The Mayday Experiment: Cat on a Hot Rubber Roof

I remember struggling in second grade to pull myself up on spindly, useless arms and do a chin-up, face reddening from both exertion and embarrassment as I listened to the other kids laugh at my feeble efforts. Not coming from an athletic family, I hadn't realized that upper-body strength was prized — until then. And a few years later, my dad laughed and called me “lardass” when I failed to jump up onto a horse bareback, to my adolescent horror and the wranglers’ great amusement. But I digress.

Though I sporadically go to the gym and lift weights like anyone else, I haven’t really cottoned to the idea of chin-ups since those earlier humiliations, so they’ve never been a part of my routine. But dangling on the inside of the tiny house from the open hole of the skylight has me rethinking this strategy. And also marveling at reserves of strength I didn’t know I had.

We’d been up and down ladders all day putting on the roof – finally, a dry day! But unfortunately it was hot, too, especially with the black rubber EPDM soaking up every bit of sunlight and burning holes in our gloves and shoes, radiating like an open oven door. So my usual ladder trepidation had subsided for a minute, especially after I'd been standing on the top step of a rickety ladder on less than solid ground to flip the glue-covered piece of EPDM into its final resting place at the back end of the roof minutes before.

Victoria Salvador relayed a joke she heard about a guy who thought motherhood couldn’t possibly be a “tougher job” than roofing in June, and with the sun beating down as I hammered the edge of the rubber to the side of the tiny house with thick, tenpenny galvanized nails, I had little argument in me — despite not really agreeing with that assessment. But our entire crew – Victoria Salvador, Reg Archer and Alexandria Jiminez, a friend from the magnificent organization PlatteForum – worked together easily and seamlessly, everyone holding up despite the lack of cloud cover that had both spoiled us the time before with its coolness and stopped our progress when it finally gave way to flooding rain.

I set up the ladder under the skylight in preparation for the next phase, to the sounds of a loud argument between a couple of guys walking up the street, sucking from forties in bags and screaming over each others’ points. After watching them for a second through the broken window, I poked my head up onto the roof right as Reg Archer flipped the sheet of EPDM back in a rehearsal before gluing it, as we had done each time. I ducked to miss it, and as I did, everything began to move in slow motion.

The A-frame fiberglass ladder began to tip sideways — slowly, it seemed, but definitively. I grabbed the framed-in sides of the skylight hole, thankfully not yet covered in the foul yellow glue, and grabbed desperately at the ladder with my feet, simultaneously calculating the roughly eight feet to the ground. My foot caught the ladder, so while still hanging from the edge of the skylight I grabbed the ladder between my ankles and partially righted it — but with the legs twisted in the process, leaving them askew and only able to support part of my weight. I was stuck, but not on the floor just yet. I found myself wondering how long I could hold on. It was clear I wasn’t getting out of this on my own.

I started to yell out for Victoria, up on a ladder herself, just as the guys walking by reached us, the volume of their drunken debate drowning out my urgent cries for help. After what felt like several hours but was surely only seconds, Reg poked his head down and said, “Oh, shit, Alexandria, go in the tiny house!”

Upon entering, Alexandria was confused for a second until she saw the twisted legs of the ladder and pushed them into place, holding them as I shakily climbed down and sat directly on the floor, dizzy and thankful for something solid. Victoria came around the corner as well, and I relayed my story to them, laughing at how stupid it was already. 

The rest of the day continued without a hitch, and luckily no injuries, save Reg whacking his knee on the way down the ladder and all of us collapsing at the end of the day, sweaty and near heat stroke, to scarf down Victoria’s key lime rice krispie treats and swill ice cold water.

And now, believe it or not, the tiny house has a functional roof! Next step: filling that deadly hole with the double-paned skylight — before anyone else finds themselves dangling down inside the tiny house. Then it will be flashing the edges, and working on the gutters. Slowly but surely, progress is happening! Always slower than imagined, but always exciting...though some kinds of excitement I could do without. 

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging about her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here. See more of her work at

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Lauri Lynnxe Murphy