Roofers

So a lot of riff raff was hanging around the neighborhood and at the house—all sorts of annoying birds, cats and strays. Lots of uncles were always around to guide the kids: how not to use gas, when to eat beans, and the ills of beer. I fashioned a plan to become more pillar-minded and decided that the farm needed a guard dog. We had a succession of wonderful canine friends, but an upright hominid was in order. There was no one as responsible as a buddy, George, from the woods, who was between shotgun shacks. He was a social tactician.

“Look, George, hang out in the lawn chair, do a little gardening, cook some eggs and I’ll shoot ya smokes and beer.”

He immediately bartered the deal, so as to make it look like he had the advantage. But there was no way he could compete—I was a sump, flowing in homemade by the keg. Anything could be found just under retail. Aah, the whole region was like that, even amazed George, my new employee, riding his mountain bike down the lanes. Overflow garbage bags full of product—in garbage bags! Often he’d show up carting stuff and junk on his handlebars. All the anyone could possibly imagine—and cans. Cans, cans, cans, cans. I had two can pickers making regular stops to clean up the yard, every couple weeks or so: One slight, slightly touched industrious outreach client, and a retired Don Quixote look-alike on a ’70s ten speed with a 20 foot fishing pole–for picking cans. Both those guys’ expressions—the pickers—like walking them into a field of dandelions. They’d go off digging hither and thither like squirrels and then leave for more recycling bags, pedaling like mad for the corner store, laughing all the way. One can picker pulled over two thousand cans in a session. There was a 30 foot yacht we used to run crabs and crap up the inlet. An old Chris Craft, mahogany hull, good in ice—parked it in a field, ran a wire, a stereo, and in two weeks someone was living in it. The hold filled up. When I gave the ship away, I told can-do buddy he could keep the guts, but leave the boat parts. 2000x.05=$100. This became an hour in can pickers’ lore.

So, George, the family guard, he’s in residence and employed to scare away woodpeckers, starlings, coyotes, bears, crows, raccoons, beavers, big cats, junkies, skids, thieves, psychos, bums, and stray females (my wife included that last one).

At thirty-seven, having traveled the coast and interior as a laboring nomad, George became our long lost adopted kid—and my roofer. He was to sit in a lawn chair, garden, spread his philosophy, and ‘roof’ at anything that looked devious.

The inside joke was that he actually was a roofer, by trade, and I even went on a couple jobs with him as his newbie protege. At one in the brownstones, up some 30 pitch rubber roofed monstrosity, I got vertigo bad by 4pm, spending the rest of the day with a shovel. George coached me on the ins and outs, and keeping my wits that high–very safety conscious. He said working downtown was his fav because if you did fall, chances were that you could make it to a neighbors’ roof and bounce off. Oh, and always yell “I quit!” while you’re still in the air. Nobody had liability. I was only there for the gig, the experience, the ride, the fun. No way I was going to end up falling down over and out. So, I did mop up—and exceedingly well! George—he could carry three sheets of half inch plywood up a twenty foot ladder and shove them up into the face of his waiting boss—he made about four hundred a day, paid by the nail. The two of them, boss and subcontractor, could do a roof in a day—two bickering, swearing, needling, perfectionists—both know-it-all comedians. What a long day.

I did one more roof with them, a low bungalow (they both assured me that the fall would be like stepping off a trampoline) so I volunteered to slog tile up an eight foot ladder and make sure the place was clean. It was fun. Until buddy was fired. Neither could shut up—him and his boss—and both had to have the last word. George was pretty much easy flow, but the two of them together were like an old married couple—the heavily accented German boss did warn that he might fire our compatriot sometime that year.

I do recall the client came home to check on the roof job. George jumped down and shmoozed her, she was totally office, classy eyes, classy shoes—a young, newly wed buyer, all chirpy and excited—a cutey bobbing sassy blond hair. She made sure George knew where the fridge was, and the glasses. Then she left. He was the coy, toned tradesman showing off sophisticated flirt strategies.

Later, I’m looking for George and he steps out of the house.

“What the hell were you doing in there?”

George, in slow, reflective, drawl: “You know they have a really friendly cat.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was laying back on their bed, just having a little doze, and the cat came right up and stretched out on my stomach, started purring. We had a nice talk.”

I felt bad for the boss. I did one day extra, after he fired George for attitude problems. Salute to roofers.

Anyway, back to hiring a lawn chair pilot to act as greeter while I was downtown. It worked out well. George taught us all how to carve and regaled us with his tales—he was islander, shrewd, and brought us a real gift of friendship. Until he wanted a raise. He accused me of being too easy going, corrupting.

“Look,” I told him, “you’re here for ten hours a day, come and go, you drink ten bucks worth of booze a day, and a couple packs of smokes, food, facilities, that’s at least three bucks an hour.”

George thought about it, and got back with a response.

“You know about that raise?”

“Sure.”

“I want $3.15 an hour. And don’t call me your ‘roofer’.”

“Done.”

 

Roofers © 2011 Gaboo. Read more stories and observations by Gaboo, click his tag.

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