The Mildew Madness


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Without a word, she dropped to the ground. The five men admired her feline-like movements for she had descended with the grace of a cat. They stared at her, each hoping that she would speak to exonerate their work; but she was silent. Taking their cue from her, they wordlessly watched Joe, the roofer, collapse the ladder and together they walked back to the building lobby.

It had been unbearably hot on the roof in the noonday Texas sun, and now a welcome blast of cold air met them as they passed through the revolving door into the lobby. Jack, the building manager ushered them into his conference room.

Jack had called this meeting for a kill. A hen-pecked husband he took his frustration out on his subordinates and contractors and now he was determined that someone would pay, and pay dearly, for the mildewed walls in his four premier top-floor hospital rooms.

On the table were photographs of the peeling wall-paper with blacked sheet-rock walls revealed where it had been pulled off. On the side Jack’s assistant had placed some ice cold water bottles. The men gratefully helped themselves as they sat down. Each shuddered as they looked around the room, wondering whether the building system for which he was responsible could have failed and allowed water to enter the building. They knew that mildew needs only two ingredients, a food source and moisture to flourish. The sheetrock provided the food source and the moisture; well the moisture, they could only deduce, must have entered from the outside through a system failure.

Jack sat at the head of the table; he glared at the group before him,

“Well, how do we fix this problem?”

No-one answered his question and so he went on, enjoying every minute,

“As you know, Mark here is my legal counsel; he is here to make sure that we solve this problem without cost to the institution.”

Jack lent back in his chair to survey the blank faces before him. He was tempted to hit the table with his fist but restrained himself. The silence riled him but he was enjoying this confrontation in which he felt himself to be the wronged party. He attempted a smile, or maybe it was a smirk.

At last Amanda, the architect spoke. Her voice was sonorous and considered. As she began Jack wondered whether she was going to admit guilt herself and explain a design flaw; he secretly congratulated himself that he had insisted on a hefty professional liability insurance clause.

“The problem is very simple;” she held a piece of the peeled wallpaper in her hand and waved it gently, “but before I get to the solution I wish to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy days to meet here.

Jack guffawed but did not interrupt.

“Since the moisture problem is in the top four corner rooms one might think that water is entering at the eaves flashing.” She turned to face Joe, “But the eaves flashing and parapet flashing are in good shape you are to be congratulated.” She turned to Frank the curtain-wall representative, “The curtain-wall flashing looks equally well executed. I see no problem there. The same goes for the glazing.” She smiled at Tony the glazier.

“So, it is a simple problem with an easy solution. In the summer, in our hot Texas climate, the exterior wall has a steep temperature gradient across it. The coldest point is the inside surface next to the air conditioned interior. If you place a cold object into such an environment condensation occurs.” She touched her bottle of cold water on which a film of moisture trickled down onto the table coaster. Water vapor enters the wall from the exterior and flows freely through the wall especially if the interior is under negative pressure as in your infectious disease rooms. Normally this is of no concern but the recently installed vinyl-backed wall-paper,” she waved the piece of wall-paper which she still held in her hand, “acts as a vapor barrier which, in turn, results in condensation behind it.” She turned to face Jack.

“If you had installed a breathable wall paper such as one of the ones which we recommended then there would have been no condensation and no mildew.”

16 thoughts on “The Mildew Madness

  1. Ha!Ha!I loved how Amanda turned the tables on Jack!Poor chap-he is born to be browbeaten by intelligent women,lol!Loved this story Jane:-)

  2. This is great, Jane! I love how calm and cool Amanda is – it’s a great contrast from Jack’s character. Wonderful take on the prompts! 🙂

  3. Great story. I loved that it turned out to be Jack’s own fault. I think everyone was rooting against him. That’s the job of a great storyteller, when you can involve everyone to the point that they either love or hate the main character.


    • Thank you Cheryl, it was fun to write. Poor Jack,I expect that they all hated his guts as they had probably had to work with him for at least 18 months during construction. Yes, I was happy to turn the tables on him.

  4. She was calm and cool. I’d have been so tempted to add “in your face!” because Jack was a confrontational, pompous, jerk 🙂 This was a wonderful story!

    • Thank you Janna, what kind words from an esteemed writer such as yourself. I suspect that the sad part is that Jack probably learnt nothing from the incident.

    • I agree, these are good lessons although I hadn’t intended the woman one and could add another:
      Don’t take pleasure in another’s demise – it might turn out to be yours.
      Poor Jack – I suspect that he didn’t learn!
      Thank you for your visit and comments

  5. As usual your comments and visit add enjoyment to my day – thank you. I am about the same vintage as you and have not personally hung wall paper since the days of the ‘archival adhesives” and vinegar relaxers to which you refer. Nowadays I prefer plainer walls with patterns dabbed on with a sponge!
    As for Jack I think that he got what he deserved but I suspect that he didn’t learn from it.!

  6. Sounds as if you have encountered just such a problem yourself in the past. You describe the kind of situation all of us who have worked with the public would love to encounter and answer in just this way.

    • Hi Ron: thank you for your visit. Not exactly, but in my business dealings I have witnessed similar situations and even met folks similar to the Jack of this story. I agree one would love to occasionally have an outcome as I narrate.

  7. You’re drawn heavily from your architectural expertise but kept the reader – certainly moi – engaged and invested.

    She took the classic management approach – non combative, inclusive and addressing the issue and not the person.

    Loved that cat woman opening 🙂

    That last line – what a killer shot! Did I hear someone’s air leak out 🙂

    • Hi Eric:
      I worried about this one thinking that it might lose readers thorough its technicalities I’m glad that it held one of my most valuated audience members. Thank you

  8. Hello Jane…This is so nice..she makes sure to praise the good work of the blameless and allow Jack to be hoist on his own petard. All in a day’s woman-work! Just recently I had someone in my home huffing and puffing as he scraped away at old wallpaper, and on the hunch that it may have been applied in the days of more natural (in book arts we call it “archival”) adhesives, I handed him my trusty spray bottle of dilute white vinegar and–voilà– the stuff came off like a dream—–unlike vinyl and the newer killer adhesives!
    I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, Jane…rock on!

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