Disclaimer: the author does not recommend trying this at home without expert advice and/or supervision. The author is not responsible for any catastrophes that results from trying to repeat what hereto follows.
There was a leak in the roof. In fact, the whole roof was a leak in and of itself. There was more leak than roof in the roof.
The roof was falling apart.
When a roof has gone that far, it can’t be fixed in a day. It requires thoroughness to repair it well. We followed a five-step process, which I will lay out in full detail below.
Step One – Apply for the Proper Approval
The first step, of course, is to make sure to get approval from any interested parties, that is, the party of the first part, second part, or third part. It is general knowledge that you may skip the sixth part. In many places, this means getting a building permit. As it turns out, most counties don’t require building permits for trailers. They aren’t technically houses; they are unusually stationary vehicles. So you can do whatever you want to them (and believe me, people have). Even if the city had required it, we found to our surprise that the park wasn’t even in city limits, despite being in the exact center of town.
The Emmett Trailer Park had been built fifty years ago (rather entrepreneurially) in the Emmett’s alfalfa field for the traveling interstate builders. The builders must have liked it because the park stayed. The city grew around it, leaving an oasis of out-of-city land in the burgeoning city.
We didn’t need a building permit, but we did need the blessing of the landlady. So that’s where we went a week after becoming owners to knock on the door of her old farmhouse and hope for the best.
A white-haired lady, maybe in her mid-eighties, answered the door and invited us in. She gestured to the seats by the kitchen table, and poured us strong, hot coffee.
“We just wanted to drop in and introduce ourselves,” dad was saying, “and see if there’s any paperwork we need to sign and get your permission to re-do the roof.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Marian Emmett replied (that was her name). “It’s good when these mobile homes get renovated. We try to keep the park tidy and nice-looking, mm-hm.”
“The common areas and trees are lovely,” I said.
“We put those in forty years ago, and we always keep them cleaned up, mm-hm. You know, we used to have an age qualification,” she said, inconspicuously glancing at me. “We didn’t let anyone under fifty live here. Most folks are retired and looking for some peace and quit. Couldn’t keep the rule, though. It was ruled discrimination.”
“Kirsten’s pretty quiet,” dad said.
“Do you have a cat?”
“No,” I said. I’d have liked a cat, but wasn’t sure about their policy on them.
“We love cats. I’ve always had cats. They love the tall grass in the back. Lots of mice in the back, there, mm-hm. We have lots of mice in the court. The cats just love chasing them.”
Apparently that was a good thing?
“It’s going to be her and her brother living there,” dad said.
“You’ll like it fine,” Marian nodded. “The lady who lives next to 51 has a daughter in middle school now, mm-hm.” She told us about most of the neighbors, who they were, where they were from, how long they’d lived there. And she told us about the community garden in the back, and the overgrown raspberry patch, and the strawberry greenhouses. “You’ll like it fine,” she repeated when she had exhausted the details of the park. “Mm-hm.”
“Is there anything we need to sign?” I asked.
“We have a renter’s agreement. For the lot rent, mm-hm. I have it here in the file cabinet,” she pushed herself up and shuffled into the shaded living room. “I think it’s in the file cabinet. It’s been a while since I’ve needed to have someone sign one of these, mm-hm.”
She looked for a quarter of an hour. The living room was a veritable jungle of papers, books, odds and ends, and file cabinets. We offered to come back another day, but she was admirably determined and eventually found it. We signed our names on the sheet, gave it back to her, knowing it was likely fated to be lost in the jungle of papers.
“Good to meet you,” I said as we stepped out the door.
“You’ll like it fine here,” she said with a smile. “Mm-hm.”
Step Two – Make a Detailed Plan
You will need two detailed plans of equal importance when attempting any ambitious endeavor. The first and most important one is ‘What to Eat?’. In it, you should lay out a thorough plan of foods both nourishing, filling, and celebratory. Especially if you yourself are not doing the work and have instead conscripted others, it’s important to give them no cause to abandon you mid-project.
I decided to be extravagant. I spent all my time and energy on this one facet of the project. I don’t mean to brag, but I am an amateur chef with a 80% success rate on all my recipes. 80% success is pretty good, even if the 20% non-successes are such abysmal failures not even the dog will eat them. But it’s my firm opinion that you don’t learn by sticking with the easy stuff. Make the soufflés! Make the brioche! Make the tarte flambés! Don’t ever give up! Always keep a fire extinguisher handy!
The second detailed plan you will need is, of course, a drawn plan of the project and it’s needs. My dad took care of that part. I obviously had other things to think about.
Step Three – Demolish
The most interesting part of the process is demolition. Especially where roofs are involved. It turns out, there wasn’t much roof to begin with. It was barely two inches thick. The rafters were bent 2 x 2’s and the whole thing was pasted together with some sort of white, water-resistant goop. You couldn’t even step on the roof without falling through to the room below, so instead you had to carefully edge your way forward, balancing on the interior walls, and demolishing as you went.
By the end of that day, the house was roofless. Every room opened to the wide, starry sky and the chirping crickets. You could gaze up at the moon while doing the dishes. You could sit in an empty living room with a cup of hot tea while pondering the legend of Orion. You could lay in bed and contemplate Jupiter. And you could take a shower and pray to God that the airplanes flying by that night wouldn’t be flying very low.
Step Four – Stay Nourished
“What is that?” my brother, J, asked.
I stifled a sigh and didn’t respond. That was an overwhelmingly flavorful breakfast hash of potatoes, butternut squash, kale, apples, and homemade sausage. It was heady with sage and delicately layered with mild fennel. The crunch of the sweet apples melted with the hot, salty sausage, and the whole thing tasted like the very essence of autumn distilled into a moment.
Unfortunately, no one appreciated my festive cooking. They wanted bacon and eggs.
“What is that?” my brother, Brian, asked later that day.
That was an expensive, woodfired pizza from a restaurant in town. It was slathered in a rich cream sauce and mounded with artichoke hearts, prosciutto, tomatoes, and cheese. A thick drizzle of pesto crisscrossed on top.
Unfortunately, I was the only one who appreciated it’s exquisiteness. They wanted pepperoni.
The truth is, when planning for the nourishment of other people, you can’t get the best possible thing you know of. You have to know yourself and what category your tastes fall into. For me, my taste tends to be… expensive. I have learned that most people truly do not like it. After years of experience, I would now suggest a more common-denominator strategy. Steak. Potatoes. Eggs. Meat-lovers pizza. Ham sandwiches.
And absolutely no truffle oil. You have been warned.
It goes without saying, however, that you have to know your audience. In fact, not long ago, I made tonkotsu for a moving crew, and I did so because I happened to know they were all gastronomically discerning enough to appreciate it. For those of you who don’t know, tonkotsu is likely the single-most comforting food on the planet. It’s a bread-fried pork cutlet, pounded to meltaway tenderness and sliced in even, thin strips, layered over a bed of crisp, shaved cabbage, and slathered with an extraordinary red sauce which is the product of several cultures and years of finessing.
The first time I tried it was my twenty-fourth birthday. My brother Brian and I were spending the weekend in Spokane, wandering around town and ending up in places we likely shouldn’t have been (it happens when you go wandering, and is all part of the fun). We ended up wandering into a Japanese restaurant, and Brian ordered sushi. Normally, I love sushi, but I was tired and near-starving. Added to that, life was feeling very bleak in those months and I wasn’t sure my soul could handle cold rice and fish.
The waiter brought the plate and I took the first bite. At that moment, my life changed.
I do not exaggerate. That bit of tonkotsu shifted my world. So many thoughts ran through my head in that single instant, I couldn’t express it all if I tried. I remember the shock to my tastebuds that sent an ache into my heart. I remember the perfect balance of textures – the crystalline crunch of the cabbage, the soft chewiness of the meat – and the flavors. O, the flavors! Mild, savory, sweet, salty, at once. I remember realizing that life couldn’t be that terrible if something like this had come into the world. I remember realizing how powerful food can be. How it can heal and restore as if laced with a magic healing potion. I remember realizing that a thing doesn’t have to be useful to be worth existing, and that even the smallest things can make a difference, however great or small, and that difference is worth making.
What I don’t remember is if my brother Brian said anything when I burst into tears at the table.
Step Five – Conscript Friends
This final step is my favorite part of the process, and the one I have spent the most time practicing. It can turn any dull, hard, long, and miserable project into a breeze. And sometimes, it can, in fact, make the project go away entirely. Conscripting friends is an art form – it truly is – and takes a long time to perfect. Admittedly, I’m still practicing, but I’ve come upon some helpful tips along the way.
Presentation. Almost everything boils down to presentation, and I don’t view this as any sort of manipulation. Presentation is simply allowing people to see a side of something they might never have seen before (and oftentimes allowing them to see the best side of the thing). For instance, if I invited you to come give me free labor by working a long ten-hour day in the sweltering sun, climbing up and down ladders with hot sheet metal that burns your eyes and gives you a painful sunburn, you would obviously remember you had something else planned for that day, and in fact, for the rest of the summer. If, however, I invited you to a raising-the-roof party, where you could catch up with friends while getting some light exercise and spending time in the beautiful summer sun, while cold soda was readily available, food was plentiful, and classic rock played long and loud… It’s the same event told two different ways, but you’d have to be crazy to refuse an invitation to version 2.
Compensation. While presentation is the most important facet, compensation also helps seal the deal. If you’re conscripting friends for a project, always be sure to provide free food – and lots of it. Free drinks (soda, iced tea, champagne, etc.) also help. If your presentation isn’t going as well as you thought, and you can see your friend looking away and trying to think of a way to excuse themselves from your party, throwing in the offer of a feast can tip them over the edge in a heartbeat.
Last Resorts. You could always try saying ‘please’. It can’t hurt. Other things you can try include begging, bribery, tears, threats, and compromise. Be creative. You have nothing to lose at this point.
Follow-through. If you’ve promised a party, for goodness’ sake, make sure it’s a Party. The only thing more valuable than successfully conscripted friends is what the business world calls Repeat Customers. If you make the experience miserable for your dear, servant-hearted friends, what on earth are you going to do the next time you need help with a project? Also, a little bit of reciprocity is called for. Next time they invite you to a roof-raising party, be sure to be easily persuaded and go.
That’s all I have to say about that. We conscripted our friends, we had a Party, the roof was raised, the truck was loaded, the workers went home, and I arrived alone at the doorstep with a backpack, a bowl, a spoon, and a box of cheerios.
With no further ado, I moved into my new home.