Chapter 34 – Takin Some Time to Listen
A couple years ago, my buddy Pete was tellin me this story of when he was at a house party in college, and this other dude that everybody calls Moose randomly started yellin that they should have a shirt-eating contest. The guy said, “I bet I could eat more shirt than anybody in this place!” and Pete seemed to be the only one who rose to the challenge, tellin Moose that, “No way, pal. You’re on. No way you can eat as much shirt as I can.” So, I don’t know if he took off his own shirt or if someone else gave him one or what, but Pete told me he set a shirt on a plate, used a knife and fork to cut that motherfucker into bite-size pieces, and then proceeded to stuff ‘em all down his gullet. I think he said that Moose didn’t end up eating any shirt at all, yet Pete still felt the need to prove himself, and prove himself he did. He told me that he ate so much shirt at that party that he spent the whole next week pullin undigested pieces of fabric out his asshole every time he went to take a shit.
Like that one, I love a good story. Some people tell more interesting stories than others. Some people have a few good stories mixed in with a buncha boring blather. Some people wouldn’t know a good story if it came up to ‘em on the street with its dick out and nutted right on their tits in broad daylight. The thing is though, you never know what sorta stories someone might have up their sleeve until you give ‘em the time of day.
My dad used to be good at that. He used to be very patient with people – especially with our window and gutter customers – and would always spend time chatting with these folks either while workin, washin the insides of their windows, or after we’d finished the job when he was gettin paid. Sometimes the people would even invite him and the rest of the guys inside for a beer afterwards and – if we’re talkin fifteen years ago here – most of the time they’d accept. Honestly, I used to hate when that shit would happen. I hated bein a teenager and thinkin how great it was that we’d just finished the last job of the day, but then would hafta sit there for another hour or so out in the truck while Dad and the guys guzzled beer together in a customer’s house or garage. Those were the days back before smartphones were around, so – without that to keep me entertained – I’d usually just pass the time starin out into the distance and day-dreaming, or takin a nap in the passenger seat of my dad’s truck.
In the past couple years before he died, however, it was a different story. Dad’s mental health’d gotten so bad that he never stopped and talked to the customers the way he used to. Obviously I don’t know exactly why he stopped hangin out and chatting, but I think it was because of how god damn anxious he was all the time. He was always so worried about gettin on to the next activity of his daily things he needed to check off his OCD list that he no longer had the time or patience for friendly chats. One example that I think highlights this very well is an interaction he’d had with a bank teller less than a year before he died. Let’s review…
Maybe like five years ago or somethin, Bank of America decided to close the drive-thru windows at all their locations reasonably close to our house. This pissed my dad off, because with his business, he was cashin checks pretty much every day. Like, every day after work, he’d have a combination of checks he’d gotten from jobs we did that day and checks he’d gotten in the mail the afternoon before from people that’d owed him, and he enjoyed the convenience of sittin in his truck in the drive-thru at the end of the day, gettin his cash and then goin on to the next thing. Now every day after work, instead of doin what he’d spent the last twenty-somethin years gettin used to, he had to park his truck in the lot at the bank and drag his busted old ass inside to stand in line with a buncha other fuckin chumps as if we were livin in Communist Russia or some shit. And then once he’d reached the counter – since he’d gone so often, he knew all the tellers and they knew him – they’d always wanna have friendly chats or try to convince him to “update his information” or open another account or any combination of the above. He absolutely hated it. So, sometime in the summer of 2019, me and my dad finished a day of work and we drove over to the Bank of America location closest my house. I decided to sit in the truck while Dad went in to cash his checks for the day. Ten or fifteen minutes passed that I’d spent starin out the window and swipin through chicks on Tinder before Dad opened up the door and climbed back in.
“That fuckin teller broad in there is absolutely killin me,” he said of this Eastern European woman I’d heard him talk about several times before. “She says, ‘Hi, Mr. Daniel. How are you today?’ And I say, ‘I’m alright. I just wanna cash these checks.’ And she says, ‘Well, okay, but aren’t you going to ask me how I am today?’ And I say, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that. I just wanna cash my checks.’ And she starts laughing. She says, ‘What? You don’t care how my day is going?’ And I tell her, ‘No, I don’t care how your day’s going. I just want you to cash my checks for me.’ And she thinks I’m joking. She says, ‘Oh, Mr. Daniel,’ she’s laughin again. ‘You’re so funny.’ And I say back to her, ‘No, you don’t get it. I’m not joking. I really don’t care.’ And then she started laughin even more. So I just said, ‘Whatever, can you just cash my fuckin checks already so I can get the fuck outta here?’ So then she cashes my checks and gives me the money and says, ‘Thanks again for making my day, Mr. Daniel. You really are so funny. I needed a laugh like that today.’ And I told her again that I wasn’t kidding, but she still didn’t get it. She just smiled and told me to have a good day.”
There’s this one guy named Roger that lives in Old Irving Park whose gutters we’ve been cleaning for many years. He’s in his seventies now I’d say and’d fought in the Vietnam War back in the mid-sixties. Not so much in recent years, but back in the day, he was one of those dudes that’d always offer my dad and the guys a drink when we finished the job, and they’d hang out for a bit and talk about what’s new on the fire department and – since he played a pretty active role over at the Irish American Heritage Center – what’s goin on in that community and all that typa good shit. And of course, as I explained earlier, I’d most often spend this time sittin out in the truck by myself, twiddlin my thumbs.
Now, at the risk of soundin like a cum-guzzling bitch without a pair o’ balls between my legs, I always hated cleaning the gutters on that guy’s house. I’d literally have nightmares about it. Ya see, back in my late teens, before we started usin this brand of boot called Cougar Paws that were made especially for walkin on roofs, we used to walk up there in our gym shoes. Roger’s house is a tall old wood frame with a roof that – although manageable with Cougar Paws – is steep enough to be quite dangerous while walkin in gym shoes. He’s since gotten a new roof, but back then – back when I was a teen – his roof was in pretty poor condition and I had a close call up there while cleanin the gutters. As I walked near the edge of the roof usin one of my dad’s gas-powered, handheld Echo leaf blowers to blow all the shit outta Roger’s gutters, the weathered old asphalt shingles began to crumble under my feet. I tried to take a step back to regain my balance and my feet slipped out from under me. I was on my back, but managed to hold on to the leaf blower as I went slidin down towards the edge of the roof which I was certain I was gonna go cascading over like fuckin Niagara Falls. As I reached the end, however, I was able to stick my feet into the gutter, and used the thing to kill my downward momentum. I called out to my dad’s buddy John on the ground who’d been checkin my downspouts at the time, and let him know that I was in trouble. John carried the 28-foot ladder around the house from where it was on the other side where I’d originally stepped off onto the roof, and set it right near where I was. He heeled it for me as I carefully transferred my weight from the roof onto the upper rungs of the ladder before makin my way back down to the safety of solid ground.
That happened like fifteen years ago and we’ve cleaned those gutters out about twice a year every year since then. Even though that happened so long ago, and even though I’ve personally walked that roof without a problem many times since then, every time I’m over there, I still relive that incident. Like, even just sittin here thinkin about it makes me sick to my stomach. And that’s the exact reason why I’d gotten so upset when Roger called me to come clean his gutters out sometime after my dad died. I was hopin he’d have heard about my dad and figured the business was no more, and would’ve found someone else to take care of the job for him, but that wasn’t the case. I guess he ran into my dad’s buddy John at Tam Golf Course and asked about the gutters, and John told him I was still runnin the business and that he should gimme a call. Like, not one bit did I wanna clean Roger’s gutters again, but my guilt wouldn’t let me say no. I mean, “Dad would never turn down a job he’s already done dozens of times because he still has nightmares about fallin offa the roof there, so why am I bein such a fuckin pussy about it?” I felt it wasn’t my place to say no here in this situation and deny one of my dad’s long-time customers the satisfaction and peace of mind that some people get out of having clean gutters. So, against my better judgment, I called the guy back and told him I’d be there in a day or two to take care of the job for him.
Sparing you the details, I faced my fear and managed to get the job done without incident. After Roger’s house, I had two more jobs to go do that afternoon. It was like ninety degrees out and I was drenched in sweat. I didn’t think the guy was home, so I filled out a bill and was about to stick it in his mailbox when he opened up the door and greeted me. I told him the job was all done and that there in my hand I had a bill for him. He told me to step inside into the AC for a minute while he went to go write a check. I said I really probably shouldn’t, as I’d been completely covered in sweat and dirty bullshit from his gutters, and that I had a couple more jobs I needed to go do after his. He insisted. He said, “C’mon, I’ll give ya somethin to drink.” He offered a variety of different beverages to choose from. I told him an ice-cold water sounded pretty good at the moment. He told me to come on in and he’d gimme one. I hesitated, but again the voice in my head was tellin me that, “Dad would do it. Dad would go inside Roger’s for a drink…at least back in the day he would’ve before he got all goofy and shit. Why don’t you go see what you were missin out on all those years ago when you were sittin out in the car while the rest of the men were invited in for a post-work beer?” Ultimately, I again gave in to the voice and decided to go into the guy’s house for a quick drink.
I followed Roger into his kitchen which, judging by the looks of the appliances, probably hadn’t been updated in more than fifty years. Right away he handed me a water. I took a sip. It was very refreshing. I took another sip. It was just as good. While I was enjoying my water, Roger started talkin to me. He didn’t really ask me any questions and didn’t seem to wanna hear my input on anything he was sayin, he just seemed excited to have someone to talk to. He started talkin about the war. He at first started talkin in generalities, but then mentioned he’d written a book about it and asked if I wanted to see. This was one question he did want an answer to. I told him that, yes, I would like to see his book. He went into the other room and quickly returned with a book titled Before, During, and After Vietnam. On the cover it had a picture of him from 1966 at Cu Chi with a rifle in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth. He wasted no time cracking it open. There were a lotta pictures in the book and Roger pointed out every single guy in every picture and told me his name, what his MOS was, whether or not he made it outta the war alive, (if he was dead) how he died either during the war or after, (if he was alive) what he’s up to now, and (in either case) what his last interaction’d been like with each one of these guys – be it on the phone, over the internet, or in person.
I ended up listenin to Roger talk about his experience in Vietnam for about an hour. I then listened to him for another fifteen or so minutes after that as he explained to me which counties all his relatives from Ireland were born in. It was at that point I decided to excuse myself to go take care of the other two jobs I had scheduled for that afternoon. The one story that Roger told during this session that stuck with me more than all the others was how, in one of the Vietnamese villages where his platoon’d been positioned, there was always this group of kids that would run up to their jeep every time they pulled up, and they’d greet all the American soldiers and try to speak English, and the soldiers’d give the kids trinkets and candy in return. He told me that this one time though, when he and some other guys and his captain I think it was were returning to the village, he noticed that the kids didn’t run up to ‘em like they normally would. He said that they instead were just standin on the side of the road watchin ‘em drive past with worried looks on all their faces. Roger suspected an ambush. He told his captain that it’s not normal for those kids to not run up to the jeep like they always do, and that there must be somethin goin on. The captain heeded the warning and the guys rolled into the village ready for battle. Just as they suspected, a small group of Viet Cong popped out and started attacking ‘em. Roger didn’t get into detail, but assured me they ended up “takin care” of those guys and that the kids would later apologize to him and the other soldiers, sayin that the VC had threatened ‘em and told ‘em to stay away while they carried out their attack.