Chapter 5 – Worried Sick and Pissed Off
In spite of working together for many years and having an infinite amount of love in my heart for the guy, my relationship with my dad wasn’t the best. Sometimes I’d get really frustrated with him. Well, actually, a lot of the time I would. But rarely would I openly express my anger. Instead I’d swallow it and feel guilty and beat myself up for bein pissed off at the guy who worked his ass off to provide everything for his family for so many years. I mean, what right did I have to be angry at this person – especially in recent years when his mental capacity had diminished and he was oblivious to how much pain his words and actions caused those that cared most about him? Sometimes though, in spite of converting as much of it as I could into self-hatred, the frustration caused by my dad would keep building up over time to such an extent that I could no longer hold it back. Like, take for example this one time he and I were doing a gutter cleaning job in Wildwood and he made some stupid comment to me that I can’t even remember because it wasn’t all that offensive in itself, but it just happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just remember hearing it and being thrown into a rage. I lost my fucking mind and ended up tackling him right there on our customer’s lawn. I was totally ready to beat the fuck out of him.
“Oh real tough!” he shouted from the ground. “You’re gonna beat up an old man?!”
“Yeah, I am!” I yelled in his face. “How do you like bein the one that feels helpless?! Huh? Just the way I always felt when I was a little kid and you’d yell and swear at my mom in front of me when you were drunk off your ass and there was nothing I could do about it, you fuckin’ asshole!”
I didn’t hit him. I let him go. He got up and angrily spiked one of our leaf blowers on the customer’s driveway and part of its plastic shell cracked. A minute or two later, as if the whole thing never happened, I got up on the roof of the house and my dad followed me around on the ground checking all my downspouts and using his blower to clear whatever debris I’d shot out of the gutters off of our customers’ sidewalks and window ledges and hiding it neatly under their bushes as we’d always done.
Although I’m known to throw violent little fits like that from time to time, they were few and far between. Mostly, like I explained, all the frustration and anger I felt towards my dad would be internalized. I’d take it out on myself and it’d most often morph into depression. In the summer of 2017, my mental state got so bad that I felt the need to leave my parents’ house in Chicago and my job with my dad effective immediately and without warning. Unable to care about skipping out on my sister’s college graduation party that was to be held in our backyard a couple weeks after my departure and with no specific plans for once I’d arrived there, I bought a one-way ticket to Mexico City. A rash decision, yes, but I’d hafta say it was for the best. At said graduation party, Dad got completely smashed by mid-afternoon and, in spite of all his best friends from back in the day being at the party, he left by himself to go drive to the bar to keep drinking with a bunch of strangers just because going to the bar every day was part of his little OCD routine and he literally couldn’t skip a single day. He got home and went down into the basement – which is where he lived – sometime in the early evening when my mom, my sister, my brother and his girlfriend were busy cleaning up after the party. As the story goes, not too long after having gone down, Dad came back up the stairs and presented everybody with a gory hand on which several of his fingers had been cut down to the bone.
“Oh my god! What happened?!”
“I was trying to fold up the ping pong table,” he said as blood ran steadily from his hand and dripped all over the hardwood floor of our dining room.
Someone helped my dad wrap up his fingers to try and stop the bleeding while everyone else began wiping up his mess. They followed the trail down into the basement where blood’d been smeared all over the walls and floor as well as the little table where he kept the index card files containing all the customers’ information for the window washing business. Oddly enough, none of the blood was anywhere near the ping pong table which he claimed’d been the cause of his injury. Due to the amount of blood dripping down the length of the oscillating tower fan, some have proffered the theory that that’s where the fingers’d actually been cut, but of course nothing’s been proven. It’s only hearsay. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think they were able to convince Dad to go to the ER that night. I think he was being stubborn and basically told everybody to fuck off. Then he ended up deciding to go the following day and at that point the doctor was like, “Why the fuck did you wait?” Like, I don’t think he would’ve regained full function of his fingers even if he’d gone right away to get ‘em stitched up because they were cut pretty bad and all, but who knows. It’s just more speculation. What I do know is that he could no longer get those fingers that were cut to fully bend ever again.
I returned from Mexico about a month after I’d left and got right back to work. Then a month later, I went to East Africa for five weeks and returned to Chicago at the end of September whereupon I again resumed working. In the time leading up to our fall gutter cleaning season after my return from Africa, I decided I was tired of traveling – or more accurately, running away. I was completely worn out and figured I could no longer continue subjecting myself to all the complicated feelings that get stirred up inside me from spending so much time around my dad. As such, instead of continually resorting to these temporary getaways from the insanity, I began looking for a more permanent escape from life as I’d known it for so many years. In either late November or early December of that year, I’d all but finalized my decision to run off and join the military. One day when we were out doing the gutters, I finally worked up the balls to broach the subject with my father. Here’s the conversation we had while driving in my dad’s truck on Caldwell Avenue as written in my previous work “Diving Deeper.”
“So…I’ve been looking into joining the army.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But I’m not thinking about joining just to join, ya know? There’s this specific job I really want called Cryptologic Language Analyst. And like, if you qualify and get a contract for the job, they send you to school at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where you spend like a year or a year-and-a-half learning Arabic or Chinese or Farsi or something like that, then after that you translate and decode intercepted messages and report them to your superiors so they can make tactical decisions based on what you heard. It seems like the perfect job for me. I mean, I love languages. I’ve spent the past two years studying Spanish every day for at least two hours a day. And like, I’ve been intellectually stagnating for so long now. I’ve been dying to learn something new and I’ve considered going back to school but decided against it because I swore to myself I’d never get back into student loan debt ever again. That was a nightmare. But then my buddy Walsh told me about this position and I honestly can’t think of anything better than getting paid and having benefits for going back to school to learn a language.”
“That sounds pretty cool,” he said.
“Yeah, it is. But like…I’m worried about you. You have so many of these jobs to do every year and you’re not getting any faster climbing up these ladders and…I just feel guilty leaving you.”
“No,” he said. “Don’t. You go out and you do what you gotta do.”
As I’d already touched upon in the previous chapters, things didn’t work out as planned. First of all, I ended up joining the Air Force, not the Army. Also, and more importantly, during my time in the service my dad fell off a roof and was seriously injured. I told myself it wouldn’t have happened if I was there and I blamed myself for having abandoned him. Although I felt guilty as fuck, I can’t pretend that that was the only reason the Air Force didn’t work out for me. First of all, I pushed myself way too hard. I did nothing but study Arabic every day after class Monday through Friday and studied for an additional twelve hours a day on both Saturday and Sunday. And like, sure, I was making great progress or whatever, but that type of auto-flagellation is not sustainable long-term. It’s a marathon, not a sprint as they say – slow and steady wins the race and all that good shit, ya know? So, even though at two months into this fourteen-month course I’d had an A and knew more than my classmates, I crashed and burned – from the perspective of those around me – without warning. Furthermore, it can’t be ignored that I have major problems with authority and arbitrary rules and being talked down to. I’m also a commitmentphobe that was deeply disturbed by the thought of being owned by this entity for another five-and-a-half years. And on top of all that shit that’d been steadily wearing me down, I was also pretty upset about an old friend pressuring me to stand up at his wedding. Now, this might seem like an unlikely factor in contributing to my mental breakdown, but lemme take a second to rant about this shit real quick…
So…I’d explained to this buddy of mine that I’m really too busy trying to learn Arabic and build a life for myself away from my parents to worry about begging my sergeants for permission to leave my training environment so I can go blow a couple thousand dollars in as many days and waste valuable studying time figuring out a way to get to his destination wedding in bumblefuck Oregon. Like, “Don’t get me wrong, bro – I’m happy you have your life in order and found someone you wanna spend the rest of your life with, but I don’t get it…why do I have to be at this event? Like, what? It means I don’t care about our friendship if I don’t wanna partake in this stupid, overly expensive ritual that I don’t believe in? I mean, I fuckin hate weddings, man. Why is that not okay?” But he didn’t wanna take no for an answer. He said, “Cmon, don’t be such a hermit,” which I found offensive because…what? Just because I no longer hang out with him and all the other same guys from college who just wanna get drunk all the time, that makes me some kind of reclusive weirdo? Like, I’d been sober for a year at that point and was actually trying to do something with my life and didn’t wanna be around those guys anymore because – although I will always appreciate and cherish all the good times we shared together – I felt like we had nothing in common anymore and didn’t wanna resort to drinking to regain that common ground between us, ya know what I mean? Like, fuckin help me out here, man. I’m fallin apart at this language school and need all the support I can get, not more fucking pressure to hafta shoulder.
So anyway, in the end he got what he wanted. I failed miserably and was discharged which means I was able to go to his wedding. The night before the wedding – so, Friday night – they had this welcoming party and as I feared would be the case, I felt so anxious and uncomfortable being there that I ended up getting completely hammered just to try and feel like I still fit in with my old group of friends. So then the next day – the day of the wedding – I laid in bed thinking about killing myself until sometime in the afternoon when it was time to go meet for photos. I slapped on a fake smile and pretended I was alright for the sake of everyone else. And then after that came the ceremony itself and then the dinner and then the music and dancing. I felt so shitty and – although I tried to make it better with some hair of the dog – I couldn’t force myself to take another drink. Like, I put some booze in my mouth, but literally couldn’t swallow it. I just didn’t want any more of that shit in my body and, as of writing this, haven’t had another sip since then. That said, I managed to make it through dinner covering whatever small talk my friends and I hadn’t gone over the night before. And then after that – once the waiters came to take our plates away and people started to get up and mingle – I quietly snuck away from the party without saying goodbye to anyone.
The morning after, I drove my rental to the airport and flew back to Chicago where I spent the whole next week hungover and – at random times during the months following the wedding when my at-home anxiety would hit its peak – I’d make myself sick rehashing it all in my mind. I’d start yelling and swearing in front of my mom about how I couldn’t stand being a 30-something-year-old loser back at my parents’ house, dealing with the same fucking bullshit around here as ever. I’d yell about how jealous I was of all my former classmates who made it through that Arabic class and how much I hate my dad for falling off that roof and how much I hate my friend for pressuring me to go to his stupid fucking wedding that I couldn’t have given less of a fuck about. And of course, I’d yell about how much I hate myself for being a such spineless twerp that doesn’t know how to stand up for myself and can’t ever put my foot down and say no to people when they want something from me that I’d really rather not give ‘em. I remember thinking quite a bit about how I didn’t wanna kill myself, but really wished that I was dead.
Wow, that’s super embarrassing to admit. But anyway, a couple months after my Air Force breakdown – a couple months that I’d spent waiting for my discharge paperwork to go through – I was officially declared a free man by the US Armed Forces back in mid-October of 2018. It was at this time I went back to Chicago to live with my parents and continue working alongside my dad. I remember the first job that he and I did together after my disastrous little military experiment had been a window washing job up in Evanston. At one point he was washing the inside of a window in the kitchen and I was atop a six-foot step ladder washing the outside of the same window. The homeowner was sitting at the kitchen table just behind my dad on the interior. As is customary when two guys are each washing different sides of the same window, I got my dad’s attention and pointed out some smudges I wanted him to wipe off on his side of the glass. He focused his eyes on the area where I’d been pointing but instead of just taking his rag and wiping it down how we’ve always done, to my horror my dad cocked his head back and proceeded to spit a loogie on the window. Okay, wait – that’s inaccurate. The term “loogie” kinda implies it was a phlegmy chunk, but it was actually more of a salivary spray. Nevertheless, “Oh my god,” is what I thought to myself. “What the fuck was that?!” I glanced over his shoulder on the interior of the house to see if the homeowner had taken notice of this heinous act committed just a couple feet away from where they share family meals. She hadn’t. She remained oblivious. My dad then casually raised his rag to the pane and wiped his bubbly dripping bodily fluids from the glass before looking out at me for approval. I gave him a thumbs-up, signaling I could no longer see the streak I’d pointed out.
A couple days after that, we were washing windows at the house of a long-time customer named Earl. I have quite a few memories from Earl’s house from the last few years regarding my dad and none of them are good ones. In the fall of 2017, when we were cleaning the gutters, my dad set the ladder up at too big of an angle on the blacktop driveway and it slipped out on him when he was at the top of it and he came crashing down from ten or twelve feet up. In the fall of 2019, Earl – an 80-year-old man with a healthy appearance and all his mental faculties intact – pulled me aside to tell me how worried he was about my dad. He said he was afraid my dad – a man somewhere between fifteen and twenty years his junior – looked like he was dying. And then while washing windows that one day in the fall of 2018, we had Gary – one of my dad’s old fireman guys – there doing the job with us. Honestly, I was a bit surprised to see him. He hadn’t worked with us for a couple years at that point. He’s probably somewhere between ten and fifteen years younger than my dad and my dad was his lieutenant back in the day on the CFD, showing him the ropes in that world and also inviting him to be part of the window crew on their off-days. Before coming back to Chicago where he’d grown up and getting on the fire department, Gary had also spent some time in the Air Force and I’d talked with him about his experience before making my decision to join. So, he knew where I was and what I was up to and appeared to be as surprised to see me back working with my dad as I was to see him. As we got to work, he asked me what I’m doing home, asked me if I was on leave or something. I told him that the whole military thing just wasn’t for me. He told me that two years would’ve been a long time to be stuck in a military training environment, but that I probably would’ve liked the Air Force if I’d made it through said training.
“Yeah,” I said, “you’re probably right. But I was miserable and couldn’t stand the thought of being miserable for another year-and-a-half so…it just wasn’t gonna work out.”
He said he understood. And then after a minute of silence, he said, “Listen, I don’t really wanna be doin this window stuff anymore. I got other stuff goin on these days. I’m just here helpin out because I feel bad. Your dad’s not as sharp as he used to be,” he said, tapping his index finger to his temple. “I mean, I went outta my way to ask around and find some young guys who’d be interested in doin this stuff and got their phone numbers and gave ‘em to your dad. If he needs help, tell him not to call me anymore. Tell him to call those guys instead, okay?”
I was caught off-guard and kind of offended that someone outside my immediate family was talking to me about my dad’s mental slowness as if I didn’t know, but I didn’t show it. In as few words as possible, I assured him that he wouldn’t be hearing from my dad anymore. And in that moment, I also decided we weren’t gonna use any of the guys that Gary’d gotten for my dad either. My old man’s not a fucking charity case and I’d personally see to it from now on that everything having to do with his business gets taken care of without the help of people who feel bad for him or might think less of him for bein some kind of mental deficient.
I don’t know how many roofs or extension ladders my dad’d been on since his mighty tumble back in the summer, but upon my return I did my best to ensure he never went higher than on a six-foot ladder while doing the outside of people’s first floor windows. This got a little tricky a month later during gutter cleaning season when pretty much all of the work is done off extension ladders. My brother Danny and this guy Brian who grew up down the block from us’d been helping out that fall and – at times when I wasn’t paying attention to what my dad was doing because I was either on a roof myself, or setting up ladders for those two other guys to go up on roofs, or checking their downspouts for them – I’d catch my dad limping up a ladder one rung at a time to get on top of a garage or one of the lower roofs on our customers’ houses. He couldn’t really move too fast or steadily on flat ground at this point in his life and didn’t look any better trying to walk the perimeter of a roof with a leaf blower in his hand. I’d get sick to my stomach watching him and hope to god he wouldn’t trip and fall.
One day we were working in our neighborhood at the house of this guy my dad called Fat Ed. I got some ladders set up and I told Danny and Brian to start with the high roof then left them to do their thing. Before I could get to the ladder I’d set up with the intention of getting up there myself, my dad’d already been halfway up on his way to the garage roof. Fat Ed didn’t like this one bit. Like, I’m sure Ed didn’t even know about my dad’s fall and hospitalization earlier in the year, he’d probably just looked out the window and seen my dad’s appearance and the way he’d been gimping around the property when he decided to come out and confront me about it. The guy came right up to me and said, “Hey, I don’t want him on my roof. Why is he up there? Why aren’t you up there?” I just gave him a “He’s been doin this for a long time. He knows what he’s doin up there,” to appease the man while hoping extra hard that my dad’d eventually make it back down safely. He did. But after the job I couldn’t let the issue go unaddressed.
“Hey, so…Ed bitched at me. He was kinda pissed off that you went up on his garage roof. He was really worried that you were gonna fall off.”
“Well, fuck him,” Dad said with his between-jobs Marlboro in his hand. “I’d like to see him get his fat ass up there and do the gutters. Guy’s probably never walked a roof in his life.”
“Well, yeah, that’s probably true,” I said. “But that’s why he hired us. Because he doesn’t wanna get up there himself. Because, as you know, what we do is pretty dangerous.”
I hate being told what to do. And because of all that “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Catholic mumbo jumbo I grew up with, I hate telling people what to do or not to do with their lives – especially someone as stubborn as my dad. It makes me so uncomfortable. But I had to say my piece.
“Look,” I said, “no one’s doubting your ability to still get up there and walk the roofs, but like…why risk it, ya know? You’re sixty-three years old. In addition to having been a badass, smoke-eating west side fireman for thirty years, you’ve also now been cleaning gutters for over thirty. You’ve got nothing to prove. You’ve been an excellent provider paying the mortgage, sending us to Catholic schools and putting food on the table. But now all your kids are graduated and you got a nice pension coming in…there’s no real reason for you to still be out here risking your life on ladders and roofs. Like, I know how much you like goin for your walks in the woods. But like, what if you were to fall again and you don’t get as lucky as you did the last time? What if you ended up in a wheelchair and could never get your miles in the woods anymore and would be trapped in the house all day waiting to die? Wouldn’t that be a nightmare? I’m not tellin you you should quit your business, but how bout takin a more managerial role or somethin like that? I dunno,” I shrugged. “I’m just sayin that if you’d rather take it easy and go on walks and enjoy your retirement instead of continuing to do this shit, I understand. Believe me, you’ve earned it and no one would think you’re a lazy sluggo for doing so.”
“Nah, nah,” he got all defensive. “I plan on working for at least five more years.”
End of discussion.
Now, lemme give you a little background on what our business looks like. Our work season usually runs for about nine-and-a-half months a year. Window washing season goes until mid-November once all the leaves’ve fallen down. That’s when we switch our focus over to the ever-dangerous but twice-as-lucrative gutter cleaning business. Whereas we can clean gutters during window season, there’s really no time for window washing during gutter season. We have between three and four-hundred jobs to do every year and not a lot of time to do ‘em. If we’re lucky, we’ll get three weeks to a month between the falling of the leaves and the first snowstorm that puts us out of work until all that shit melts off the roofs and it’s safe to go up there again. Sometimes we don’t even have a whole week before we get hit with snow and it’ll end up taking us until mid-to-late January to finish all the jobs. Ya never know. During an average season though, if we’re working seven days a week from about 8:30 in the morning until sunset every day, we usually finish right around Christmas or New Year. And then after that we don’t have shit goin on through mid-March when the window washing calls start trickling in again. Although I’ve gone on trips during all different times of the year, it’s that time period – our off-season – when I’ve historically gone out and done most of my traveling.
Well, the rest of gutter cleaning season 2018 came and went without incident. The holidays’d arrived and as is tradition, my siblings and I went with my mom to her brother Al’s house for Christmas Eve. Pretty sure my dad just went to the bar. In recent years, he couldn’t really be bothered to do holiday stuff with the rest of the family. Anyway, there in the kitchen, at some point before dinner’d arrived, I struck up a conversation with my Uncle Rich. Rich is a bit of an intellectual with a sarcastic edge and, like always, had his glass of wine in his hand and’d been making loud, wise-ass comments to everybody in his vicinity before he and I started talking one-on-one. Like, when I was younger, he’d always give me a hard time. I remember one time having slept over at their house when I was a kid and he was tormenting me about this creature named Stanley the Spider that was gonna crawl all over me when I was sleeping in the basement of their split-level home. But something changed when I’d gotten older and’d gone traveling – specifically to Southeast Asia. Uncle Rich fought in Vietnam, ya see, and was interested in hearing how much it’d changed in the four decades since he’d been there. He told me a bit about his experience and like that we developed a rapport. On this particular Christmas, I’d just finished explaining to him how and why my own military experience didn’t work out when he said…
“Well, what do you plan on doing now?”
“I think I’m just gonna stick with my dad doin the windows and gutters,” I told him. “He keeps tellin me he’s got five more years of that shit in him and I’d like to be there to help him with it – do all the more dangerous stuff so he doesn’t have to and make sure everything goes smoothly, ya know?”
“You’d put your life on hold for the next five years to keep working with your dad?”
“I mean…I don’t see it like that. Cuz it’s not like I’d be making a huge sacrifice in doing so. I can’t function in an office environment and don’t exactly have any other opportunities jumpin out at me especially now with a failed military experience on my record. And I’ve been doin that stuff for so long that it’s like second nature to me at this point. And I’ll still be able travel when I need a break, so…yeah. I think that’s what I’ll do.”
He nodded his head and made a face indicating he understood my point of view.
“You thinking about going anywhere this winter?” he asked.
“I am,” I told him. “I’m gonna be going to…”
As I mentioned, after being removed from Arabic class but before being discharged from the Air Force, I spent about two months on maintenance duty at the DLI sweeping and mopping floors while waiting for my paperwork to go through. Each day, after being relieved of my duty, I’d go back to my barracks and either read, have a wank and/or stare out the window at the nearby pine trees, daydreaming about the future. One evening, while reading up on travel to Central Asia – specifically that along and around the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan – I stumbled upon an article by some guy who’d recently hiked the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan. The photos from his trip looked incredible – makeshift bridges over raging white rivers, stone huts, wild buzkashi-playing Kyrgyz nomads whose women milk yaks in red dresses…it looked like a trip back in time. It looked sexy. It looked dangerous. In an ever increasingly civilized world, it looked like the final frontier of adventure travel. I didn’t even really need to think about it. It was just kinda automatically decided that that was what I was gonna do when I got out. Though, as you may’ve gathered, January is not a good time to go hiking up in the mountains of Afghanistan…that is, if such a thing as a “good time” for a stupid white American to go walking around the mountains of Afghanistan has ever existed. So, because of wintry conditions, that adventure would hafta wait until the following summer. In the meantime…
“…Jordan,” I said. “Yeah, I’ll be going to Jordan. A couple years ago they opened up this hiking trail there that’s like 650 kilometers across the whole country from north to south. It looks awesome and I thought it’d be a good way to put to use the couple months of Levantine Arabic I just studied in the Air Force.”
So, January rolled around and I flew to the Middle East. I wasn’t really worried about leaving my dad behind because as I mentioned there’s really no work during the first couple months of the year. Sure, he did a few snow removal jobs each winter against his family’s wishes – we didn’t think it a good idea for a 60-something-year-old guy who smokes and’d been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation to be doing this sort of work known to cause heart attacks – but if he wanted to kill himself doin that dumb shit, I wasn’t gonna blame myself for it. Somehow, unlike preventing him from falling off ladders and roofs, this just didn’t seem like my responsibility. So, I walked that trail, I met a buncha cool people and had an awesome time. I returned to Chicago in late April or early May just as our busy season was starting to get underway and got right back in the swing of things while starting to map out the plans for my Afghan getaway in late July/early August.
In the weeks leading up to that Central Asian excursion, I had a ton of shit on my mind. I was worried not only about my decision to go on said trip and all the details of its planning and the testicular fortitude I’d be required to muster in order to follow through with the execution of said plans, but I was also very worried about my dad. I was paranoid something was gonna happen to him while I was away. Somewhere around this time I had this dream that I was washing the windows at some house on top of a hill next to the expressway. The house looked a lot like the “bad dream house” in the original Treehouse of Horror episode from The Simpsons. I was doin the job by myself, but from that vantage point could see my dad driving along the frontage road in his Ford Ranger. I see him make a turn he shouldn’t. He’s driving the wrong way on an exit ramp onto the expressway. I see a big semi-truck getting off the expressway at that same exit. My dad is oblivious to this. Just like that couple yelling from an adjacent car at Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, I try to yell at him that “You’re going the wrong way!” but he can’t hear me. Although I can see it coming clear as day, he’s oblivious to his impending doom. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel powerless. I feel helpless. I watch with a broken heart as my dad’s truck crashes head-on and is creamed by the semi. He’s killed instantly.
It wasn’t just that one. My dad would get killed in lots of my dreams in lots of different ways – especially during this time of my life – and there was never anything I could do to stop it. His thought process, his behavior and his physical condition at the time in real life’d all been quite troubling to me, so it’s no wonder this disturbance was reflected as such in my dreams. One of the things that bothered me the most’d been this one time when he and I went to go do a new window washing job in Park Ridge. It was a smaller house – a bi-level – belonging to a young couple with school-age children. To start things off, my dad didn’t remember that he told the woman on the phone that we’d be doing the job that afternoon. He and I had just finished another window washing job and it was already around two-thirty when we got to the lady’s house and my dad told me we were done for the day and he was just gonna give her a quick estimate. When we got to the house, this mom in her mid-thirties comes outside and greets us saying, “Hey! I was wondering if you guys were still coming today. I gotta go pick up my kids from school in a few minutes, but I’ll leave the door unlocked for you guys so you can come in and out and do what you gotta do.” My dad’d been running his business for nearly thirty years and had a really good reputation. Most of our new clients were obtained through word-of-mouth from loyal customers we’d had for years. So, it wasn’t unusual for complete strangers to trust us being in their houses like this. That said, she went back in the house and it was just me and my dad in the front yard.
“Uhh…” I began, “you didn’t remember telling her on the phone yesterday that we were gonna do the job today? You gave her a price without even looking at the house?”
“Well,” he said, “I guess she wants it done today, you wanna do it?”
“I guess so. But that’s not the question I asked. Like…do you not remember the details of the conversation you had with this person at all? Were you really drunk last night or can you just plain old not remember or…what?”
He blew off my question and we started getting ready to do the job. I put soap and sponges in two buckets and began filling ‘em up. The lady was leaving to go get her kids and asked me if it’d be possible to wash her two skylight windows in addition to all the other ones.
“Just outside or inside AND out?” I asked.
“Both,” she said, “if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Yeah,” I told her. “No problem. I’ll get those done for ya right at the beginning.”
So, I gave my dad his bucket and then set an extension ladder up on the roof. He didn’t tell me where he was gonna start washing. I decided I’d find out where he was and form a plan of action based on that after having first taken care of the skylights. So, I got up on the roof and washed the outside of those two skylights then came back down, grabbed my bucket and went inside the house to go set it down beneath the interior of the skylights before going back outside to grab the appropriate ladder I’d need to reach ‘em. Upon entering the house, however, I heard a strange slamming noise. It was like the sound of someone opening and shutting a door over and over really fast. I had no idea what it could be, but started tracing it to its point of origin. Seconds later, I entered the master bedroom and found my dad opening and closing all the drawers on these people’s dressers. I was shocked. And livid. I wanted to blow up on him right then and there. But I had to play it cool.
“Hey!” I said and he jumped. He had no idea I was watching him go through these people’s drawers. “I need you to come hold the ladder for me so I can wash the inside of the skylights.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, and came to help me.
The rest of the job went without incident, the woman soon returned and – about two to three hours later – as per usual, the customer was pleased with a job well done. We got paid, we loaded up the truck and started driving away. At that point, I looked over at my dad and said, “What…in the FUCK…was that all about?”
“What?” he replied.
“Whattaya mean what?”
“Uhh…you think I’m not gonna bring up catching you rifling through the customers’ drawers? First you don’t remember telling this lady we were gonna do her house today and then that shit happens. What the fuck’s goin on with you, man?”
He had nothing to say for himself.
“Answer me!” I shouted. “It doesn’t make any god damn sense. You’re an honest hard-working guy who’s done this job for thirty years. You have a great reputation with your customers for being a trustworthy person that does a great job. Why risk blowing that right now? What was so fucking important that you’re gonna go invading someone else’s privacy like that? Are you a pervert? Did you wanna go looking at this young mom’s underwear? Are you jonesin’ for antidepressants? Were you lookin for pill bottles? Were you looking for money to steal? Have you been gambling or something? Do you owe some people some money? I don’t get it, man. Fuckin’ talk to me. What’s goin on with you?”
“No,” he said. He seemed kinda indignant that I was asking him such things. “I just wanted to see what type of jewelry she had.”
“What…what type of jewelry she had?”
“Yep,” he said cockily, “that’s what I was doin.”
“Why? Were you gonna steal it and sell it or give it to some secret girlfriend you got at the bar or what?”
“No, I just wanted to look at it.”
“Oh yeah? You just wanted to look at what typa jewelry she had? You’ve been a beer-drinking sports-watching guy your entire life, but suddenly in your old age you’ve gone faggot and are gonna be violently opening and closing a customer’s drawers just so you can satisfy your curiosity about what type of jewelry this woman wears. That’s so fucking stupid. Why can’t you ever be honest with me? What if she came back home and was the one that caught you instead of me? You’d have completely destroyed your reputation. Or what if she notices their shit is all outta place and has a fuckin nanny cam in their bedroom and reviews it and sees what you were doing? Or worse yet, she sees that the shit’s outta place in her dresser drawers but doesn’t have a nanny cam to see who it was and suspects me instead of you since you’re the one with the good reputation and I’m just the loser son that lives at his parents’ house and works with daddy cuz I’m incapable of doing anything else. You don’t fuckin’ think before you act, man. I’m so god damn pissed off right now.”
“I just wanted to see what type of jewelry she had.”
And that was the last we ever spoke of it.
Selfishly or maybe not-so-selfishly depending on your point of view in regards to the duty of children to take care of their parents even if it means giving up their own dreams to do so, I refused to cancel my trip to Afghanistan even though I was worried sick about leaving my dad behind. In an attempt to control the situation, in the weeks leading up to the trip which was due to commence on the fifteenth of July, I pushed my dad to work extra hard to finish off all the jobs on our waiting list and tried to convince him to take a month off to just relax and go on his walks in the woods while I was gone. It should be noted that I was extra anxious during this time because, unfortunately, it’d only been a couple weeks since the most recent incident that landed him in a hospital. Allow me to explain.
During a solo trip up to Wisconsin for the Fourth of July weekend, after having walked laps all day at Assembly Park on Lake Delavan, my dad was out driving the country roads in the dark and’d forgotten the way to the bar he’d gone to the three evenings previous. Not having a clue how to work any of the navigation apps on his cell phone, he pulled over, got out of his car and started trying to flag down other drivers for directions. Some lady stopped and told my dad she knew where the bar was and that he should get back in his car and follow her there. She didn’t actually take him to the bar, but must’ve figured he was drunk or crazy or something (because who in their right mind in this day and age doesn’t know how to work Google Maps and instead flags people down for directions, directions to a bar of all places?) and’d called the police on and led him to the edge of the nearest town where they intercepted him. Of course, he blew zeros across the board but the trooper told him that maybe he should go to the hospital for an evaluation. He said no, but the guy called an ambulance anyway and continued trying to convince him, saying things like, “C’mon, you know as a former first responder that it’s better to be safe than sorry in these situations.” My dad really didn’t wanna go. He just wanted to finish his OCD routine for the day which at the time included a “couple” beers at and dinner from a bar. After more convincing, Dad started to break and asked, “Well, if I go, what’s gonna happen to my truck?” And the guy said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll leave it right here and I’ll personally drive you back to it after they run some tests on you and make sure you’re okay.” So, he reluctantly goes along.
Later, back in Chicago, when he and I were driving to our first job on the first day back to work after his little getaway, my dad is casually telling me all this stuff and my heart just sank into the ground. Since he made it back alive and was sitting next to me and all, I’d concluded that maybe the trip’d gone without a hitch. The whole five days he was gone my mom was freaking out, just 150% certain something bad was gonna happen to him up there. It was right around this time that he’d sideswiped her car one afternoon while trying to park his truck in front of our house after work, causing a thousand dollars’ worth of damage and pushing my mom one step closer to the edge of insanity. I admit, I was worried too. I was paranoid he was gonna die up there by himself in Wisconsin with no one to watch over him, but just acted like I wasn’t for my mom’s sake and told her that Dad could use some time away by himself, visiting this special place from his childhood where his parents would take him and his seven siblings every Fourth of July when they were kids. I assured her that he’d be fine.
The more and more my dad kept talking, the more trouble I was having concentrating on the rest of the story. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It didn’t seem real. “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” I said as he continued on about how he hated everyone at the hospital and didn’t wanna be there, and how annoying it was to wait for all these tests to be done, and how that fucking asshole cop – some small-town, bed-shitting Barney Fife – didn’t even drive him back to his truck like he said he would, and how he didn’t end up getting to the bar until well after midnight for his beers and his dinner.
“But yeah,” he added after he was done telling the story, “I really liked the gas station up there run by this Indian guy. He had the Chicago Tribune so I could still do the jumble every night and the air machine there was free so I was able to fill up my tire every day without having to pay four quarters.”
One of the tires on my dad’s truck had a pretty significant leak in it for at least a year at that point. Although we tried, none of us could convince him to get a new one. He preferred to make it a part of his daily routine to find four quarters and go to the BP gas station on Milwaukee Avenue in Niles where he’d fill up said tire and then later in the day mention to us about how, “My tire was kinda low today, but then I got four quarters and filled it up. Hopefully it won’t keep leaking out.”
“Oh yeah?” I replied about the place up in Wisconsin. “That’s pretty cool. Wish the air machine at our gas station was free.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”
On the bright side, whatever tests they ran on my dad at that hospital up in Wisconsin all turned out negative. On the not-so-bright side, my dad’s insurance didn’t cover anything out-of-state so my mom blew her stack when I eventually found the courage to relay this story to her. Why was I the one who told my mom, you ask? Well, because that’s the way it works in my house. I knew my dad didn’t have any intention of telling her and – since she’s the one who handles all that typa shit – I didn’t want my mom getting some surprise bills in the mail, so…it had to be done even though I knew it would exacerbate her already-high level of fretting over my father on the home front.
So anyway… As you might’ve guessed, my dad ended up rejecting my plan for him to take a month off while I was away on my half-baked, hare-brained adventure through the Pamirs and into Afghanistan. And truthfully, I didn’t take this rejection very well. The way I remember it, he was sitting at the kitchen table eating his daily chicken sandwich for lunch from Nick’s Drive-In on Harlem. I’d casually mentioned the plan to him before and hadn’t gotten a particularly positive response, but also hadn’t received a definite “no.” I didn’t like talking to my dad in the evenings because he was always drunk and slurred his words and, to be frank, absolutely fucking disgusted me. So, with my departure date rapidly approaching and my nerves on edge, I decided right then and there was the best time to confront him about it. I said…
“Look, man. I don’t wanna hafta worry about something bad happening to you while I’m gone. I’m worried about you fallin off another roof not only for your own well-being, but also because I can’t deal with the guilt of it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if another bad thing happened to you while I’m off doin my thing. And I also don’t wanna hafta give it up either because this trip is important to me. It’s a huge challenge to overcome that most people wouldn’t have the balls to do and I think if I do it, it could help with my self-esteem and confidence which’ve been in the shitter since my breakdown in the military. Can’t you just please take a month off? Can’t you just go on your walks and do your daily routine and enjoy life for a while and we’ll pick up where we left off when I get back?”
He said he wasn’t gonna do that. I was irritated, but not accepting. I still wanted that control over the situation to give me a false sense of security about the future – a little something to put my nightmares to rest so I could sleep more soundly at night. Acknowledging that honest communication wasn’t gonna get the job done, I immediately switched gears to emotional manipulation.
“Dude…why can’t you just do this one thing for me? Don’t you care about me at all?”
“No,” he said just as defiantly as when responding to my questions about rifling through that customer’s drawers. “I don’t.”
I stood there silently for a moment and watched him take a bite out of his chicken sandwich. I was absolutely infuriated about not getting my way. I walked up and spit right in his face as he was chewing his food.
“Who spits in someone’s face!?” he said while wiping himself off with one of the “too many napkins” he always complained about getting in his bag from Nick’s.
“You do!” I shouted an inch away from him. “You do, you stupid fuckin piece o’ shit! Now you know how my mom felt when you’d come home drunk and spit in her face all those times when I was a kid! Fuck you! I’ll fucking kill you!”
My mom rushed over and dragged me away to somewhere where I could cool down. I didn’t end up talking to my dad again before I left. He went ahead and worked in my absence. He at least used a friend of a friend of mine – a young fireman whose number I’d procured and written out on a piece of paper for him to find – to help him out with the gutter cleaning and the second floor exterior window washing so he wouldn’t hafta go any higher than atop a six-foot stepladder to do the first floor windows while I was gone. When I got back a month later – a month without death or serious injury on both his and my part – we continued working together like nothing ever happened between us.