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Pandemic in Paradise/The house of the frying sun

Roy Peter Clark

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This episode of Pandemic in Paradise is brought to you by the letter H: House. Health. Hamilton. Heat and Humidity. H2O. Hope.

When you are housebound, you no longer take your house for granted. You appreciate it a bit more. You spend more time making it feel good so it will do a better job of making you feel good. An intended two-hour project – tidying up the garage – takes four full days.

We purchased our house on 63rd Avenue South in 1978. The owner was asking $45,000, we offered $39,000, and wound up paying $43,500 at 9 percent interest rate over 29 years. We refinanced the house twice over the life of the mortgage as rates fell. We added a big room, a patio. We tiled all the floors. About five years ago we knocked down four walls and rebuilt the kitchen.

We raised three daughters in that house. Two dogs – Lance and Rex – saw their best days in that house and got along with a tribe of cats: Voodoo, Highway, Willow and Oz. Now it’s just me and Karen and a feral cat named The Duchess. We think her brother Duke maybe got eaten by a coyote.

The good man who trims the trees around our house noticed that water was pooling in the middle of the flat roof over our Florida room. (I love having a room called a Florida room, by the way.  You won’t find those in Idaho or New Hampshire.) We haven’t been spending much money during the pandemic, so we thought we would invest in a new flat roof before hurricane season kicked in.

The roofers arrived on Thursday, July 2, about a week late and began ripping off the old roof. It was a mostly sunny morning – and it had not rained for days and days – when something quite unexpected happened. A single storm cloud drifted overhead and poured down with the ferocity of a tropical squall. The roofers had not yet dragged protective tarps to the top of the house.

I heard my wife shout, “It’s raining … it’s raining in the house, in the Florida room!!!”

It IS the heat – AND the humidity

After a streak of lovely weather this spring, the summer temperatures have turned nasty hot. Today the thermometer on the dashboard of our Toyota Rav 4 read 94 degrees. Outside, the “feels like” temperature climbed over 100. During this pandemic, the heat is not helping. COVID-19 cases, which were predicted by some to come down during the summer, are on the rise. Perhaps the only benefit is that the heat drives us indoors.

For weeks and weeks, Karen and I took daily morning walks, exploring corners of our own neighborhood and some of the great parks throughout the city. We developed a routine that sustained us. it’s impossible to follow it now, and we are starting to feel lumpy, grumpy and out-of-shape.

Sure, we could pop out of bed early to beat the heat, or walk at dusk, but those times seem out of sync with our biological clocks. One escape hatch takes us two or three times a week into the air-conditioned comfort of the Tyrone Square Mall. It is not busy. Most people there are masked. This is a habit we developed when Karen was recovering from breast cancer treatments. She needed the exercise but the heat and humidity made it impossible. We walk in the mall for a mile to two miles, about 3,000 or so steps on our Fitbit.

I prefer the cabin fever of summer in Florida to the winter blizzards up North. But this blistering hot summer in St. Pete – its own little plague atop pandemic, recession and social unrest – feels particularly cruel.  Or am I being too negative because my ceiling crashed in?

When it rains…

“It’s raining into the Florida room!!!” And so it was.  Water poured from the light fixtures, the ceiling fans, and especially the air-conditioning vents. We wanted no unmasked workers in our house, so we spent the day cleaning up while roofers stomped and scraped above us. How do they work in this weather? 

The owner of the roofing company arrived, examined the damage, and said it could be repaired by a painter. By the next morning, brown stains and a jagged crack were spreading across the ceiling. This could not be fixed with a paint job. Some damaged areas would have to be replaced.

It was July 3, and we calmed down and felt relaxed enough to watch the Disney+ film version of the musical Hamilton. We were enjoying the show, well into the second act, when something shocking happened. It started as a bizarre sound, like something being torn, then louder and louder until we heard a sharp crack. A large slice of our ceiling crashed down.

Karen was sitting five feet away from where the debris fell – I was 10 feet. There was plaster, drywall chunks and damp clots of insulation. If we had been eating our breakfasts at the kitchen bar it would have fallen right on top of our heads. I stood and stared in astonishment and could hear the refrain from Hamilton. The song was “The Room Where It Happened.”

A long walk off a short pier

Karen and I visited the new St. Pete Pier on opening night, Monday, June 6.  It is going to be great someday, not just a destination like the old piers, but a district, a zone of entertainment, education, and exercise. We arrived around 8 p.m. and spent about an hour getting the lay of the land. It was too busy to enjoy. Masks were here and there. And while we saw no mosh pits of infection, folks were walking and wandering in tight groups with people they knew. Even at that time of day, the weather was oppressive. Breathing against a face mask made it feel worse.

A group of Black Lives Matter protestors gathered near the entrance. The group, made up mostly of young people, was racially mixed, and the leader shouted slogans into a bullhorn. (Man, get a better portable sound system so we can hear what you are saying!) We were happy to see them there. Cops were chill. A couple of protestors wrote in chalk on the street. I was struck by an odd juxtaposition: sidewalk art created from a box of chalk; public art inside that cost more than a million dollars.

Perhaps my favorite moment was standing under the sculpture near the entrance, a 15-foot red, origami pelican named Myth. On January 9 of this year, the City Council declared the brown pelican as the official bird of St. Petersburg. My interest in that little movement was inspired by a photo of this whimsical statue and the little flock of red pelicans that surrounds it. I can’t wait for the first photo of a real pelican sitting atop the statue, perhaps leaving behind the gift of pelican poop – always a lucky sign. We need a little luck.

Raising the roof

Here’s where we stand:  We have a new flat roof, with no leaks in sight from recent storms. We have two large scraps of drywall, patching the hole in the ceiling. Luckily, we had no damage to furniture or electronics or musical equipment. I negotiated with the roofer a rebate that will cover most of the costs of fixing the damage. The deductible on our homeowner’s insurance was too high to be helpful.

We have chosen workers to replace the ceiling, paint the lightly stained ceilings in adjoining rooms, add a second outage for air-conditioning in the Florida room, so there’s more balance of temperature in the house.

Everyone who comes in the house will follow the strictest Covid-19 guidelines. It will probably be a month before our old reliable house is restored – and improved. Karen suggests that this work will be our 49th wedding anniversary gift to each other. Fair enough. But I promise you this:  For our 50th – Aug. 7, 2021 – there will be singing and dancing and kissing and hugging. And, yes, raising the roof.

 

Roy Peter Clark teaches writing at the Poynter Institute. He is the author of many books on writing. He can be reached at rclark@poynter.org.    

 

 

 

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