Will Summer Chimney Demolition Lead to Fall?

I've been on vacation for the last couple of weeks, thus my inability to check up on my friends lists as I usually try to do. It's been a working vacation, almost entirely taken up by selling, promoting, and distributing Storm Chaser ... which needs to do well as a first novel if I want to move on to bigger things. I'm happy to say it's gotten four five-star reviews at Amazon.com, and I've signed something like 55 print copies so far.

Now I'm going to disappear from the internet even more, almost entirely for the next week. My vacation is almost over, and Emily and I need some real R&R time before I got back to work and she starts preparing for college. Naturally I'll check my e-mails every day, unless we get a chance to make some day trips, but otherwise I'll be back sometime just after my birthday on the 14th. I hope to get a few non-writing/internet chores done in addition to going out for some fun. And then there's that pesky chimney that needs to be dealt with ...


            I expect this will be the last column of mine you ever read.

            (Which reminds me – I need to fill out a will.)

            No, I’m not quitting – why would I do that? I’m getting paid for a writing gig. On the contrary, it’s something much less dramatic: I believe I’m going to die. Not only that, but I’m going to die in one of those ways that’s both tragic and that will make people giggle, when they start thinking about it.

            I’m going to fall off my own roof.

            I suspect the ground will break my fall.

            You see, not long after I bought my house, someone pointed out to me that there appeared to have been some patch work done to my chimney. I didn’t think that was a problem; I mean, patching means it’s fixed, right? I get patched up every time I work with tools, and so far I’ve healed very nicely, with minimum scarring.

            A few years after moving in, the chimney bricks about two-thirds of the way up started flaking off. Just peeling away in pieces, as if I was taking apart a block of damp ramen. Which reminds me, what should I have as a last meal?

            I’m thinking prime rib, Mountain Dew, moose tracks ice cream … and for dessert, a solid block of milk chocolate. Maybe a pound. Not worried about the diet at that point.

            Isn’t there a story in the Bible about how the Hebrew slaves were forced to make bricks without straw? Maybe these were some of those bricks, imported from Egypt. Maybe the straw was supposed to hold them together, over time.

            So the bricks started flaking off, and at about the same time my roof started leaking. This was the beginning of my long experience with do-it-yourself home repair work, in which I learned that I was one of those people for whom renting was invented. After a long struggle and some hundred pounds of roofing tar, I contacted a roofer who was very happy to take my money, thankyouverymuch. Not only that, he even threw in concrete patching material, which he smeared over the deteriorating bricks.

            “This will only last a few years,” he warned me.

            Like the rubber roofing he used on the flat part of my home, the patching held up for almost twenty years. That’s not too shabby. Or maybe it is, what do I know? In any case, when the roof started leaking again I took that as a hint that I should check out the chimney.

            I remember looking at it and saying … well, I can’t really tell you what I said. Later, at the hardware store, I stood before the big rack of stuff, closed my eyes, and pointed at two things at random. “Give me a gallon of that and a can of that,” I said. “And some whiskey.”

            The guy just raised his eyebrow. “I’m confused. Are you fighting Godzilla, or raising the dead? ‘Cause this combination could do either.”

            It turns out one of the items sealed stuff, and the other killed insects. If you’ve ever seen what happens when a spider crawls on me while I’m at the tip of a ladder, you understand why that’s important.

            After treating the roof, the chimney, the ladder, and my clothes with a liberal dose of both chemicals, I closed everything up for the winter and held my breath. I often hold my breath during winter. Passing out makes it go faster.

            The roof didn’t leak. Not at all, not even a little, not for a whole month. But what the heck – there are advantages to having running water in your kitchen, even if it’s over the kitchen table, although the showers were too cold.

            This spring I came out to look at the chimney, specifically the bricks that had started flaking off twenty years ago.

            They were gone.

            Nothing there but a big hole, right through to the chimney liner, as big around as my head on the day I signed my book contract. What’s worse, the bricks below that point, all the way down to ground level, have now started flaking away.

            Here’s the fun part: One section of chimney stayed whole, seemingly as new as the day it was built, with bricks solid and mortar strong. It was the four or five feet that stuck up from the peaked roof, maybe twenty-five feet in the air. The very top. Hovering there in the open air, unsupported by anything, including the rest of the chimney. Just waiting.

            For me.

            The chimney has to come down, before it goes down by itself in the wrong direction and I get an instant skylight. I could hire someone … nope, just checked my wallet – I can’t. It’s going to be me way up there on a 130 or so year old roof, knocking bricks, one at a time, off a 130 or so year old chimney imported from Egypt.

            So when I say I don’t expect to survive, I’m not kidding.

            It’s not that easy, making out a will. I think I want to give the house to my fiancĂ©e. Sorry, babe. Maybe there’ll be some old Confederate money under the bricks, or more likely the Lost Ark of the Covenant. It’s all yours.

            Editor’s Note: All Printing and Publication will be taking applications for humor columnists, to keep on file – just in case.