Chapter 28 – Peeping Tim
After having outed myself as a pervert and a male chauvinist in the previous two chapters, it feels like a good time to tell the story of when some lady had accused me of being a peeping tom while out with my dad cleaning gutters. But first things first – have you ever heard of the Chicago neighborhood Bowmanville? It’s a tiny residential enclave probably no bigger than a square mile that’s situated on the southern end of the city’s historic Rosehill Cemetery. They say that the neighborhood is named after some scoundrel of an innkeeper named Jesse Bowman who lived in the area in the 1850s that – although he didn’t actually own any of the land around there – was known to trick unsuspecting buyers into thinking that that’d indeed been the case just long enough to make the sale, collect the cash and disappear into thin air. Bowmanville is, by and large, a quiet little residential area that lacks the hustle and bustle of neighboring Lincoln Square to the south and Edgewater to the east. Although established decades beforehand, Bowmanville was officially annexed to the city of Chicago in 1889, and some of the big old wood-frame houses in the area give the impression that they’d been around since those times. As a matter of fact, the house that my dad and I had been called to do the gutters of in that area a handful of times back in the day, according to Redfin, had been built in the year 1896.
Now, I don’t know if it’s like this anymore over on the 5300 block of North Bowmanville Avenue because we haven’t done this gutter job in more than ten years, but back then – whereas about half the properties on the block were divided into these pretty good-sized lots – the other half’d been divided up into these really skinny lots that leave room for nothin more than three feet of gangway between the houses that’d been built on ‘em. From a gutter-cleaning perspective, when there’s no more than a three-foot gangway between the house I’ve been hired to do and the neighbor’s house, there’s a pretty good chance the neighbor’s house is gonna get sprayed with some muck or, at the very least, have some of the leaves that I’m blowing out end up landing in their gutters. When that’s the case, I definitely do blow out all the stuff that I’d inadvertently blown into the neighbor’s gutters, and I really do try my best to avoid completely trashing their siding when blowin all the nasty muddy bullshit out of a customer’s gutters. If I do, however, end up trashing the siding of a neighbor and it happens to be a nice respectable home – ya know, not like a total fuckin hillbilly house or anything like that – I will fill up a bucket with soap and water and wash off said neighbor’s siding when I’m done cleanin out the gutters simply because it’s the right thing to do. That said, although important parts of running a good business, I must admit that those things are not my main concern. When gangways are that tight between houses, my main concern is my own personal safety, and that basically means finding a way to set the ladder that will allow me to get up there and clean out the gutters without having some sort of grisly accident that will land me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. That and that alone is my number one priority. There’s nothing else as important as that, and don’t you forget it.
Okay, so…this might be difficult for you to imagine if you’ve never worked on ladders before, but if you gotta reach some gutters that are twenty-feet-high and attached to a roof that sticks about a foot and a half out from the exterior wall of the house over a three-foot-wide gangway as’d been the case at the job we’d been hired to do in Bowmanville, that doesn’t leave you with a safe angle at which to set your ladder. In fact, not that I’ve ever given much a fuck about what they hafta say, setting the bottom of a ladder only a foot and a half away from what it will be leaning on at a height of twenty feet is less than half the OSHA-recommended distance of what it should be. It’s gonna be straight the fuck up, and really, there’s so much that can go wrong when extension ladders are set at an insufficient angle like that. When the bottom’s set too close to whatever the top will be leaning against, ladders can easily fall to the sides or straight backwards with you at the top of it when it comes crashing down. In order to clean out some difficult-to-reach gutters over the years, I’ve had to climb up on my fair share of ladders that’d been set at dangerously straight-up angles and, believe me, it’s sketchy as fuck. It’s just not something you wanna do. It’s not a position you wanna be in.
Now, if it was my choice, if I was the boss, I’d have told these people no. I’d have had one look at their house, saw that gangway and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do the job. I don’t wanna hafta set a ladder that straight-up. It’s too dangerous for me. It’s not worth the money. You’re gonna hafta hire someone else. Thank you and goodbye.” And that would be it. And I’d go on with my life never thinking twice about this decision. But I’m not my dad and he’s not me, and no matter how big a pain-in-the-ass a job might’ve seemed, during his tenure as head honcho of the small window washing and gutter cleaning operation he’d founded, the man would never turn down work thrown in his direction. He’d never say no and would always take whatever came his way. And when he was a younger man, that was fine and dandy because the burden was on him to get all this shit done. But by the time I was in college and he was in his fifties, my dad was not as spry as he’d once been – he was no longer the “Spider Dan” of old who’d been reputed among his buddies to fearlessly climb up on any roof or any ladder to get the job done. Even so, even though he wasn’t as good as he once was, this wouldn’t stop him from continuing to say yes to everything. And shit like this – shit like figuring out how to clean gutters up above narrow-ass gangways – became my responsibility. And even if whatever I needed to do to get a job done was enough to make me sick with anxiety, I’d always come through for my old man.
At this particular job in Bowmanville, while assessing the situation, I noticed that the next-door neighbor’s roof’d been about two feet lower than the gutter on the house I was tryin to clean. I also noticed that that same roof did not jut out a foot and a half over the gangway which meant that their gutter had more or less sat flush with the exterior wall of the house. Again, this might be difficult to imagine if you don’t know what I’m talkin about, but I decided the safest move considering the circumstances had been to take the bottom of our ladder and set it up against the foundation of the house we’d been doing, and then lean the top of it against the neighbor’s gutter. Doing so would afford me that extra foot-and-a-half worth of angle I’d otherwise be losing if I were to set the feet of the ladder against the neighbor’s foundation and then lean the top of the ladder on the gutter I was trying to clean. Like, can you sorta picture what I’m sayin here? I hope so, but if not, it’s not the end of the world. All you really need to know for the sake of this story is that the plan was to set the ladder onto the neighbor’s gutter, have my dad stand on the bottom rung of it to pin it down and discourage the thing from falling to the left or the right, then climb to the top of it with a leaf blower in my hand and, once up there at the top, turn my whole body around and blow out all the shit we’d been hired to blow out. We were gonna start at the front and work our way towards the back of the house. Easy peasy, right?
So, in keeping with the plan, I did just that. I ran up to the top of the ladder, turned around, blew all the gutter shit out as far as I could reach with the blower, turned around again, climbed back down then moved the ladder about seven-to-ten feet over and did it all again. Those first two moves went without a hitch. So then I moved the ladder over another seven-to-ten feet, set the feet as flat as I could, gently leaned the top against the neighbor’s gutter, had my dad jump on the bottom rung, and then started climbing again. When I got to the top of the ladder for the third time, before I turned around, I noticed there was a window right there to the right of me on the neighbor’s house. I did glance in – not outta curiosity though – but simply because the window was less than a foot away from my face and there was nowhere else to look. In that second, I saw a door slam. It was the door leading from that room into a hallway, I supposed. I didn’t see anybody. I thought it was kinda peculiar that a door would slam by itself like that and’d suddenly wanted to get to the bottom of this door-slamming mystery. I don’t fancy myself much a sleuth and I’m not tryin to brag here, but it didn’t take me all that long to crack this particular case. Upon closer review, it became immediately clear that the room’d been a bathroom, and just inside the window through which I’d been so creepily peering was a bathtub full of water. And leading from the tub to the door that’d just a second ago slammed so mysteriously were a buncha watery footprints.
“Oh shit,” I thought to myself then turned around and continued blowing out the gutter that was now halfway clean. “This is not good.”
After blowing the stuff out as far as I could reach towards the back of the house, before I could even make it back down to the ground, we were accosted by this angry fifty-something-year-old woman with soaking-wet hair that’d been wearing nothing but a robe. She was standing in the middle of that stupid little three-foot-wide gangway that I hated so much, wearing a look on her face that told me she was ready to tear my goddamn head off. She had a cordless phone in her hand and the first thing she did was threaten to call the police.
“No,” I said. “C’mon, don’t do that.”
“Who are you,” she wanted to know, “and what are you doing on my house?!”
“We’re cleaning the neighbor’s gutters,” I responded.
“You say you’re cleaning the neighbor’s gutters, but the ladder’s leaning against my house. I don’t get it. Somethin doesn’t add up here.”
“Well,” I replied, “it’s kinda complicated. This gangway’s really narrow and the neighbor’s roof is not only too steep for us to walk on – which, if it had been walkable, would’ve made this job much easier to deal with – but also has this overhang here that reduces the angle at which we could safely set our ladder in this here gangway. And like, as you can see, your roof doesn’t overhang your exterior wall which – setting the ladder the way I’ve set it – gives me more of an angle so I can avoid getting hurt.”
“Angles and overhangs…what the fuck’re you talkin about? Who gave you permission to set a ladder up against my house!?”
“No one,” I said.
“That’s right, no one. This is total bullshit and I’m callin the police.”
“Hold on,” my dad intervened. “I’m the boss here. Can I ask what’s goin on?”
“Yeah, I’ll tell ya what’s goin on. I’m tryin to take a bath in the privacy of my own home and I got your worker here settin a ladder up two feet away from where I’m naked, and lookin in at me.”
“Oh,” my dad said, caught off-guard.
“I didn’t see anything,” I said, thinkin this would make it better. “I swear.”
“Oh, yeah right!”
“Honestly, I didn’t. I mean, seriously – aside from John Belushi in Animal House, what sorta peeping tom puts a ladder up on someone’s house thinkin they’ll be able to see somethin and somehow manage to get away with it? It’s not a realistic scenario. I wasn’t lookin in at you. I didn’t see anything. I swear.”
“Whatever,” she said. “That’s not the point. The point is that you’re trespassing. This is an invasion of privacy. I never gave you permission to put a ladder up onto my house.”
“Yeah, okay,” I continued to argue, “but even if I’d put the ladder on the neighbor’s house instead of yours, I still would’ve been in a position where I could’ve seen you naked in your tub. Besides, we’ve been workin on this side of the house for at least five or ten minutes now. I mean, I moved the ladder two times before that third move that just happened to be next to your bathroom window. How did you not hear the leaf blower beforehand and look out and think it might be a good idea to get outta the tub sooner? Also, it’s a bathroom. If you’re so concerned with your privacy like you say you are, why you got clear glass there? Why don’t you have a frosted window there or at least some sorta blinds you could pull down so your neighbors can’t look directly in at you from across the gangway? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“That’s it,” the lady apparently hadn’t taken too kindly to my ranting at her. “I’m calling the police.”
“Wait, hold on, one second,” my dad again intervened. “Tim, shut your mouth. Look,” he said to the lady, “I’m a Chicago firefighter. I’ve been serving the city for almost thirty years. This is what I do on my off-days. It’s a reputable little side business and, although we should’ve asked your permission before putting our ladder on your house – and I’m very sorry we didn’t – I can assure you that we had no intention of looking in your windows or spying on you in the tub. We’re just here to clean your neighbor’s gutters. They’d hired us a couple times before in the past and liked the job we did and that’s why they hired us back. Again, I’m very sorry for the invasion of privacy and for making you feel so uncomfortable in your own home, but please…there’s really no reason to get the police involved here.”
My dad was able to talk her down. Although still angry, she ended up just goin back into the house without having called the police. We finished the job as quickly as we could, made sure we wiped off whatever muddy bullshit I may’ve blown onto her siding, and made sure we blew off the ground extra good in that little gangway between the two houses, then got the fuck outta there. Not surprisingly – and I’d be lyin if I said I wasn’t glad – that’d been the last time that that customer ever called us to come clean out their gutters.