Chapter 32 – Almost Quitters
Any time the temps in Chicago would reach the 90s and any of us would bitch – or not necessarily even bitch, but just mention – about how hot it is out in front of my dad, he’d say somethin like, “Yeah, it’s pretty hot out. But it’s nothin like the summer of ’95.” There was a heatwave in July of that year during which temperatures here reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit. “And it was so fuckin’ humid too,” I can hear him sayin. “No breeze either. I’d never in all my years on the job had to carry so many dead bodies outta buildings as I did during that week.” Officially, there were 739 heat-related deaths in the city over a period of five days. “We were bringin so many bodies down to the Medical Examiner’s Office that they ran outta room. And they had to rent a buncha ice trucks to store the bodies in before they could be autopsied.” Nine refrigerated trucks were hired and, even so, hundreds of bodies were buried before the examiner could get around to lookin at ‘em. As many as forty unclaimed victims that’d died during this heatwave were taken to the suburb of Homewood where they were buried together in a mass grave. “Those,” he’d conclude, “were the hottest days I’d ever felt in my life.”
On a less dramatic note, another thing that comes to mind when I think of my dad and hot sticky weather has to do with barbecuing and our garbage men. I don’t think my dad’d cooked anything on his old-school Weber charcoal grill for at least five years before he died and probably only used it once in a blue moon during the five years before that. When we first moved in to our house in Edison Park in the summer of ’95, however, Dad used to like to fire up the grill quite a bit. Everything that he cooked on there he’d slather with Sweet Baby Ray’s and – no matter how burnt whatever he was cookin may’ve turned out – when he pulled it offa the grill he’d say it was “done to perfection.” When all was said and done – the next day or whenever all the charcoal was done smoldering and’d been reduced to a fine grayish ash at the bottom of the grill – Dad’d dump it straight into the garbage can out in the alley. And so, in the summer, if Dad was grillin two or three times a week and dumpin all the ash into the same can every time…well, that’s a decent amount of ash, right?
So, one hot steamy summer day, Dad was out in the backyard near the alley when the garbage men were comin past. One guy was drivin and another two sweaty-ass guys in sleeveless T’s were trailin the truck and loadin cans onto that dumping apparatus in the back. When they hooked up one of our cans to the machine and it’d been flipped upside down to have its contents emptied out, Dad said he heard the guys suddenly start coughin and swearin, so he peeked out at ‘em through a crack in our fence to see what was goin on. He said that the sweaty skin of both the guys’d been completely covered in a layer of ash and that one of the two garbage men’d yelled, “This guy doesn’t bag his charcoal!” Although from that day on my dad started baggin his charcoal as a courtesy to the garbage men, the story of those two ash-covered dudes coughin and swearin out in the alley was one of his favorites to tell to us and laugh about around the house.
So anyway, compared to the merciless 106-degree heat of yore my father’d often spoke of, the temperatures in early July of 2020 were really not that bad. Most of the days were either in the upper 80s or the lower 90s. Nevertheless, in spite of not bein extreme enough to be killin motherfuckers left and right, this level of heat was still more than enough to make bein outside washin windows and cleanin gutters suck major balls.
During this time, I remember showin up to this one gutter job in the Wildwood neighborhood of the city that me and my dad hadn’t done in close to five years. Steppin outta the truck, I looked up at the roof and could see all these plants growin outta the lady’s gutters which is always a telltale sign they’re completely fuckin loaded. It was gonna be bad, but havin gone to the job knowin it hadn’t been done in five years, I kinda already had the feeling it wasn’t gonna be a walk in the park, so I was more or less mentally prepared to handle it. I figured it’d take me about an hour and then I had two other jobs I needed to go take care of after that and that’d be my workday – I’d finish right around three in the afternoon. Not too bad. But then here comes the curveball. After I rang the doorbell and started talkin to this lady, she outta nowhere requests that I clean all the gutters out by hand, as opposed to usin the handheld gas-powered leaf blowers we always use to just blow all the shit out and down onto the ground. She said she wanted me to scoop it all out into buckets and carry it to the backyard and dump all the shit into one big pile so she could use it as mulch in her garden. I suppose the idea made a lotta sense from her perspective, but for me such a task seemed like it’d be a nightmare to carry out and I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted to tell her no.
That said, all the guilt and pressure I put on myself to keep my dad alive via this business’d been weighin on me heavily during this time. I mean, Dad would never tell anyone no. In fact, he’d pretty much invariably say yes to people no matter how dumb the request. “Oh, you need the inside of your awning painted? Sure, we can do that.” Or, “Oh, you need that big antenna removed from your chimney? Sure, no problem. We’ll get that down for you.” I mean, what the fuck is that about? How is that shit in our job description as window washers? Just because we got a ladder, we should do all the bitchwork at people’s houses no one wants to do for themselves? And it was always me who’d end up havin to do these things. Dad would never ask me or even tell me directly to get it done either, he’d just go, “So uhh…I told so-and-so that we’d go up into their attic crawl space and spray some WD-40 on their external exhaust fan.” And it was understood between us that that meant, “Tim, you go fuckin do whatever stupid shit I just told our customers that we’d do for ‘em so I look good.” I always hated how he’d sell me out like that even though I repeatedly asked him not to. It hurt. And he just kept doin it to me over and over.
It’s funny – well, maybe not funny, but interesting, I suppose – how you can take other people’s attitudes towards you and end up adopting ‘em as your own. Like, for example, in that moment, during the conversation I’d been havin with that lady on her front porch about scoopin out her gutters by hand, my guilt’d been tellin me that my mental and physical health weren’t as important as makin my dad’s old customers happy. It was tellin me that my feelings don’t matter and, essentially, that I don’t matter. “After all,” the guilt reasoned, “this isn’t even one of those outrageous requests like patching chimneys or caulking vents on someone’s roof – she’s only asking you to clean her gutters in a way that she prefers for Christ’s sake. She’s a paying customer, so…who the fuck’re you to deny her that?” So – this was a very strange thing – seemingly against my own will, as if it were my dead dad speakin through me from beyond the grave, my mouth opened and out came a stream of words conveying to this woman that, “Sure, I can do that. No problem.”
Although her roof was a bit steep, I remember us havin walked it back in the day. In 2020, however, the roof’d deteriorated to such an extent that I no longer felt it safe to walk on. The tiles were all crumbling which increases the risk of slipping, and the front part was literally so bad that it had a bowling-ball-sized hole in it leading right into her attic. I mean, when I was there I told her about it, and I figured something like that would be a priority to get fixed so raccoons don’t make a home in there (if they hadn’t already), but now – a year later – when driving past her house, I see she still hasn’t done anything about it. Ya know, I’m probably just gonna drop her as a client this fall. Like, I don’t need this sorta hillbilly bullshit in my life anymore, even if deciding to say “fuck it” seems counterintuitive and makes me feel like I’m disappointing my dad.
That said, what the poor condition of the roof meant for me at the time, however, was that I was gonna hafta move the ladder around the perimeter of her house, and run up and down it about forty or fifty different times to scoop all the shit out into buckets. Even under normal circumstances, having to do that is a total pain in the ass, but the fact that all sides of her house were overgrown with all sorts of bushes, shrubs and big old fuckin pine trees made the task of constantly moving and setting the ladder suck even more dick than a hooker on her period. To navigate all the obstacles, I can’t count how many times I had to take the 28-footer down and carry it over a few feet horizontally through the bramble while my lower body got scratched to shit, and then use all the shoulder strength I have to fight the ladder back up through all the pine branches to again set it into a vertical position. And then when climbing up to the gutter line through those same branches I’d just fought while setting the ladder, I’d get poked and jabbed and scratched and stabbed from every fucking direction. And to top it all off was the heat – the hot, sticky unbearable heat sapping all my energy and leavin me soaked in sweat from head to toe.
I ended up gettin stuck at that fuckin job for about three and a half hours. It was absolutely fuckin miserable. Though I ultimately managed to resist the temptation to do so, I’d say pretty much right from the moment I started this shitty-ass gutter job – the entirety of which’d been a certifiable chump zone – I’d been considering sayin “fuck it” and just walkin offa the job. I mean, in all my years of cleanin gutters, only one other time had I been so tempted to throw in the towel. As it happens, that other horrendously shitty gutter job’d been only a couple blocks away from the one I’d been currently doin. It was about ten years ago, I’d say. The old man and I were doin the gutters of a regular customer on a similarly steamy summer day when the neighbor came out and asked if we’d be willing to do his gutters afterward. It was a huge house with an unusual design. It had a slate roof which means that we couldn’t walk it, as well as a buncha little hard-to-reach gutter sections on all sides of the house that’d require quite a few ladder moves. On top of that, the house’d been canopied by a whole mess of big old trees after which I’m assuming the Wildwood neighborhood’d been named. “They ain’t been done in probably ten years,” the guy said to us. “They could really use it.” That’s never good news especially when a house has trees like that overhanging it, but my dad – as I’d mentioned, never wanting to say no – instinctively responded that, “Yeah, sure, we’ll take care of it right after we’re finished with this one. No problem.”
Dad figured the job’d take us about an hour. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Those gutters and downspouts were so packed with shit that one whole hour after starting, we weren’t even halfway done. Both me and him were drenched in sweat. Not unlike the fate of those charcoal-covered garbage men I mentioned at the beginning of the story, our sweaty condition made it significantly easier for all the dirt to stick to our skin while we took turns climbin up and standin at the top of the ladder, tryin to blast those ten years’ worth of shit out this guy’s solidly-packed gutters. We were both thirsty, tired and dirty. Our eyes were red from havin so much dirt shoot back up into ‘em. Morale was at an all-time low, and at one point I stopped and turned to my dad to say, “Hey man, can we just say ‘fuck it’ about this one? Like, can we be done? I don’t even care about the money. I just wanna get the fuck outta here and go take a shower.” Dad hated quitting. He always thought quitting was for “crybaby sissy boys.” So, given that I pretty much expected him to shoot me down, I was quite surprised to hear just how quickly he’d agreed to my proposal. “Yeah,” he said without givin it much thought. “Fuck this one. Let’s get outta here.” We killed the two blowers and Dad started carryin ‘em towards the tailgate of the truck. I took down the 28-foot ladder we’d been usin, carried it over near my dad and set it atop the rack on the roof of the vehicle. The owner of the house musta been watchin us load up the truck from one of his windows and came runnin out to confront us.
“What’s this?!” he yelled. “You guys are quitting!?”
“Yeah,” my dad said calmly. “We’re not gonna finish.”
“Whattaya mean you’re not gonna finish?”
“We just…we’ve had enough, that’s all.”
“You’ve had enough!?” he yelled again. “Well…well I’m not gonna pay you for this!”
“Yeah, we know. We don’t want any money. We just wanna be done.”
“But…” the guy was flabbergasted, “…but you guys already invested an hour of work here and you’re just gonna walk away with no money!?”
“Yeah,” my dad shrugged. “Guess so.”
“Wait, hold on…I don’t get it. Like…really? You’re just gonna walk away empty-handed after all that work you guys’ve already put in? I mean…I mean look at you guys – you’re filthy!”
“Yeah, yeah…we’re pretty dirty,” my dad closed up the tailgate and started headin toward the driver-side door.
“Wait,” the guy pleaded. “Hold on a second. How ‘bout this…how ‘bout I double the money if you guys finish the job.”
“Eh, I dunno. We’re not really interested.”
“Please,” the guy said. “C’mon. I need ‘em cleaned out and you guys already did half the work. I wanna pay you guys for the job. I don’t wanna hafta hire someone else. Can’t ya just finish the job for me?”
“I dunno,” he repeated then looked over at me. “What do you think? You wanna finish?”
“Maybe for twice the money,” I mused. “How ‘bout you? Whattaya thinkin?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe for twice the money.”
“Done,” the guy interrupted. “Twice the money. You got it. Let’s just get ‘em done.”