There are 16 plastic pans. Sixteen exactly. Seven of them are under the skylights I sealed, four are under the beam I caulked and the others are under vents which, I am happy to say, I had nothing to do with.
The reason the pans are scattered across the floor of my home is that the roof leaks. It has leaked for so many years I know exactly where the drips are going to fall and am thus able to place the pans in precisely the right spots.
I do so the very moment our television weather people report with cheerful vacuity that a new killer storm is coming.
First I move the TV set itself. Then I roll up a carpet. After that I push a couch about three inches to the east, move a floor lamp into the bathroom and lay a tarp on the wooden floor near the back door.
Then, humming a little tune, I slide the plastic pans into position. Some of them are orange, some are yellow and a few are pale green. I like the green ones best.
When we first moved into the Santa Monica Mountains, water used to gather at the base of a hill to our rear and seep under the back door. This usually occurred at 3 a.m. when I was out of town and my family was forced to clean up the mess without me.
They objected so violently to the periodic indoor floods that eventually I had drainpipe installed which diverted the water down the hill and, I hope, into someone else's house at 3 a.m.
The leaking roof is another matter.
It is my feeling that since not that much rain falls in Southern California, as compared say, to the Mato Grosso, there is no pressing need to spend several thousand dollars to have the roof re-tarred.
I spent a lot of money in the first place to have skylights installed, but the man who put them in knew nothing about how to seal them.
I called him the first time they leaked, which was the first time it rained, and he said he was an artist, not a craftsman, and had little interest in temporal vexations.
"It isn't critical to form," he explained, "and therefore not necessary to function."
I had a carpenter who thought he was Rodin.
"It may not be critical to form," I argued, "but it's damned critical to the rug that gets dripped on."
"Move the rug," he said and hung up.
He must have been related to the plumber I hired some years earlier who, when told his work had not fixed a dripping faucet, suggested we place a different potted plant under the faucet each day and employ the drip to give them a good deep-watering.
Their logic was imaginative if not realistic.
I crawled on our roof myself and used a black, sticky substance around the skylights and caulking material around the beam, which had sprung leaks later, like a trawler in a storm.
Nothing worked. The roof just kept on leaking. Then water began seeping in around the furnace vents. My instinct for order prevailed. So I bought some plastic pans.
"I can't live in a house that leaks," my wife said at the start of the most recent storm.
We were standing in the middle of the room at 5 a.m. watching water drip from the ceiling.
"Look at it," I said with a sweep of my hand, "as God's tears."
"You only become ecumenical when it serves your purpose."
"That's why they made me a columnist."
Normally, she is the early riser, but occasionally I get out of bed to help her mop up the water on the floor.
That's another thing.
When it really pours, as it did on the weekend, the drips fall with such intensity that they splash out of the plastic pans and onto the floor in the areas where I have not laid a tarp.
When I anticipate this, I set out a stack of old towels with which to wipe up the stray water. They were there and ready the other morning.
I am, if nothing else, a model of efficiency and planning.
"Did it ever occur to you," my wife said as she watched the water fall from the ceiling, "that we might hire somebody to get the roof fixed?"
"Hey," I said, "here we are having all this fun together on a beautiful, rainy dawn and you want to give it up? It's what has given our marriage zip all these years."
"I'm not having a lot of fun," she said, "and zip isn't what I have in mind at 5 a.m."
"You don't actually think about zip," I argued. "Zip is . . . well . . . emotional instinct."
She stared at me.
"Why are we standing here discussing zip," she asked wearily, "when God's tears are ruining our floors?"
"You've got a point," I said. We grabbed the towels and mopped up the water.
I am seriously thinking of finding someone to stop the leaks. I am going to search for a worker outside of the Santa Monica Mountains, however, since I am not as much interested in the aesthetics of leak-plugging as in the marital damage which might occur if I do not get the dripping stopped.
My wife is not as cheerful about the leaks as she used to be, and I may be getting a little tired of zip myself.