Chapter 25 – Dad’s Crew
As a kid growin up, I always looked up to my dad and the fireman buddies of his that he’d wash windows with. I always thought those guys were the coolest. I thought they were the shit, the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees – all those things. It felt like the world those guys lived in was very different than my own. It seemed fun and glamourous, but also elusive and mysterious. For me, as a kid, bein a part of their group seemed unattainable – it seemed like somethin I’d never live to see, not in a million years. But time passed and my body grew bigger and stronger, and eventually that fateful day finally came when my dad asked me if I wanted to go try out some window washing with him and the guys. I mean, my dad had taken me out before to do some gutter cleaning jobs – just me and him – but I didn’t get up on any ladders or roofs. He’d just have me heel the ladder for him while he went up and blew the shit out while I did some cleaning up on the ground. But this was different. This was big time. This was like bein in Triple-A and gettin called up to the majors. At the age of fifteen, to be invited to go out and try some window washing with all the guys was an honor and a privilege. It was so cool to be out there on ladders at people’s houses, and makin money, and to hear the men openly talkin in front of me about manly stuff like booze, sports, broads and all the runs they went on during their most recent shift at the firehouse. I myself wouldn’t do much talking in those days mostly because I never felt like I had anything as cool or important to say as the stuff they’d all been talkin about, so I’d usually just keep my mouth shut on the job and take it all in.
I wouldn’t say that workin on ladders and roofs was somethin that came naturally to me. During my first summer out with the crew, I remember standin at the top of one of the six-foot ladders tryin to rub my sponge on the upper reaches of the front first-floor picture window on somebody’s house when I lost my balance and fell straight backwards into this big old bush. My head and legs were straight up in the air and my rear end was somewhere down at the bottom of the bush wedged between some branches, none of which had snapped and anally sodomized me in the ass, thanks be to God. As it happens, I couldn’t manage to pull myself outta those bushes by myself and had to be helped out by my dad’s buddies. Those bushes never healed properly and there remained a permanent hole where I’d fallen in. I was a bit embarrassed, but my dad assured me it’d happened to a lot of the guys over the years and that there were several other bushes in the Edgebrook and Sauganash neighborhoods of Chicago that also had permanent ass-marks smashed into ‘em. In spite of the razzing I got for my new status as the most recent “bush boy” of the crew, I didn’t give up and pushed myself to learn as much as I could as fast as I could in order to gain the respect of the guys. And in spite of gettin really good at what I do, I don’t think I ever achieved that. I don’t think any of the guys ever really saw me as anything more than just Dan’s kid. And that’s okay, I guess. I mean, my dad was proud of me nonetheless, and liked havin me out there with him. And I liked bein out there with him as well, so…who cares what those guys think.
In the early nineties, when my dad was breakin away from Brennan – the fireman with whom he started out washin windows – and was in the process of gathering up enough clientele on the side to start his own business, his right-hand man had been my sister’s godfather, Stan. I remember seein Stan all the time back when we lived at our old house on Melvina, but not really too much once we’d moved here to our new house in Edison Park back in 1995. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but Stan stopped workin with my dad after he broke his leg jumpin out a second or third-story window at some out-of-control blaze in an apartment building his company had been called to come and put out. The fire spread faster than anticipated, he got trapped in one of the apartments in which he’d been lookin for survivors and, well, his options were reduced to either jump or die. Tough call, but you gotta do what you gotta do – even if said decision is likely to put a premature end to what would otherwise be a long and fruitful window washing career.
My dad had always said that Stan was a great worker and an all-around reliable guy both at the firehouse and while out doin the side job, though he also mentioned that Stan had once showed up to a window washing job too hungover to work and my dad had to send him home. To get some clarification, I recently asked Stan for his side of the story.
“Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talkin about, but that wasn’t my fault,” he said. “I wasn’t due to work at the firehouse and your dad didn’t ask me to work with him, so I stayed out all night drinkin. Then the next morning the phone’s ringin and it’s your dad. He tells me he’s got a couple window jobs for us to go do. I say to him, ‘Dan, I’m kinda fucked up. I been out all night drinkin. I don’t think I can work today, but if you really need a guy, I’ll try my best for ya.’ He says that, yeah, he really could use me today. I wasn’t gonna let your dad down, so I drag my ass outta bed and go meet him. And so we’re doin this job and I’m washin the windows and it’s the sickest I’ve ever felt – I feel like I’m dyin. It’s awful, but I keep goin. But then at one point I see the bed in the master bedroom and I just can’t resist. I say, ‘That’s it. Fuck it. I’m goin back to sleep.’ So I curl up on this customer’s bed and pass out. After a while your Dad musta been wonderin, ‘Where the fuck did Stan go?’ so he came lookin for me and found me in the bed. He’s shakin me and sayin, ‘What the fuck’re you doin?’ And he gets me up and straightens out the comforter on the bed. He goes, ‘I’m tryin to build a business here, I can’t have you sleepin in customer’s beds.’ And I told him, ‘Sorry man, I tried tellin ya that I didn’t think I’d be able to work today.’ So he ended up just givin me the keys to his truck and tellin me to go home and go back to bed.”
Another one of my dad’s earlier guys worth mentioning here is this fireman named Woody who I guess, among his peers, wasn’t known to be the sharpest tool in the shed. In addition to goin on to commercially produce his own brand of chili – Danny’s Firehouse Chili – that would be sold in local stores for a few years back in the early 2000s, Woody would eventually break away from my dad to start his own window washing and/or gutter cleaning operation. This was quite a bit before I was old enough to work, but I remember my dad tellin the story around the time it happened and then a few more times here and there over the years. The thing I remember Dad always sayin was – when Woody did that, when he started his own business – was that the guy bought two trucks. And when my dad was tellin the story, he’d go, “Woody, it’s great that you’re startin your own business and all…but what the fuck do you need two trucks for?” And the punchline of the story was always Woody sayin back to him that, “Well Dan, one truck will be my work truck – that I’ll do all my jobs in – and the other truck will be my estimate truck. I’ll only use that one for drivin around to give estimates in.”
Back in those early days, one of my dad’s best friends – this dude named John that he’d gone to the fire academy with – had been workin as a painter on his off-days from the firehouse. Eventually John started movin away from the painting and was workin more and more with my dad. By the mid-nineties, he took Stan’s place as my dad’s number one guy on the window crew and would remain so for about twenty years, until he and my dad’s other fireman buddies were older and had all made chief and no longer wanted to be bustin their asses washin windows and cleanin gutters on the side.
Back in his prime, my dad and the other guys referred to John as Goat Boy. Before you start gettin any ideas, I’d just like to clarify that, no, it didn’t have anything to do with the Bill Hicks stand-up bit nor the later Jim Breuer comedy sketch of the same name. What the nickname referred to was John’s ability to walk on steep-ass roofs while cleanin gutters with the surefootedness of a mountain goat. “He’s all ass,” my dad explained. “He’s got a low center of gravity. That’s why his feet don’t slip out on him up there.”
In addition to his reputation among the rest of the guys on the crew as a roof-walking genius, John was also considered a legendary drinker. Unlike the rest of my dad’s men who’d just have beer at the bar every day after work, John would start off with a few vodka drinks to take the edge off before he too would go on to guzzle a casual eight to ten beers alongside the boys. My favorite story about John’s drinking had been this one time when he invited one of the guys to go out for lunch at this local place called Howard Street Inn. And this guy – his name is Mike – was like, “Nah, John. Not today. I got a buncha shit to do this afternoon and don’t feel like drinkin.” And John goes, “Drinkin? Who said anything about drinkin? I asked if you wanted to go have some lunch.” And so, Mike’s doubtful about it bein “just lunch,” but gets talked into goin anyway. And then they’re both sittin there at this place and, before they’d even had a chance to look at a menu, John tells the waiter to bring over a bucket of beers. And Mike’s all pissed off and goes, “Hey man, what the fuck?! I told you I’m not drinkin today. I got a buncha shit to do after this.” And John says back, “Drinkin? We’re not drinkin. We’re just each havin four or five beers with our lunch.”
On a typical morning before work in those days, it’d be around 8:15 and I’d be sittin with my dad in our little TV room in the back of the house watchin The Weather Channel, waitin for their “Local on the 8s” segment to see whether or not they were predicting the sky to piss on us that day. As we waited with the back door open for the rest of the guys to show up, I’d be sittin on the couch that butted up perpendicularly against the TV stand and Dad would be sittin in his old beat-up reclining chair, havin a morning smoke. It was the same chair where he’d sat the evening beforehand while drunkenly callin the guys – guys that he more likely than not had already worked and spent hours with at the bar that day – to give ‘em the details for tomorrow’s work. When they answered, he’d never say “Hi” or “What’s goin on?” or anything like that, instead greeting them with top-of-his-lungs shouts of, “C’mon! We got work!” And if they happened to be at the firehouse when he was callin ‘em, he’d add somethin like, “What’s up, my man?! You out there savin motherfuckers?! C’mon! I got three window jobs set up for tomorrow! We got work!” It was always obnoxious and embarrassing at the time to hear him yelling like that, especially when we had the windows open and the neighbors were out in the yard, or when I was sittin at the table tryin to do homework, or on days when he wasn’t bein nice to my mom, but I’d be lyin if I said I didn’t miss it. Me and my brother and a close group of the guys we grew up with still say the line “C’mon, we got work!”, but we don’t mean it literally the way my dad used to. We use it in the sense of, for example, if you bring a case of beer to your buddy’s house and, when you walk in the door, you might hold up the case and say, “C’mon, we got work!” or if you’re playin softball and your team’s down a couple runs and you need to get some hits, one of the guys in the dugout might let out a “C’mon, we got work!” to motivate the troops. Ya know, shit like that.
Anyway, on those mornings as me and my dad sat waiting in the TV room, we’d hear the clanking of the gate on the chain link fence leading to the backyard and knew that that meant seconds later whoever it was would be roundin the corner and makin their way into our house via the five chipped-up wooden stairs of our old back porch. Whoever was the last guy to arrive – even if they were on time, or early – always got fake “yelled at” by my dad. As they walked in the door, he’d say, “Hey my man, what fuckin time do we start around here?!” And whoever it was that was “late” would usually just say in return, “C’mon! We got work! Let’s go! C’mon!”
John was usually the first to show up. Before he’d even pull open the screen door and come inside, he’d yell, “What’s up, Spankster?” or “What’s up, Lester?” – those two names bein his favorite generic way to address the other guys, particularly my dad. Then he’d step into the TV room and my dad would take out his wallet, pull out X amount of bills and say, “Here, I owe you so-and-so amount from the last time you worked.” Different guys had different reactions while takin the money outta my dad’s hands. My favorite would have to be that of Mark – one of the “younger guys” I’ll talk about in a second – who would always yell, “Woohoo! C’moooooon! Fuckin’ pay me!” in this squawking, parrot-like voice and then erupt into a short fit of weasel-like laughter.
Whereas the laughter was his own, the high-pitched voice he and the rest of the guys often did was a cheap imitation of our neighbor Jimbo the Mailman, the only adult who worked on my dad’s crew that wasn’t a fireman. Jimbo was a hefty red-faced man with a crew cut that was known for bein very loud, bein a little bit crazy, and havin a short temper. Those rare few of you who are hardcore fans of mine might remember some of Jimbo’s antics from a chapter in my earlier book, Life of a Manchild, called “Jimbo With the Steal.” Having read that would give a deeper understanding of the character I’m describing here, but is not required reading to get the gist of the role he played among this particular group of guys. That said, the three Jimbo lines I’d most often hear out the mouths of my dad’s guys on the job had been “It’s only water!”, “Those leaves were there!” and “Fuck it, I quit!”.
In our buckets, when washin windows, the only shit we mix in with the water is regular-ass, run-of-the-mill dish soap – usually the cheapest shit they got available at the local dollar store. Ajax is what I bought most recently. And to get the right soap-to-water ratio, I’d say I add a tablespoon of soap to every bucket of water. Whereas I’m aware that I’d be causing less of an environmental impact if I didn’t dump my soapy water and the phosphates it may contain down the sewer in the street when it’s too dirty to continue using, I’m gonna hafta say that doing so doesn’t really cause all that much environmental damage in the whole scheme of things. I mean, I only go through one bottle of dish soap every two to three months. Do I put any more soap into our sewer system than your average housewife who uses the same soap to wash her and her family’s dishes in the sink every day? Does pouring my dirty water with a dab of Lemon Joy in our sewer system make me a criminal or a disgusting human being? I certainly don’t think so. But some people do, believe it or not.
One time when I was doin this job on Bryn Mawr in Norwood Park, some guy who’d been drivin past saw me dump my bucket along the curb towards one of the sewers and stopped and rolled down his window to yell at me. I said nothing back. I just stared him down, tryin to communicate telepathically how badly I’d have liked to rip his fucking head off and shit down his throat. It’s like, “Whattaya want me to do with the slightly soapy water? Instead of cussin me out, can you at least suggest a place in Chicago where workers are supposed to drive so they can dispose of their soapy water in an environmentally friendly way? Oh no, you can’t? You can’t do that for me? Well, why not? Oh, they don’t exist? Okay, well then shut the fuck up and mind your own fuckin business, you jagoff. Get outta my face and let me do my fuckin job in peace.”
So anyway, years back, the same thing happened to Jimbo. It wasn’t a person drivin past that confronted him as’d been the case with me, it was one of the neighbors. On all accounts, it was some old busybody bitch with nothin better to do than look out the window, hopin to see somethin new she could complain about. On this day, lookin out her fishbowl, she happened to catch a glimpse of Jimbo dumpin his bucket into the street. She came outside and started yellin at him. Bad decision on her part. Jimbo started yellin right back. I’m not sure what else he might’ve said, but, “It’s only water, you fuckin bitch!” is the line that really resonated with all the guys. For the next fifteen years, almost every time the buckets were bein emptied into the street upon completion of a job, one of the guys would squawk in the Jimbo voice that, “It’s only water! You bitch! You fuckin bitch! It’s only water!”
A complaint more common than where we dump the contents of our buckets are the complaints we get from the neighbors while cleanin the gutters on houses where the property lines are situated quite closely to one another. While walkin on the roof and usin a gas-powered leaf blower to clear the contents outta the gutters, it’s inevitable that some of this stuff will float over and land on the neighboring properties. A lot of the time this isn’t a problem. It’s a normal part of the job. There’s usually another guy on the ground who’s got a leaf blower and he blows it off the adjacent lots and hides it under some bushes long before the neighbors would ever even notice. Some neighbors aren’t anal and don’t care – like, they really couldn’t give less of a fuck about a few leaves here and there landin on their lawns. Some neighbors though, like the lady in the last story, have nothin better to do than come out and start bitchin. When that would happen, my dad was always really good at pacifying the situation. With a smile he’d say, “Oh, sorry about that. Yeah, no problem. We’ll get that cleaned up for you right away.” And they’d go back in the house and someone would go right over and blow off their property while those sad miserable fuckers watched out the window to make sure you do good enough of a job, and that’d be the end of it. Of course, things didn’t go like this when Jimbo was the man on the ground.
One time my dad and the guys were doin a gutter job and some neighbor guy came out to bitch about all the leaves landing on his property. Unfortunately, Jimbo happened to be the worker closest to that guy’s house when he stepped out his door to air his grievances. “No, fuck you!” Jimbo said. “Those leaves were there!” And the guy proceeded to argue that, no, those leaves in fact weren’t there – that he just watched ‘em float out the neighbor’s gutter and land there on his lawn. I think this situation escalated to the point of Jimbo threatening to kill the guy, and my dad having to intervene and tell JImbo to just walk away. Once the situation had been defused, Dad apologized to the guy and personally saw to it that all the leaves were blown back offa his property. So, from that point on, any time any leaves had been blown onto neighboring properties – whether said neighbors came out to bitch or not – someone from the crew would most likely say somethin like, “Fuck you! I ain’t cleanin that shit up! Those leaves were there!” or “Fuck that! Those leaves were there! I’ll fuckin kill you!”
The last line, “Fuck it, I quit!”, as far as I know, doesn’t have a big backstory to it. It just kinda summed up Jimbo’s overall attitude towards life. Towards the end of the workday, before driving over to our last job, for example, my dad would usually say, “One and done! C’mon!” And one or several of the guys would do the Jimbo voice and say, “Fuck it, I quit! Fuckin pay me!” or “Fuck it! Ain’t my name on the business card!” That’s actually another good one I didn’t think of earlier – “Ain’t my (blank).” Like, for example, if the guys were loadin up the truck at the end of a job – or what they thought was the end of a job – and the customer brought to my dad’s attention that they’d forgotten to do one of her windows, my dad might say, “Hey, could one of you guys grab a sponge, a squeegee and a rag, and take care of that one window we missed on the staircase real quick?” And Jimbo would be like, “Fuck that! I ain’t doin it! Ain’t my name on the card! I don’t a give a fuck!” So the “Fuck it! Ain’t my (blank)” formula actually became pretty popular with the guys as well. If one of ‘em was washin windows inside a customer’s house for example and accidentally dripped some dirty water from their squeegee onto some white carpet, if the customer wasn’t around they might turn to the other guy and say, “Fuck it! Ain’t my fuckin carpet! I don’t give a fuck!” or “Fuck you! I ain’t cleanin that up! Those drips were there!” or “It’s only water, you bitch! You fuckin bitch!”
Although this had nothin to do with my dad’s business, I’m gonna say that my personal favorite Jimbo quote from over the years had to’ve been when his son Brian – a guy a few years younger than me – had been publicly makin fun of his old man for havin a small “hammer.” He was sayin stuff like, “Oh, you got a midget hammer. It’s so small you can’t even see it. What a loser you are with your tiny little baby hammer…” and a buncha other stupid shit like that. And for a while Jimbo was puttin up with it. But Brian persisted and eventually Jimbo’d had enough and shut him up with the line, “Hey, it might be small, but it made you – didn’t it?” and everyone who was there started laughin not at Jimbo’s allegedly tiny wiener, but at Brian for havin come out of it.
Whereas the shit Jimbo used to say was classic in its own right, it was some of the things he did that earned him legendary status on my dad’s window crew. One time long ago, before my time on the job, the guys’d all been washin windows at a house in nearby suburban Park Ridge. The woman that lived there and hired my dad had been some foxy young stay-at-home trophy wife typa MILF that any heterosexual man would be droolin over. I mean, she was fuckin gorgeous, right? But, that said, this is a business. And you gotta stay professional. People deserve to feel safe and respected in their own homes. I mean, that’s just common sense, isn’t it?
So anyway, as the story goes, all the guys except Jimbo got started on the exterior windows. My dad’d sent him inside to go do the interior of the second floor windows. Since Jimbo wasn’t the best at workin on ladders, this was a common strategy my dad employed to make things go as smoothly as possible. In the time it took three or four guys to wash the outside windows on a house, Jimbo could do the entire inside. Some windows he didn’t actually wash, though – he’d just take a dry rag, dust ‘em off and say they’re done. Although I think that that’s kinda “bad form, Peter Pan” as Dustin Hoffman would say in Hook – like, I mean, since people are payin us to wash all the windows, I think we should indeed wash every last one of ‘em – to Jimbo’s credit, some of the time the insides of people’s windows weren’t really that bad and wouldn’t have looked that much better if he’d gone through the whole sponging, squeegeeing and diaper-drying rigmarole that we consider standard procedure. But the ethics of window washing are neither here nor there in this tale…well, actually, they kinda are, but not in that way. You’ll see what I’m talkin about here in just a second.
So, like I said, the rest of the guys were on the outside of the house and Jimbo’s up doin the inside of the second-floor windows. I don’t know where the beauty-queen homeowner had been at the time, but at one point, as I’d heard many times over the years, Jimbo stuck his head out one of the second-floor windows and started tryin to get everyone’s attention. “Hey guys,” he was sayin as he waved his arms around, “check me out!” And all the guys looked up in that moment to see Jimbo wearin a skimpy little pair of this beautiful woman’s underpants over his head, covering half his face. Whether they were clean or dirty remains unclear to me, but like the bird on a cuckoo clock returning to its hole after announcing the hour, seconds later Jimbo popped back into the window, put the panties back from wherever he’d found ‘em and continued givin the inside windows his stereotypically half-assed dusting which, among the guys, would come to be known as “a Jimbo job.”
Okay, so…where were we? I got a little carried away with the Jimbo stuff there. Oh, right. We were in the TV room with my dad, and John had just walked in and my dad paid him. So, after gettin paid, John’s first move upon entering my house had always been headin straight for the kitchen and opening up the cupboard, lookin for sweets. Although my mom always saw this as kind of a rude thing to do, I don’t think it’s really THAT out-of-line considering how good of friends our families had been over the years. What WAS unacceptable, however, in my opinion, was how he’d do that in all our customers’ houses when they weren’t home or, far riskier, when they were home but just hadn’t been in the kitchen at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fuckin hilarious. But, I mean, c’mon – that shit’s not cool. Like, how would you feel if you walked into your kitchen and saw some fuckin stranger that resembles Yogi Bear’s sidekick BooBoo – some random dude on a crew doin work at your house – standin there with your fridge and/or cabinets open, rippin through your candy stash as if he owned the place? It’s fuckin ridiculous and shouldn’t happen.
Bill’s the next guy I’d like to introduce here. Back in the days when he was first startin out with my dad – the days before I’d worked, days before anyone that we knew had cell phones – when my dad was makin his calls to the guys to confirm whether or not they were on board to work the following day, he always used to have a hard time gettin ahold of this guy. I remember him hangin up our cordless phone one time and sayin, “Every time I call Bill’s house, his kids answer the phone. And I say, ‘Hey, is your dad there?’ And every time they say, ‘No, he’s not home. He’s at the hardware store.’ I don’t get it. How many days a week is this guy at the hardware store? Didn’t realize he was such a handy guy. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s probably over at his favorite bar Dugan’s drinkin beer and has his kids lyin for him. I mean, there’s no fuckin way the guy spends that much time at the hardware store.”
Physically, I’d say Bill kinda resembles actor Christopher McDonald with a mustache. He’s about six-foot-three – big frame, wide shoulders and a wide back, all atop the long skinny pair o’ legs that holds it all up. I can picture him right now lurchin up our back stairs in the morning before work. Around the back of his neck sits the strap that suspends the pair of sunglasses resting upon his chest; in his hand, one of his infinite supply of metallic coffee mugs with screw-on tops. I swear, every day he worked, that guy would forget his coffee mug either at our house or at one of our customer’s houses, but then show up the next day sippin from a new one, indifferent to the loss of yesterday’s mug and not even askin us if we knew anything of its whereabouts. Bill had an affinity for eatin “sassage sammiches” and…hmm, shit – what else? What else can I say about this guy? What can I say here about Bill’s personality? Well, I don’t think anyone can deny that the guy was a character – one of those know-it-all wiseass typa dudes that always had somethin smart to say like Cliff Clavin from Cheers or some shit like that. He often began his explanations or little speeches or whatever you wanna call ‘em with the prelude of “Lemme tell ya somethin…” or “Hey there, maestro…”. Or sometimes he’d just start talkin out loud to no one in particular, pretendin as if he were the commercial spokesperson for my dad’s business. “Here at Lally Worldwide Incorporated,” he’d begin, “we take good care of our customers. We guarantee that…” and he’d just go on like that, makin shit up, sometimes for minutes at a time.
I’m not sure whether or not he approved, but the other guys liked to call him Wilbur. He, in turn, had his own nicknames for the rest of the guys. He’d often call my dad “Numero Uno” as in – for example, if I were to ask him a question about how to leave the blinds (up or down or halfway) at someone’s house after having washed the windows – he’d say, “I dunno, maestro. Let’s uhh…let’s see what Numero Uno has to say about that.” He’d call John “Buster”, he called Jim “Jimbo”, and he called Gary “Garbo” – I always thought that that last one sounded so stupid. “Gare-bo.” Like, that nickname formula with the suffix -bo works fine with names like Jim and Tim but doesn’t really seem to fit all that well on the end of Gary, but that never stopped Bill from usin it that way. And Mark, the last guy on the crew during this classic era, he’d refer to as “Marko” about half the time, and the other half he’d call him “Bobby” because he believed – and he wasn’t entirely wrong – that Mark resembled the character Bobby Hill from the show King of the Hill.
Bill had this very distinctive voice. I can hear it clearly in my head and can kinda imitate it, but I’m not sure how to go about describing it in words. It was a deep voice. It had this nasal aspect to it, but I wouldn’t describe it as a nasal voice. It was nothing like Squidward from Spongebob or like when people pinch their noses shut to do an impression of somebody. No, that’s totally wrong. Definitely not like that. Yet, somehow, it still had a tinge of that mixed in with – I don’t know how to put it more politely – this sort of overall sound you might expect to hear from an unknown pervert that calls your house and says nothing, but you can tell is clearly masturbating on the other end of the phone line. There were always these odd pauses and deep breaths thrown in the mix when he was sayin somethin. And there were always certain words he’d emphasize unnecessarily. Like, while grabbin all the stuff you’d need to do a window job, I can picture him takin one of the rags from the plastic basket where they were stored in the back of my dad’s truck, seein that it was tattered from overuse and goin, “Lemme tell ya somethin,” deep exhale, “I wouldn’t wipe my ASSSSSS…with one of these rags.” Deep breath. “I take that back,” another audible exhale. “If the situation was desperate enough…” He also referred to ejaculate as “blast,” which I always thought was pretty funny. At times when there was sticky shit on the inside of people’s windows that we were havin trouble gettin off – the typa stuff that usually requires the use of a razor blade – Bill would say, “Well maestro…looks to me like somebody…BLASTED all over these windows.”
My dad’s buddies John and Bill each had kids that were the same age as my brother – so, two years younger than me. And one thing that Bill once said that me and my brother still quote to this day is somethin that he said one time back in the day when the three of those guys took the four of us kids on a trip up to Milwaukee to watch a Brewers game at the newly opened Miller Park, and then to spend a night at one of the nearby hotels up there. So, first off, I was thirteen at the time and the other guys were all eleven, and we were actin like total shitheads at the game. While our dad’s were busy drinkin, we wandered away and found our own seats somewhere else. At one point, some lady with big tits was walkin past us and John’s kid goes, “I’d like to hang my coat on that rack.” And the lady stops and says, “Excuse me?! What’d you just say?!” And the kid just brushes her off sayin, “Don’t worry, lady – I wasn’t talkin about you.” And so, later on, after the game’d ended, the dads take us back to the hotel room, order us a pizza then leave us alone in the room while they all go out to the bar to finish themselves off. And of course, we ended up trashin the room. I mean, like, whattaya expect – ya know? I believe it was John’s kid who at one point took a bite of the pizza and said, “This pizza tastes like hand job!” then fired that shit upwards at the ceiling. And we all thought that that was pretty funny, so instead of eating our pizza dinner, we ended up takin all the slices and throwin ‘em up at the ceiling, seein if we could get ‘em to stick. If you’ve never tried that activity, I’d highly recommend it. Anyway, a few hours later, the dads came staggering back into the room and the only the thing they had to say for themselves was how bad the room smelled like farts. And Bill – instead of blaming us kids – thought it was so funny to blame the stink on the hotel’s concierge who’d checked us in at the front desk earlier that afternoon. While giggling to himself, he just kept sayin, “It was fuckin Jose…Jose’s fuckin rippin shit.” And now anytime that my brother and I are in a room that smells like farts – whether or not we were the ones responsible – we often do a Bill impression and put the blame on Jose.
The best example of anything I’d ever heard Bill say’d been during one of the first years that both me and my brother were workin with my dad over the summer. I don’t know if it’d been an unusually long workday or what, but at some point my dad sent one of the guys to go pick up hot dogs for everyone from East of Edens. This never happened. I think this is the only time we ever had a formal lunch in all my years of working. Normally, you just stuff a peanut butter and jelly in your face in the car between jobs and that’s all ya get. But this day was different. We had hot dogs and we were sittin on the curb in front of a customer’s house eatin ‘em the way Hispanic landscaping crews often sit there and eat their lunches. I don’t know what the rest of the guys were doin at the time, but I just remember me and my brother sittin there next to Bill, each with a hearty handful of wiener, gettin ready to chow down. Upon unwrapping the goods, we discovered these hot dogs all came with tomatoes and onions on ‘em. My brother, not too big a fan of tomatoes at the time, was pickin ‘em off his dog and lookin for a place to toss ‘em. Of this, Wilbur had taken notice.
“Hey there, maestro,” he said to Danny then exhaled, “not gonna eat your tomatoes?”
My brother said that, no, he hadn’t planned on it. Bill said he’d take ‘em. He grabbed those extra maters outta my brother’s hand, set ‘em atop his wiener and took a bite.
“Ya know…” he began with a mouthful, “…they say tomatoes are good for the stick…” another creepy exhale, “…not that I need it.”
So, aside from scapegoating members of minority groups for fart-stinking rooms and braggin about how robust his manhood is to a pair of teenage boys – which I found to be kind of a weird thing to do, by the way – I’d hafta say that Bill was not the best worker in my opinion. It wasn’t just me that thought that either. My dad’d also commented to me on more than one occasion that, “Bill is so fuckin slow out there. Guy doesn’t shut up. He talks too much instead of just gettin the fuckin job done.” In addition to what my dad said, I’d like to add that the guy couldn’t walk a roof for shit. I remember one time at this house out in the suburbs I was about to get up on this pretty steep garage roof and he took the blower from me and said, “I got this one.” I’d set the ladder onto this little flat part of roof they had right above the garage door to make it easy to step off before walkin the rest of the roof’s perimeter which’d been pitched at a pretty serious incline. So, not gonna say no to one of my “superiors,” I heeled the ladder for Bill as he stepped off onto the flat part with relative ease, and then from the ground watched as he awkwardly climbed about three steps up from there onto the inclined part. It was there that he turned around and faced the edge. From that position, he shuffled laterally a few feet then leaned forward and looked like he was about to make an attempt to extend one arm and hold the blower out so he could blow the shit outta the gutters, but then he suddenly went into a panic. He dropped down to his ass and, in the process, dropped the blower which proceeded to bounce a couple times down the side of the roof before falling down and exploding on the blacktop driveway below. Still on his ass, Bill scooted back over and down to the flat part of the roof. I held the ladder in place so he could safely get down, and then – after grabbing a different blower from the truck – went up there and walked it myself as originally planned. In spite of his shortcomings mentioned here, in spite of his status as a “sluggo” as my dad would say, or a “bustamo” as he himself would say, it must be noted that Bill had no reservations about – at the end of every job – braggin to the rest of the crew that, “Once again…” perverted exhale, “…I did ALLLLL the work.”
The last two guys who were part of my dad’s classic era crew were Mark and Gary. Mark and Gary seemingly always came as a package deal. Like, it was never just one of ‘em by themselves. It was always Mark and Gary this, Mark and Gary that. They were always together. And it was this perpetual togetherness that prompted my mom to start referring to the pair not as “Mark and Gary,” but as “Ace and Gary” which’d been the characters’ names on the SNL animated short “The Ambiguously Gay Duo.” These guys were about fifteen years younger than my dad, John and Bill. My dad served as their lieutenant when they were first startin out on the CFD and, when he saw that they were good workers, later invited ‘em to come out and wash some windows with him.
I’m not sure which one of these two were the first to purchase this brand of boot called Cougar Paws that’re designed especially for walkin on roofs – I think it was Mark because I always remember Bill sayin, “Check out Marko, I mean Bobby. Bobby’s ready to go up there. Bobby’s got his moon boots on” – but in doing so, they pretty much revolutionized the gutter cleaning game. Back in the day, for the first three or four years that I worked with my dad, we were walkin on roofs in gym shoes and I myself had a few close calls up there with my feet slippin out on me, and goin sliding down the side of a roof. I doubt that’s ever happened to you, but if you’re unsure of how that might feel, lemme tell ya that it’s absolutely fuckin horrifying. In those quick few seconds, thoughts flash through your mind about havin to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair, but then you somehow manage to stop slidin just before goin over the edge. But, unlike gym shoes, these boots really grip the roofs and I haven’t had an incident like that since. And to those guys – Mark and/or Gary – for havin made this dangerous-ass job feel just a little bit safer by introducing us to those boots, I’m eternally grateful.
Before I joined my dad’s team and took over the position, Mark served as the crew’s “bucket boy” for several years. That means, when arriving at the job, it was always his responsibility to put the soap and sponges in the buckets and then go find a hose or sink where he could fill those fuckers up while the rest of the guys would go in the house to pull screens or remove the triple-track storm windows. In addition to bein the original bucket boy, I remember Mark for his laugh and his high-pitched Jimbo impressions which were always perfectly timed and a cut above that of the rest of the guys. I also remember his final day workin with my dad quite clearly. It wasn’t planned to be his last day, but that’s the way the cookie crumbled, as they say. He and I were doin the second-floor exterior windows of this house in the ‘burbs and – without tryin to explain a buncha details here that most likely won’t make the reasons any clearer to anyone who’s never worked this job as to why the second floor of this house had been particularly challenging – Mark’s ladder slipped out on him, he took a nasty tumble and split his chin wide open. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the wisest idea to let someone who’s possibly concussed drive himself to the hospital, but…”C’mon! We got work! He’ll be alright! Fuck it!” That was actually the last time I remember ever seein that dude – him limping away from this house over to his car, firmly holding a bloody rag to his chin, tryin to stop the bleeding.
We got this one customer in Lincolnwood who we’ve been doin for some twenty years now that has us do the outside of his windows a couple times a year. He’s gotta be pretty old now – probably in his eighties – and has always been kinda weird and reclusive. I honestly think I’ve only seen the guy once or twice in all the years I’ve been goin there. On his house, he’s got these old storm windows that – if you want ‘em to look good – you gotta take ‘em out so you can wash both sides of ‘em. In addition to that, if you wanna do the job right, the insides and outsides of the double-hung windows behind the storms should be washed as well. It’s like…no matter how good we clean the outsides of these storm windows, the windows as a whole are still gonna look like shit when we’re done because he’s got twenty-something years’ worth of dust and spiderweb bullshit trapped between the storms and the double-hungs as well as whatever mucky grime he’s got built-up on the interior of those double-hungs. In order to clean those windows the right way, we’d need access to the interior of this guy’s house but, ya see, the thing is, he’s never wanted to give us that. And to be perfectly honest, I’m actually quite glad he’s never wanted to give us that. Lookin inside his house, it’s clear to see that in every single room, the guy has fifty years’ worth of shit piled up from the floor to the ceiling. The place looks like a god damn death trap. It makes no sense to me why this guy views payin to have his windows washed a priority when the rest of his house is such a fuckin disaster area. It’s insane. And even though this happened more than fifteen years ago, every time I go back to this house, I still quote this one thing my dad’s guy Gary’d said while there. He was standin at the top of a six-foot ladder and’d put his hand over his eyes to shade the glare of the sun from the exterior window so he could take a quick peek inside this guy’s house. “Holy shit!” is what he said. It was the first time he’d ever looked inside and was apparently shocked by what he saw. “This guy’s a fuckin hoarder!”
In pretty much every customer’s house, there’s at least one area with lots of shit blocking our access to the windows – be it furniture, house plants, dog cages, knickknacks, whatever. It’s always something. Nothin as bad as hoarder boy’s house mentioned in the previous paragraph, but definitely bad enough to make gettin to the windows a pain in the ass. Gary referred to these areas as “chump zones.” When we’d be workin on the exterior of people’s houses, he was often one of the guys that did the second-floor windows off the extension ladder and, when coming up to a difficult-to-reach window that required him to set the ladder in an unconventional way – like chump zones, on every house there’s always at least one – he referred to these potentially dangerous ladder sets as “unsanctioned maneuvers.” When one of the guys went above and beyond in some way at a job, my dad’d joke that whoever that was would be gettin an extra five dollars at the end of the day. Likewise, if someone did something stupid at a job, my dad would say he’ll be subtracting five dollars from that guy’s earnings. Of course, these five dollar additions and subtractions were never factored into the guys’ daily totals which led Gary to come up with the term “mythical five.” So, on days when Gary successfully carried out an unsanctioned maneuver on the outside or got stuck in a chump zone on the inside of someone’s house, it wasn’t uncommon to hear him sayin to my dad somethin like, “I think today I deserve a mythical five for havin done…” ya know – X, Y or Z at so-and-so’s house.
Although all my dad’s guys carried razor blades on ‘em in case they came across any hard-to-remove shit on the glass they were washin (ya know, stuff like Bill’s aforementioned blast-covered windows), Gary was the only guy who kept his blade in his mouth – or better put, pursed between his lips. I always thought it was kind of a disgusting thing to do especially after havin used the blade to scrape bird shit off of a window, but he saw it as a lot more convenient than storing it in his pocket or at the bottom of the water in his bucket how the other guys used to. He was also the only guy on my dad’s crew that ever got bit by a dog in someone’s house. It wasn’t a bad bite by any means – like, it didn’t take a chunk out of him or rip his ballsack off or anything like that – but it was a bite nonetheless and he was left with a set of clearly visible teethmarks in his flesh. “Guess that dog doesn’t like Polacks,” he said. Or since dogs don’t like mailmen, “Or maybe he could smell the Jimbo on me. Maybe that’s what set him off – the scent of Jimbo.”
The most prominent quote of Gary’s I remember from these good old days on my dad’s crew had been when all the guys were in two separate trucks. It was me, my brother and my dad riding in his truck while Mark, Gary and possibly John and/or Bill had been riding in Mark’s vehicle. We were on our way from one job to another and had just made a right turn onto Central off of Lehigh in the Edgebrook neighborhood of the city. I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but some other car goin southbound on Central flew over the train tracks, came outta nowhere and smashed into Mark’s car pretty hard. My dad drove up to the first side street on the right side of the road – think it was Louise – where he turned in, parked his truck and we all got out to go walk back and see if everyone was okay. Thankfully all the guys as well as the driver of the other car were alright. Well, actually, the other driver was a young woman and she was more than just alright if ya know what I mean. She was fine as fuck. Like Usher would say, “On a one to ten, she’s a certified twenty.” And as the three of us stood nearby on the side of the road watchin this beautiful young angel exchanging insurance information with Mark, Gary walked over to us. The only thing he had to say for himself was that, “It’s a shame she’s alright. I was hopin maybe she’d have some head trauma, be a little confused and start blowin all of us.”