Chapter 11 – Capping Things Off
One time when I was away traveling, someone asked my dad exactly where I was traveling to and he had no idea. So his response was, “Probably on some godforsaken island.” That said, sometime while I was away on the godforsaken islands of Spain and the West Bank during the first couple months of 2020, my dad purchased a new (it was used, but it was new to us) Ford Ranger that my family had found for him online to replace the one that’d gotten smashed up on Christmas Day 2019. He was very proud of his new truck and rightfully so. It ran a helluva lot nicer than the old one. Looked sharp too. Black, shiny, no rust, no dents. Inside didn’t stink like shit either and none of the seats had holes in ‘em. And to go along with the sharp-looking truck, he’d driven to some place called The Truck Shop down in Franklin Park from where he purchased an equally black and shiny Leer brand cap to cover the bed of the truck which is where we store the majority of our window washing and gutter cleaning equipment while working. The only thing he hadn’t yet purchased was a ladder rack to put atop the truck cap so we’d be able to transport the extension ladders from our house to the jobs. And so, when I got home from my trip a couple weeks into March of 2020, Dad told me that a bunch of people had already been calling him, requesting our window washing and gutter cleaning services in spite of the coronavirus taking over the world.
“Well then,” I said, “let’s get a ladder rack for that truck o’ yours and get back to work. But uh…they didn’t have any racks at Truck Shop or what?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was just there to buy a cap.”
“Hmm, okay,” I said. “Well, I’ll do some research and see what I can find out.”
So, after doin a little bit of poking around on the internet, it seemed that Rack Attack up on Dempster in Skokie was the place to go. They had a wide range of racks to choose from, they offered installation on all products they sold and they had a ton of good reviews from people for whom they’d installed all types of racks that are meant to securely hold everything from bikes and skis to kayaks and rooftop tents. So one day we took a trip up there and – same as if he and I had gone to a Hooters restaurant together – me and my dad had a look around at all the racks that were on display. A lot of the shit they had there in the store was nice or whatever but clearly wasn’t designed to carry big ladders. So we had a look online and ended up taking a liking to this product called the Kargo Master III that appeared to be a bit more in our wheelhouse, so to speak. We asked the Rack Attack employee what he thought about that one and the guy said he wasn’t an expert in dealing with Kargo Master products, but looked up the specs on his computer and said the Kargo Master III would definitely fit the truck bed of a Ford Ranger and should also fit around the Leer cap quite nicely. We told him we want it – we told him we got customers waiting and need to get back to work ASAP and how that thing right there looked like it’d do the trick for us. The guy took note of our enthusiasm and warned that since they obviously didn’t have any in stock at the time, he said he could put an order in for one right away but didn’t know exactly how long it would take to get in the shop because it was unclear at the moment whether or not the shipping company they used was gonna be shutting down their operations due to covid. Me and Dad talked it over for a minute and decided to go ahead with the purchase.
After like close to a month of waiting, we got a call from the agent at Rack Attack sometime in April letting us know our Kargo Master was in. So the next morning, we took two cars over there – my mom’s Ford Edge and my dad’s truck – and we dropped the truck off and the guy told us it should be ready sometime that afternoon and that he’d give us a call whenever he was done. We said that that sounded great and hopped in my mom’s car to drive back home. On the way back to our house, me and Dad couldn’t stop talkin about how nice it was gonna be to get back to work and were even discussing which of our jobs we were gonna set up for the following day. So we get home and are sittin around, passin the time the same way we’d been passin the time during the whole past month, and then sometime in the early afternoon the phone rings. It’s that same employee from Rack Attack. Instead of tellin us our shit’s ready to come pick up, the guy says it’s just not gonna work out. He says although the rack fits fine on the truck bed, he can’t get it to fit around that particular cap. So, with heavy hearts, Dad and I drive back to this place to go retrieve his truck.
“If you’re lookin for somethin to carry big ladders, I think the Kargo Master was your best bet,” the guy said as we stood next to my dad’s truck in the back of the shop. “Thing is, like I said on the phone, I just can’t secure both the cap and the ladder rack to the truck bed at the same time.”
“Yeah, that’s what ya said, but whattaya mean by that?” we asked. “Like, can you show us why it doesn’t fit?”
“Sure,” he said. “Like, the cap bows out too far at one point and leaves no room for the support bars of the rack to get past. Look here,” he pointed at the side of the cap. “See how wide it is here – how it kinda sticks out? The only way I could make the Kargo Master fit here is by cutting out some pieces of your nice fiberglass cap to make room for the support bars to go from the ladder rack up top and to come down here along the sides where they’d then be secured to the actual body of the truck – to the truck bed. Ya see?”
“Yeah, okay. I see what you’re talkin about,” we said. “So uhh…can you do that for us?”
“Cut those pieces out and make this thing fit. Cuz like, we got a buncha customers waitin for us and we really need to get back to work and shit.”
“Mmm, I dunno about that,” the guy said. “Ya know…I’m really sorry. But no, I’m not comfortable doing that. Because there’s a pretty good chance the cap will crack as I’m cutting it and even if it doesn’t crack, it’s gonna be impossible to seal the areas I’ve cut out and it’ll no longer be waterproof. It’s just not a good idea and I don’t wanna be held liable for it. I’m really sorry. This doesn’t happen often. Like I said when you first came in, we don’t normally carry this rack and I had no personal experience working with it, but I really did think it was gonna fit on here though.”
“Hmm, yeah, okay,” we said. “That’s alright. Especially since you said we’ll get a full refund for it. But what other option do we have? Like, seriously, we really need to get back to work.”
“Well,” he took a deep breath, “this Leer 180 you have is a really nice cap. It looks great on your truck, but just isn’t the best for carrying big ladders. As you know, it’s like somewhere between six inches and a foot taller than the cab of the truck up where the passengers sit. That really limits the options of what type of rack we can put up there. See these,” he grabbed a catalogue and handed it to us, “racks like these are the only thing I think I can fit onto a cap like this.”
The ones on the page he was referring to were all basically just two non-connected parallel bars secured to the roof of smaller vehicles – like, one bar at the front spanning from the driver to the front passenger side of the vehicle and the other a couple feet behind it. In the photos, strapped down to these racks were kayaks and surfboards.
“This is the only type of rack you can fit on this cap?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said.
“Okay, well…” I began and walked over by the truck so I could illustrate my proposal, “if that’s the case, can we secure one of the two bars to the actual roof of the truck up here by the driver seat or whatever, and then have the other bar secured all the way back there on top of the cap near back of the truck?”
“No,” he said. “Ya see, that’s the problem with having an elevated cap. Like, the bars have to be at the same height as one another. I’d have to secure both of the bars to the roof of the cap so they’d be even.”
“I see,” I said. “But like, don’t you have some way of elevating the front bar off the roof of the passenger cab so it would sit flush with the support bar on the cap in the back?”
“Nah,” he said. “They don’t make ‘em extendable and there’s no way to elevate one bar to be even with the other. They’re made for flat roofs. There’s no way around it, both bars would have to be on the roof of the cap.”
“Yeah, but look,” I said, pointing to the cap. “The elevated part of this thing is probably only six feet long at most and I’m guessing you can’t secure the bars right at the end of the cap, you’d hafta have at least a foot of buffer on each end, right?”
“More or less.”
“Okay, so we subtract two feet and that leaves us with two bars on the roof of this cap only four feet apart from one another. I’m sure that would be fine for canoes and surf boards as shown in the photos of the catalogue there, but we’ll be carrying four big extension ladders at all times – the biggest bein a 28-footer. Sure, it’s only a little more than half that long when not extended, but even so…like, with a support base as small as four feet for a ladder that big, don’t you think it would be bouncing up and down like a seesaw and banging off the hood of the truck every time we hit a pothole or go over speed bumps?”
“Well…” the guy mused. “Yeah, maybe.”
“So, this probably isn’t a good option for us either then, right?”
“Yeah, no,” the guy said. “Probably not.”
There appeared to be nothing left for us to discuss with the gentleman at Rack Attack, so we returned to our house in separate cars. When we got back my dad asked me what I think we should do about the situation. To me, it seemed the only solution was to go buy a different cap, preferably one manufactured by the company Swiss that already had the ladder rack attached to the top of it just like the ones we had on my dad’s previous two trucks. They ain’t as pretty as Leer caps, but I’d hafta say that they’re a helluva lot more practical for our purposes as window washers and gutter cleaners. But like, even though I felt like this was the only solution, I had a hard time telling this to Dad. I mean, he’d been sober for like a month now and in a good mood and excited to get back to work with me and he was proud of having gone and picked out that nice Leer cap on his own and I didn’t wanna hurt him. I didn’t wanna hafta tell him that he fucked up and should’ve told the people at the Truck Shop specifically what he needed that truck cap for – that he needed one that was compatible with ladder racks so we could do our job – instead of just picking out the prettiest one they had. I dunno. I just wanted the guy to have a win. I just wanted something in his life to go right for a change and my inability to find a solution to this problem that didn’t call his competence into question made me feel so fuckin guilty. It made me hate myself. But in spite of this guilt and self-hatred, I had to be honest.
“I think we’re gonna hafta get a new cap. I don’t have any more ideas as to how we could make this one work. Sorry, my man.”
“Okay,” he received this news with much more ease than I delivered it. “When you wanna go get one?”
I told him I’d make a few phone calls and let him know.
So, I went inside the house and called up The Truck Shop in Franklin Park and spoke with this chick named Christina who was the agent that helped my dad a couple months back during his purchase of the Leer cap. I told her who I was and explained the situation to her and asked if there was any chance we could exchange that cap for another one.
“No, no,” she said. “We don’t do exchanges. I’m very sorry. But I feel so bad. Your dad was such a nice man, but honestly he didn’t mention anything at all about using the truck for his business or putting a ladder rack on it while he was here. If he did, I would’ve helped him get what he needed. I’m very sorry about this, but there’s nothing I can do.”
I thanked her for her time and told her we’d come see her in the shop very soon to pick out a new cap.
I can’t remember if it was that same afternoon or the next day when me and my dad drove down there, but we did and we picked out a black Swiss cap with the ladder racks built onto it and she told us it’d be like another five whole weeks before they’d receive it from the factory in Indiana. That wasn’t good news for our business or for our customers who’d already been waiting a whole month for us to get to their houses, but we had no choice. So, we drove back to our house and resumed playing the waiting game.
The first Wednesday in May of 2020 – it was the 6th of the month – me and my dad got into my mom’s car and drove down to Franklin Park to pick up the truck with the new cap freshly installed. Christina told us that, since we had nowhere reasonable to store it around our house, they’d keep the Leer cap there for us at The Truck Shop in their warehouse until we were able to find a buyer on eBay or whatever. I don’t think it was until September or October of that year – after having dealt with more than his fair share of flakes, tards and A-Holes – that my brother was contacted on his Facebook Marketplace by someone that actually ended up buying the thing from us. At that point, that was like four or five months after Dad’d been dead, so it was really nice to finally have found a new home for that nice-looking cap he was so proud of having bought all by himself.
But anyway, I’d say it’s about a twenty-five minute ride from our house to The Truck Shop down in Franklin Park and my dad was in a particularly talkative mood that morning. When I say that, I don’t mean that he really wanted to have a conversation with me, I mean that he went off on one of his storytelling tangents that he’d been known to go on from time to time. It was just one after another with no break in between. He got into some other sidebar stuff along the way, but the main vein of this story-dump had been every job he’d ever had. I was more present than usual that day. I listened attentively and let the flow of tales take me away. It was kind of a surreal experience looking back on it – like he and I were in a bubble and the things going on outside of the car were totally inconsequential, yet I somehow paid just enough attention to ‘em as to not get us in an accident. I actually remember wanting to pull out my phone at one point to record him firing out all these stories, but ultimately decided not to. I was driving, sure, but that wasn’t the main reason I didn’t do it. For some reason it just felt wrong. It just kinda felt like it would’ve been a perversion of the moment as it’d actually been occurring, if that makes any sorta sense. And although that decision felt right at the time, I sure as shit wish I had his voice on tape right now tellin all those stories to listen to whenever I felt like it. But anyway, since I don’t have those stories on tape, all that Dad was talkin about that day went somethin like this…
He mentioned about when he was a kid how his dad, in addition to being a fireman, worked as an exterminator on the side and how he’d accompany him into roach-infested West Side apartment buildings to spray them all down. After that, as a teenager, he used to work at this fast food restaurant on Higgins called Burger Farm where he learned how cool it was to crumple up pieces of foil, put them in the microwave and watch a bunch of lightning bolts shoot around inside the machine. Then he got into how, immediately after he himself had just graduated from a different high school – Gordon Tech – he worked as a janitor at Taft High School during their summer break. He said it was the best job he ever had. When he was out mowing the lawn on the grounds he’d check out all the girls in driver’s ed and when he was inside he’d made a habit of shooting fifty free throws a day in the gym. He said the best he shot that summer was forty-nine out of fifty. Then not long after that, he worked as a mailman – first at the airport and then out in Morton Grove. He told me how brutal it was doing his route during the blizzard of 1979. He said some of the snow drifts he had to trudge through were more than waist-high. He also mentioned how – when the weather was nicer and when they’d finish their routes early – he and a few fellow mailmen would stop off at some place on Dempster just west of Waukegan where they’d have a few beers while watching the Cubs game before later returning to the post office to clock out. At some point he was driving a truck, making deliveries for Joseph Electronics and then at some other time, he was doing the same for some liquor distributor.
“And then this other time – I’m sure I’ve told you before – I was drivin for Romano Brothers and was out with a fully-loaded truck makin a buncha deliveries and at one point I made too sharp of a turn and none of the stuff in the back was strapped in right and I hear this loud crash and I pull over and I open up the back door to check out the damage and this huge wave of alcohol and broken glass comes pourin out into the street.”
He barely took a breath before jumping into the next story.
“Or how about – did I ever tell you about the time I was makin a delivery to this liquor store at night and I pulled up behind the place into this dark alley?” he asked rhetorically. “And as I’m sittin there stackin the order on a dolly to wheel it in, this car pulls up in front of me with the lights off and they pop the trunk and these two black dudes get out and start walkin towards me. They both looked like pretty strong dudes. One was average height but the other guy was enormous. He musta been over six-and-a-half-feet tall. And I’m thinkin to myself, ‘Oh fuck, I’m about to get robbed.’ And as they’re walkin towards me, the little guy says in this soft, high-pitched voice, ‘Hey man, bring that stuff over here and throw it in my trunk.’ And as I see the guy’s face, my jaw dropped. I go, ‘You’re Walter Payton!’ And he reaches out to shake my hand. ‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘I own this place.’ Oh man, it was so fuckin cool.
“After that I washed windows with Brennan for a few years up on the North Shore before breakin off and startin my own business in Sauganash. I started advertising in their neighborhood newspaper over there and kept gettin more and more business through word of mouth. Of course, I’d already been on the fire department for ten years at that point. I always said, ‘Thank God for the Chicago Fire Department.’ Who the fuck knows what I’d have been doin all these years if I never got that call. We wouldn’t live where we live and you guys certainly wouldn’t have gone to the schools you guys went to, I’ll tell ya that much. But back then when I first started my own window business, we were livin in our old house on Melvina and I was tryin to study for the lieutenant’s test. You were kind of a pain-in-the-ass kid back then. I’d go down into the basement and try to get some studyin done down there and you were like two-years-old and you’d come down the stairs and start buggin me to go play baseball in the yard. I’d say, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s go.’ Then sometimes I’d push you in the stroller down Melvina to this newspaper stand that was on the other side of Montrose. I didn’t feel like pushin you across the busy street with me to go pick up the paper on the other side, so I’d just leave you there in the stroller on the corner and go get the paper. I went back to the house and told mom that’s what I did and she threw a fit. ‘You left him in the stroller on the other side of the street?!’ she yelled. And although I didn’t stop doin stuff like that, that was the last time I ever told her about it.”
We pulled into The Truck Shop parking lot.
“There’s the truck,” I said. “Looks pretty good.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“You want me to come in with you to talk with her and get the keys or anything?”
“Nah,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”
“Alright,” I said as he climbed out my mom’s car. “I’ll see ya back at home?”
“Yeah,” he said, “see ya back at home.”