Chapter 24 – He’s Everywhere
It doesn’t matter what I’m doin or where I go, I always end up thinkin about my dad. He’s everywhere. I see him wearin a sleeveless Cubs shirt, standin along the third base line on the bigger of the two ball fields every time I’m walkin through Pioneer Park. I hear him sayin the line, “You’re fuckin disgusting,” every time I rip a big loud stinky fart. I think of him every time I hear the first two chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” or the bass riff from “Substitute” by The Who. Hell, I even think of him every time I drive past a tapas restaurant – and no, it’s not because my dad liked eating tapas. In fact, he didn’t even know what they were. One time when we were havin a family dinner, he seemed kinda disinterested in this story my sister was tellin about what she’d recently done on an evening out with her boyfriend’s family until she mentioned that, “Yeah, so we went to this tapas place and…” Upon hearing that, Dad’s eyes lit up with a curious excitement. He swallowed the mouthful that he’d been chewin and spat out the now oft-quoted line, “Ryan’s family took you guys to a topless place?!” Although it wasn’t easy to run my dad’s business and get all the work done by myself for the majority of 2020, there was an upside. Without anyone around to talk to or to hafta boss around, I found it a lot easier to explore and relive a buncha old Dad memories like the ones mentioned above. And today, in this chapter, I’d like to talk about a few of those memories I have of him and I together at the houses of our regular window and gutter customers we’d been to so many times over the years.
First of all, on a typical workday, I think of Dad way before I even get to any of our customers’ houses. I think of him as I’m climbin into the driver seat of his Ford Ranger every morning, the back of which is full of all his old window washing and gutter cleaning equipment. Strapped to the roof of his truck are all his ladders and I still refer to ‘em the same way he and his guys used to as far back as when I joined the crew somewhere between fifteen and twenty years ago. The 28-foot ladder is nicknamed Big Mo. The 24-foot ladder – the only of which has a halyard – is called Rope Boy. The old 20-foot Werner – the one that’s taken such a beating over the years that both the shoes have cracked off of its bottom – is appropriately called Shoeless. And the newer, sleek and more lightweight aluminum 20-footer is called Little Mo. Most of our customers live in the same general area of the city, so I take the same streets from our house to theirs that my dad had always taken when I’d been sittin next to him in the passenger seat. On these streets, I see him at the wheel with a cigarette in his hand and XRT on the radio. In my head, I replay conversations that he and I had had years ago in that same location as our bodies, side-by-side, had been movin through space at approximately thirty-five miles per hour.
At one intersection near my house, I can see my dad headin westbound on Devon before makin a right turn onto Harlem Avenue where the crappy, broke-ass tailgate of his old truck flopped open and some of the aforementioned equipment went tumblin out all over the surface of the asphalt thoroughfare. I swear, that thing was such a piece o’ shit. I don’t know how or when it happened, but the handle broke off and we never got it fixed. For years, we’d hafta wedge a screwdriver between the tailgate and the body of the truck to keep it from floppin open like that when we were drivin, and that time I guess we hadn’t done it good enough. I can still picture my dad’s truck there on Harlem with the flashers on just before it intersects with the tiny quiet little side street that is Schreiber Avenue. Right behind it, I see me and my dad dodgin traffic as we try to pick up our buckets and squeegees and all the window washing rags that’d been left scattered all over the street from the wind generated by passing cars.
Every time I’m in Sauganash and I’m drivin down Knox a couple blocks north of Peterson, I see the house of this one customer named Tom – I’ll only use his first name here as to not breach window washer/client confidentiality – and think of this one time that me and my dad had been washin windows there. I don’t really know how I could put it more politely, so I’ll just go ahead and say that Tom’s one of those real eccentric motherfuckers. The guy’s in his eighties now, but still loves to brag about the glory days and talks in this really pretentious, hoity-toity typa accent. Last time we were there, he asked my brother if he’d ever seen the show Mad Men. He didn’t wait for my brother to answer before adding that, “That’s me in real life. In the sixties I was an ad exec for cigarette companies. You wouldn’t believe the money I was making and the cars I used to drive. And the house I used to live in down in Lakeview…at least three times bigger than this house here. My wife – she’s my second wife actually; she didn’t know me back when I lived in my old house – she tells me she’s tired of trying to keep up with all the housework at this big old place. She wants to downsize. I tell her, ‘Babe, this IS my downsize house. I’m not going anywhere. And if you don’t like it, you can just get out.’”
One time, years ago, Tom decided he no longer wanted this big leather couch he had in his living room. It was just me and my dad there at the time washin his windows and he asked us to get rid of it for him.
“Well,” my dad said, “I dunno, Tom. It’s a really big couch and there’s no way I could fit it in the back of my truck or anything like that with all our equipment back there.”
“No, that’s fine,” Tom said. “I just want it out of my house. I’m tired of looking at it.”
“Okay,” my dad said. “But where exactly you want us to put it?”
“How bout in the garage for now?” Tom suggested. “I’ll figure out how to permanently get rid of it later.”
Tom’s garage was attached to his house. If you’re lookin at his house straight-on from the street, the front porch is on the left side of the house and the front door is situated on the center of the wall behind the porch. The porch is somewhat elevated from ground-level and made of stone. It’s also set back a bit from the street compared to the living room on the first floor and the master bedroom directly above it which both extend closer to the street. Allow me to clarify. Again, still lookin at the house straight-on, a couple feet to the right of the front door is a perpendicularly running exterior brick wall of the house that’s got a couple windows lookin into his living room. Equidistantly to the left of the door is a three-foot-high brick wall that runs parallel to the other wall I just mentioned. Instead of looking into any part of Tom’s house like the big brick wall to the right however, this short wall on the left overlooks an inclined driveway that leads down about ten or so feet to his subterranean garage. Now, I know that’s not the easiest thing to follow, but I did my best to describe it there, so hopefully you can kinda picture what I’m talkin about. If not, it’s not the end of the world – keep reading.
So anyway, in that living room I just mentioned, Tom pointed out which couch he wanted to go. It wasn’t the typa cheaply made shit that I’m used to seein, this was a nice brown leather designer couch with fancy woodwork on it. I thought it actually looked quite good in the room where it was located, but what the fuck do I know? I’m just some lowbrow jagoff that washes windows for a living – I’ve never lived that Mad Men sorta life, ya know what I mean? So, me and my dad go to pick this thing up and, god damn, was it heavy. Carryin it, I felt like my shoulders were gonna rip outta my sockets or that my lumbar spine was gonna fuckin explode out my lower back. But we made it to the door and at the door we had to angle it a bit to get it out on the front porch. We’d only carried the thing like forty feet and me and Dad were already sweatin bullets. Tom’d been watchin us the whole time and could see that we were strugglin, and once we’d gotten it out onto his porch he told us to stop.
“I don’t want you guys to hafta carry this thing all the way down the stairs and then down the driveway,” he said. “Just throw the couch over the ledge here.”
“Uh, what?” we said.
“Yeah, just hoist it up onto this wall and push it over.”
“But Tom,” my dad said, “this is a pretty nice couch. Someone might want it. And I’m afraid it might break if – ya know – if it’s tossed over the wall and falls ten feet down before landing in your driveway.”
“Well, if you want the couch you can take it.”
“I’m not sayin that I want it, but someone might want it.”
“Nah, no matter. Just throw it over the egde,” he said. “And then you guys are done. From there I can just drag it into the garage myself sometime this afternoon.”
“We can take it all the way into the garage for you, Tom. Really, we’ve come this far.”
“Nah, seriously, just toss it and get back to the window washing. I’ll deal with it later.”
So, that’s what I see every time I drive past that guy’s house. I see me and my dad lifting and tossing some couple-hundred-pound leather couch over a ledge and hearin the thing’s interior crack in half as it landed on the driveway down below.
We got this other customer in Lincolnwood named Ann who’s had us clean her gutters and wash the outsides of her windows once a month, nine months a year for about fifteen years now. Super nice lady. Every time we go there, just after we arrive, she comes out to say hi and asks us how everything’s goin. And then after our brief chat, she hands us a check for what she owes and always complements that with a bag full of sweets – usually Fannie May chocolates – as well as some bottles of water or cans of pop to wash the sweets down with. We then go ahead and do the job – badda bing badda boom and we’re outta there. Every month it was like clockwork. And that’s how it still is even though my dad is no longer around.
Now, every time I’m at that house, I think of two things. First off, I think of how – when we’re cleanin out the gutters – how me and my dad would both get up on the roof at the same time, each with a gas-powered, Echo-brand leaf blower in our hands. And we’d start by blowin all the debris offa the roof itself before goin down near the edge and blowin all the shit outta the gutters. To get the shit outta the gutters, he and I would walk the perimeter of the roof in opposite directions. While walkin our separate ways, we’d blow out as much as we could until he and I ran into each other on the other side of the roof. At that point, we’d each turn back and we’d walk around the way from which we came and we’d hit all the gutters again to get all the remaining stuff we missed the first time around. And then, once we were done makin our way back around the roof, we’d again run into each other on the side where we started. Normally, by this time the gutters are usually pretty clear, so when we’d meet back over there and my dad felt like we were done, he’d look over at me and I’d look right back at him. He’d shrug and make this, “Well, whattaya think? Are we done?” sorta look with his face and I’d nod that, “Yeah, I think it’s good enough.” And, showin that he understood, he’d reciprocate with a nod of his own. I thought it was so cool that we could communicate without words like that. And, I mean, this isn’t the only house where he and I would do that, but it’s just the most memorable because it was so often that we cleaned out those gutters together – like I said, once a month. So, it’s on that roof that I can most easily picture him gesturing like that – that I can still see him makin those faces and whatever.
The other memory I think of there at that house is kind of a stupid, embarrassing one, but I’m gonna tell it anyway. As per usual, before the job, Ann came out and talked to us and paid us and gave us our bag of goodies – this time it was a couple cans of pop and, I dunno, some sorta bag o’ donuts or some shit like that. I mean, by no means was it the best haul we’d ever gotten or anything like that – far from it, in fact – but Ann still paid money to buy that stuff and went outta her way to package it up and have it ready for us when we came to do work on her house, ya know? Like, her doin that shit every time for us really is such a sweet gesture – it’s above and beyond the call of duty. None of our other customers do anything like that – it’s only her.
So anyway, me and my dad did the job like normal, then hung the ladders up and put all the shit away in the back of the truck. We then climbed in and were ready to drive to the next job when my dad said…
“Are you gonna eat any of this donut shit?”
I told him I wasn’t going to.
“Are you gonna drink any of this pop?”
I told him I don’t drink pop.
He asked if Mom and Teresa would want any of that stuff if he brought it back home.
“Probably not,” I told him.
“Well,” he said, “what the fuck am I supposed to do with it?”
“I dunno, man,” I shrugged. “You coulda told her, ‘Thanks but no thanks,’ or somethin. I dunno.”
He just sighed with exasperation and put the car in drive. He drove a block away, turned down some random alley and pulled up next to the first garbage can he saw whereupon he proceeded to chuck the perfectly good bag of food and drink atop the rest of the trash in the receptacle.
“What the fuck did you do that for?!” I asked.
“No one wants it!” he said. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to do with it!”
“Dude, you coulda said no.”
“I couldn’t say no because she wanted to give it to us.”
“You think her feelings would be more hurt if you politely declined her treats than if she knew you just drove around the block and threw ‘em in the fuckin trash? That makes no sense.”
Dad didn’t say anything else, but – since we were just talkin about non-verbal communication between the two of us – I’m pretty sure the look on his face during the rest of the ride on the way to the next job could be interpreted as him tellin me I can go fuck myself.
So, it’s pretty standard when we’re washin windows in people’s houses for ‘em to say shit like, “Oh my god! What a difference! It seems so bright in here now! I can finally see out my windows again!” And a lot of the time my dad would say in return that, “Yeah, it’s like there’s not even a pane of glass there. You’re gonna have birds crashin into your windows.”
Now, I’m pretty sure that, statistically speaking, something like a billion birds die annually in the US alone from flyin into buildings. That’s a pretty ridiculous number. I mean, think about it – a billion. Not a million, not a hundred million, but a billion birds killed each year from gettin their 9/11 on. Wow. It’s like, they’ve been followin these traditional migratory patterns for centuries, but now these skyscrapers have recently popped up on their flight routes and, when the birds are travelin at night, they get all disoriented and shit by the artificial lighting and fly right into the sides of these fuckin buildings and fall straight down to their grisly deaths. I’ve even read that it’s supposedly a normal part of the job for some groundskeepers employed by these big buildings to do a daily sweep-up of the hundreds of dead and injured birds piled up at the bottom each morning, then fill up a swimming pool with ‘em and go skinny-dipping in there. Just kidding about the second part, but the first part is true. Anyway, fun facts aside, I don’t think that that typa collision happens very often on the two-story houses we normally wash the windows of in residential neighborhoods on the northwest side of Chicago. I mean, when I see those flocks of birds goin by overhead, they’re usually clearin our house by a good hundred feet – like, they’re way up there, ya know? So, that said, in his almost three decades of washin windows, in spite of the jokes he always used to make, my dad’d never actually seen any kamikaze birds in action, nor did he ever have any of his customers report to him that such a thing’d happened at their houses after he’d recently cleaned their windows.
So anyway, we used to have this old lady customer named Rosemary who lived not too far from us over by Edison School. I don’t know how old her house’d been, but the windows she had there had to’ve been at least seventy years old. They were these shitty old storm windows that would never stay in place in the old warped-ass tracks where they belonged. After takin ‘em out and washin ‘em, you’d set one in the back track and slide it to the top of the frame and you’d think it’s gonna stay there locked in place where it’s supposed to, but then when you’re puttin the second storm window back in, that first one would come slidin down like the blade on a guillotine and shatter in your face. Like, not gonna lie, it’s actually kinda scary when that happens. And it happened several times while we were there over the years and it was always such a pain in the ass to hafta take the broken windows to the hardware store, pay to have ‘em fixed then go back to the lady’s house a week later and try to put it back in again without the same thing happening. I hated that fuckin job, which is exactly why I was so glad when I heard the news that Rosemary finally decided to sell her house and go move into a retirement home. Before she made that move though, just before she had the real estate photographer comin out to take some photos for the listing, she called up my dad and requested we do her windows one last time.
So, the way we did the job was not the most efficient way, but the safest in terms of preventing those windows from droppin down and bustin in our faces. It was just me and my dad workin that day and what we did first was take out all the storm windows. From the inside of Rosemary’s house, we pulled all those storms in, set ‘em on the floor of whatever room we were in, set up a towel on the floor so we wouldn’t get her carpeting all dirty, then put the storm windows onto the towel and washed both sides o’ them shits. After that – after all the storms were done and left on the floor just below the windows they each belonged in, ready to be replaced – I went outside and would wash the exterior of the double-hung windows offa the ladder while my dad would wash the inside. He’d then slide the bottom half on the double-hung window open and set the first storm window into the track with me right there on the outside. Once he had it in place, I’d hold that first storm window securely in the up position while he got the second one into its track in the down position and then locked the both of ‘em in. Once that was done, they weren’t goin anywhere. I mean, it was a pain in the ass to hafta do the whole job like that, but less a pain in the ass than having ‘em break on us. So, slowly but surely, Dad and I were gettin old Rosemary’s windows washed for the last time.
At one point, me and Dad were workin on one of the second-floor bedroom windows just above the front door. There was a little roof there onto which I’d stepped from the ladder and was washin the outside of the double-hungs. I sponged ‘em, I squeegeed ‘em and I dried ‘em off with one of the reusable cotton baby-diapers we use as rags. Dad then slid the window open and set the first storm window into the track. I put my fingers underneath to hold it in place while Dad went to grab the second storm window. Just as he was settin that one in, outta nowhere, somethin came flyin in over my shoulder and crashed into that top storm window. It fell to the roof and lay motionless at my feet. I looked down. It was a tiny bird. It must’ve died on impact. I looked back up at the window. It was fine. It hadn’t been broken. I then looked through the window at my dad. His eyes were wide open with amazement – almost as wide as they’d been that time he misheard my sister talkin about goin to a tapas place. He had one hand over his mouth and, with the other, he was pointin down at the dead bird. I’ll never forget that look on his face. And now that he himself is dead and gone and I’ve taken over as the boss, every time when customers say to me all the generic compliments about how much better their windows look now that they’re clean, I use his old “You’re gonna have birds flyin into em” line. And every time I say it, as clear as day – as clear as the windows that we’re washin – I see the look on my dad’s face on the other side of the glass from me right after that little bird’d just kamikaze’d the shit out of it.