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The Day The Ceiling Fell

June 21, 2011
Fallen living room ceiling

Mr. Malcolm, cleanup crew

Literally a third of the living room ceiling fell to the floor on Father’s Day (see picture). This was my fault. About 12 years ago there was a heavy rainfall while I had the roof open for the addition. The tarp didn’t do its job, or rather I didn’t do my job hanging the tarp, and many gallons of water filtered down into and through cracks in the ceiling. I patched the ceiling in a haphazard way, but the bandages held until new cracks appeared last week. Sunday morning I was idly talking to my son Julian about repair options. He kept asking, “Can’t we just call someone?” I assured him it was an aesthetic problem. (And I never “call someone.” I am the slow-but-free live-in contractor.) Wrong. We were nearby when it all let loose. The noise of three hundred pounds of plaster hitting the hardwood floor was impressive even from the curb. Think thunder. The violence was enough to shake things off the nearby walls and shelves (fortunately not my pictures!).

No one was hurt and surprisingly little was damaged, though the cat might take issue regarding her emotional well-being. I half expected to find her little tabby tail curling out from under a sheet of plaster, a notion I found amusing in the perverse way of A Fish Called Wanda—and yes I do love this cat. The formerly worn-out couch and carpet are now truly worn out. The venerable piano, once rescued from a synagogue dumpster, gained even more character. I learned the good way that closing your laptop when you’re not using it is a good idea.

the sky is falling book

Book found under the debris

The worst injury of all is to my faltering ego. I’m going to make some lemonade from the disaster and build a tray ceiling, improve the lighting, and rough in a ceiling fan; meager recompense for the room blowing up. So now I have a new medium-sized project added to a crowded list with more items delayed than the O’Hare departures in a blizzard. On the upside, school is ending and I can enlist the boys to learn some skills. I have already provided a generous lesson on the long-term price of hack repairs. (Julian just walked by and reminded me, “I was right and you were wrong.” Fine, his workload just doubled. I wonder how much drywall he can handle?)

On the constructive side, today we watched Malcolm graduate from the fifth grade.* It was a bittersweet thing. He’s growing up and, including his brother’s time there, we’ve been involved with that school for ten years. Now that door is closed, and however good or bad a job we did is behind us. In a sense we’re watching the boys build the houses where they’ll live after they leave us; houses that, I hope, will have better ceilings.

Maia—not squished

The more so because of the chaos I grew up in, I regret not providing a stout and orderly childhood home. It’s a rare kid who sees the skeleton of their home laid bare, especially by the folly of their father, and these guys are admirably stoic about it. As a corollary of feeling better, I dwell on this more and I am bringing it around, and with drywall and mud and paint will create the nice boxes I hear normal people like to live in. To be honest, I like problems like these. I understand them. I can fix them. Carpentry is wonderfully concrete. Meanwhile, how the kids will turn out—I don’t know. Raising them is such an inexact and humbling process. But as I described in the last post, I’m trying my best, a much better best than in many years yet maybe 30% of what I can really do. In the meantime I’d really appreciate it if the rest of the damn ceiling would stay where it belongs, securely over our heads.


* With honors, mind you, and just a year after he tried to break it to me gently that “I’m just not an ‘A’ student” in a walk through the park. I demurred … passionately. [Edit 5/2021: he will graduate from college next year. Most likely with honors. I’m enormously happy for him.]

Postscript—as of 6/2013: Dark green ceiling tray with fan, bullnosed soffits, recessed lighting, cherry-stained oak cove mouldings. Pretty easy. Kudos to son Julian for helping cut and frame the metal stud soffits. Turned out nice and concealed every fracture or hole in the ceiling.

Living Room, almost

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