the “father of modern philosophy”—regarded other mammals as “unfeeling automata” and thought he could prove it by publicly torturing dogs while assuring audiences that God had only given non-humans the appearance of emotion. Descartes’ view  persists among some modern scientists, especially in regard to so-called “lower forms of life.” Yet when an insect or a spider flees and squirms in apparent terror when I’m trying to take it outdoors, I doubt that they’re right.

I replaced the last roof in 1997 at age 48, but since it was hard for me then, I knew it would take all summer for me to replace it again, and by then the unused shingles and underlayment would have become glued together. Among his other skills, my father was a roofer. When he and I worked together—in the ’70s and ’80s in rural Mississippi—shingles had to be hand-carried to the rooftop in 80-pound bundles. When he reached his mid-sixties, Dad began sipping 16-ounce Miller High Lifes in order to keep going, plus he started carrying shingles up a few at a time. He was too impatient to teach me more than I needed to know to perform a specific task, so I relied on books to tell me how to replace the rather complicated roof on this house. It has served me well, but its end has arrived, and my end can’t be far off.

I didn’t how far ahead roofers booked, so I got estimates in December. The company I hired wanted to do the job in a month or two, but I didn’t want them working in the cold and wet, so I asked that they wait until May. They said fine, but that it might cost more. I considered the extra cost worth it because I know what it’s like to work in shitty weather, and I prefer that such work be done on someone else’s roof.

After hiring Huey and Sons, Peggy got to worrying that the crew might roof over nails that were left laying on their sides following the removal of the old roof, so she decided to warn them. I thought, oh, great, our roofing crew is going to start their day hating my wife, so I suggested that if journeyman roofers were stupid enough to make that mistake, our roof was going to be fucked no matter what she said, so she didn’t warn them. When they broke for lunch, she and I climbed onto the roof with the foreman (seeing a 72-year-old woman up there just had to impress the crew) to examine the work, and we actually did find one serious mistake when the foreman’s foot fell through an un-attached piece of decking.

The roofers have been at it for hours, and all but one of the cats have come out to eat
—our bravest is even sitting beside me as I write. I love it when cats prove superior to my fears for them.