The roofs are always flatter on other people's houses


I covet my neighbors' roofs. Not all the time. Only when I climb up my own roof and gaze longingly at the roofs around me.

The roof on my row house is flat. But the other roofs seem flatter. They don't seem to suffer from depressions, where rain water can linger.

Over the years I have learned that water hanging around on your roof is like punks hanging out on your street corner. Eventually their presence will cause you problems. To stop any trouble before it starts you are well advised to keep them -- the water and the punks -- moving along.

My roof is relatively new, only two years old. But the roofs around me always look newer and brighter. Mine is dingy black, a couple of my neighbors have a shiny aluminum, and one across the street is a fetching red.

I also think my neighbor's roof air conditioners are better mounted than mine. According to Patrick, my reliable roofer, an air conditioner shouldn't hug the roof. It should tower over the roof, ideally on a steel beam, with only a few supports touching the roofing. When an air conditioner towers, a roofer can put fresh shingles or tar paper on the surface underneath. But when an air conditioner hugs the roof, as mine does, a roofer has a hard time working underneath it.

Despite the envy in my eye, I enjoy my journeys to the roof.

From my roof I can see the white domes of a college campus, the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. Those domes look almost like ivory towers, pretty, but expensive to repair. I'm glad I don't have worry about fixing them.

And I can see magnificent church steeples soaring to the heavens. When you repair them, it requires renting a crane. I know, a few years ago from my roof I "supervised" the repair work on a neighborhood church.

And from my roof I can see the baseball park, Memorial Stadium, which to my mind has the best idea of how to keep from worrying about your roof. It doesn't have one. On my block I can look over at the roof deck on top of a condominium a few doors down. Every so often new people will move in and throw a roof party on the deck. But the roof parties are few and far between. It is often too hot on the roof.

Besides roofs really aren't made for gadding about, they are made for sedentary contemplation.

Several years ago I spent some wonderful evenings sitting on the roof deck that some friends of ours added on to the top floor of their narrow row house in Federal Hill.

The view was intriguing: the neat houses and sprawling factories of South Baltimore, and off to the left, a corner of the Baltimore harbor.

To get on and off the deck, however, I had to climb out a window. It wasn't hard, the first time.

But the third time I did it, and by the second glass of wine, I didn't want to move. I simply wanted to sit and stare.

When I first moved into my row house I used to visit my roof regularly. The vista was new to me. And I found getting the "big picture" of the city refreshing.

But 13 years later, I am mired in details of household life. I only make the trip a couple of times of year, looking for puddles of water or repairs that need to be made.

While I'm up there I covet my neighbor's roof. But I also enjoy my perch, and the fact that for a time I can look down on the world below me.

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