Chapter 36 – I’m So Offended
Most of ‘em are really nice people, but some of my dad’s window washing and gutter cleaning customers are a pain in the fuckin ass. Like for example, towards the end of October 2020, I showed up at this outside-only window job and rang the bell to tell the guy that I was there. It’d been late in the afternoon and this was my final job of the day. I’d actually had a pretty full day already set up before this guy’d even called the night before, but since the job was so small and he was so eager to get ‘em done, I said that I’d fit him in. The sun was about an hour away from setting, but I figured that was all I’d need. So, after having rung the bell, as was customary during pre-vaccination covid times, I had my mask on and walked down to the bottom of the stairs to give the guy some space for when he opened up his front door. He answered and I told him I was there to do the job just as we’d spoken about on the phone the evening before. Then I asked the guy if any of the spickets on the outside of his house were still turned on – if he hadn’t yet shut ‘em off for the season to avoid freezing over the winter – so I could fill up my bucket and get to work.
“Nah, they’re not on,” he said.
“Oh,” I replied. “Well, could I quickly fill one up inside then?”
I looked at this big burly bald man for a second, expecting him to break his frown and say, “I’m joking, of course you can come get water inside,” but he didn’t do that. He wasn’t joking. He was dead serious. In the couple seconds of silence before I responded, I’d been tryin to figure out what his deal was. I thought maybe he had heart problems or somethin and was scared of the virus and’d been takin extra precautions against it or some shit like that. I don’t know. Even though the virus’d been around now in the states for over six months, I hadn’t had any problems like this beforehand. Most people, if they didn’t care at all about the virus, would just have me come to their house and do my thing like I always have. Other people – the ones that were scared of covid and took it seriously – didn’t risk having me come to their house to wash their windows at all this year, so…I was kind of at a loss here.
“Okay,” I replied cautiously. “Well, if you’re not comfortable havin people in your house during covid, perhaps I could just hand you a bucket and you could fill it up for me. One bucket is all I’d need to get the job done.”
“Are you fuckin kidding me?!” the guy snapped. He was scary the way John Goodman is scary when he gets angry in the movies. “You don’t bring your own water?! Hello! I’m paying YOU – I’m giving YOU money to do a job and you’re not comin prepared to do it?! What typa business are you runnin here?!”
“Listen,” I said after takin a deep breath and givin him a moment to calm down, “in all the years my dad’d been comin here, never once did he and the guys bring their own water. That’d never been somethin he does. Our customers’ve always let us fill up our buckets at their houses and it’s never been a problem. Including here at your house. That said, I personally do bring my own water to jobs in one of those big Gatorade coolers that they usually dump on football coaches after winning a championship, but I only bring it along on days when the temperature is hovering right around freezing and I know I’ll be doin outside-only work all day. Like, I fill it with hot water so my fingers don’t get painfully cold while I’m working. Since this morning was quite cold, I actually did bring that cooler with me and have it right now in the back of the truck, but it’s empty because I used all the water doin two other big outside-onlys earlier in the day.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” he said. “Not my fault. Come back another day when you got your own water.”
“I’m booked solid for the next week,” I told him. “Today was the only day I could fit you in.”
He just stared at me.
“Look,” I said. “I live about five minutes from here. Maybe if I ran home real quick and filled up the cooler again, I could come back and still get the job done before the sun sets.”
“Yeah, fine. Do that. I don’t care.”
I started walkin back to the truck and saw the spicket there on the side of his house. I really didn’t wanna hafta drive back home and go in my house and talk to my mom and fill this cooler up and come back and…it’s just all too much for the end of a long day out in the cold. So, before goin through with all that shit, I decided to walk over there real quick and test the thing out. Unlike what he’d said, it was still on. I kept it running for a minute to let the rust clear out while I ran over to the truck to grab a bucket with a sponge and a pinch of dish soap in it. I filled up my bucket, shut the spicket off, grabbed the six-foot ladder from the back of the truck and set it up under the big picture window on the front of the guy’s house. I then ran back to the truck one more time to grab whatever squeegees and rags I’d need for the job, and’d been heading back towards the ladder to get started when the front door flung open.
“Hey,” I said to the guy, “turns out your spicket was still on after all, so no need for me to run back home. So, I’m just gonna go ahead and get started out here.”
“Yeah, no shit it was on,” he yelled with steam shootin out of his ears. “I told you it was off because I didn’t want ya usin it! Now if ya broke it, you’re the one that’s gonna pay for it!”
Dude…I felt so uncomfortable. I felt like I was dealing with a genuine psychopath. I was scared that while I was up on the six-foot ladder washin the windows, he was gonna come up on the inside of the glass with a shotgun in his hand and just blast me offa the ladder. I just wanted to go home, but was again plagued by that cursed “Dad wouldn’t quit in this situation, so why should I?” mentality.
“Well,” I said, “after I filled up my bucket, I shut the spicket off and it doesn’t appear to be drippin at all. It looks to be in the exact same condition it was before I used it.”
“So…you still want me to wash the windows, errr…”
“Yeah, whatever,” he huffed. “Just do the job,” he said then stepped back inside and slammed the door.
About halfway through the job, the guy came up and looked out at me from the inside of a window just like he had in my fantasy. But unlike in my fantasy, however, he wasn’t gettin his Smackwater Jack on – that is to say, he didn’t have a shotgun in his hand. He instead knocked on the inside of the glass to get my attention, then gave me a thumbs-up and said how great the windows looked. I smiled and nodded, all the while thinkin to myself what a fuckin nutjob this guy is and how I can’t wait to finish up and get the fuck outta there. So, I did finish up and got paid and left without any further problems, but then get this… After havin yelled at me about the water and the spicket and not apologizing, this dude had the nerve to call me up this spring and ask if I’d hire his son to work with me for the summer. Can you believe that shit? “No, I’m sorry,” I said, fearing the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. “I actually got all the help I need this summer. Thanks for calling.”
Another bizarre encounter I had with a customer in 2020’d been during our fall gutter cleaning season. It was with this old lady that lives in Niles over near Notre Dame High School. We’d been doin her gutters for almost twenty years now. We’d also been doin the house of her daughter and son-in-law for just as long, and they’re in fact the ones who always pay for both jobs. Like, we do their house first and the guy – Kevin is his name – says, “You’re goin to my in-law’s place after this, right?” Yep, I tell him. “Great, here, lemme pay for both. How much is it?…Okay, cool. Here’s a check. I’ll give my mother-in-law a call to let ‘em know you’re comin over so they’re not surprised when you show up. Thanks again and have a merry Christmas.” And so then when we go to the in-law’s, we don’t ever even interact with ‘em. There’s no need to. We’ve already been paid and they’ve already been made aware that we’re comin, so there’s no need for me to even ring the doorbell and let ‘em know who we are. We just show up, do the job, and go on to the next one. Although that’s how things typically unfold, it didn’t quite work out that way in 2020.
So, for whatever reason – I think it was because we were comin in from the northern suburbs like Glenview and Morton Grove headin back towards my neighborhood and logistically it just made sense to do it in this order – I decided to go do the in-laws’ house first this year then go take care of Kevin’s house after. I rang the bell to let ‘em know we were there, but no one answered, so we just threw the ladders up and got started on the job as per usual. Me and this guy Collin were up on the roof of this brick bi-level blowin all the shit out, and my brother was on the ground cleanin up and checkin downspouts, right? In the backyard, they got this massive old tree overhangin the whole back of the house and every year whatever that tree drops always ends up completely stuffin their gutters. So, as always, there’s a ton of shit in there and we’re just doin our thing when all of a sudden this eighty-somethin-year-old lady comes out and starts yellin at us.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” she says while wavin her arms around to get my attention on the roof. I kill my blower so I can hear what she’s gotta say. “I don’t want this done!”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, we’re with Dan Lally. We’re the same guys who’ve been cleanin your gutters for about twenty years now.”
“Yes, I know who you are. But you’re making a big mess everywhere.”
“Well, you got this big tree here in your backyard and the gutters are loaded, so…”
“No, no, no. Every year you guys come here and make a big mess and I’m the one who has to clean it up!”
“Well ma’am, with all due respect, I don’t think that’s true. Sure, we blow the stuff outta the gutters onto the ground, but that’s my brother down there next to ya and he was cleanin up before you came out. He’s gonna make sure there’s no leaves left on your driveway or on your deck in back. And like, I see there’s already a buncha leaves on the ground in your backyard from that big tree that no one’s cleaned up yet, so we could just take everything we blow out and push it all over towards those other leaves so they’re all in one place if you wanted.”
“No, every year it’s the same thing. My son-in-law thinks he’s doing something nice by sending you guys over here, but then I’m the one stuck sweeping up the driveway. And now I’m busy taking care of my husband who’s in a wheelchair, and I’m too old and tired to have to worry about coming out and sweeping. I can’t! I can’t do it! It’s too much for me!”
“Well, that’s what I’m tryin to tell ya. You don’t hafta clean the driveway. We’ll blow it all off for you like we normally do.”
“No. I don’t want you to do that. All these years, it’s just the same thing over and over. I just don’t want this service, okay? I don’t want to have to sweep my driveway anymore.”
“Yeah, sure, that’s fine,” I said. “We’ll come down and finish cleaning up and we’ll leave. The job’s more than halfway done, but we won’t charge your son-in-law anything for it. And you’ll never see us again.”
So, we did just that, then went over to her daughter’s house and rang the bell and said hi and they asked if we’d be headin over to her parents’ house afterwards. I told ‘em that we actually went there first this year and explained to ‘em what happened. At the end of the explanation, I added that, “If she’d been so unhappy all these years with our service, I wish she woulda said somethin sooner instead of holdin it in for so long and freakin out on us like that.” “Nah, ya know what,” they replied after having listened to the tale, “she probably still wants ‘em done. I mean, with that big tree in the yard, she’s gotta have her gutters cleaned, right? We’ll just give her a call and you guys can go back over there and take care of it like you do every year and…” “No, no, no,” I cut ‘em off. “Believe me, she really doesn’t want it done. If you wanna hire someone else to take care of her gutters, I won’t be offended. But, I’m very sorry. I’m not goin back there.”
Dealin with customer bullshit like that is annoying, but it doesn’t hurt me on a personal level, ya know what I mean? It’s just, like I said earlier, a pain in the ass to deal with. Some of the shit these people sometimes say, however, is actually enough to strike a nerve. For example, I’ll never forget bein in a customer’s house one time – an older couple with grown-up children and families of their own – and the man askin me when I’m gonna get a real job. There was no malice in his voice, just genuine curiosity. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel offended by the question. I mean…what a terribly strange thing to ask someone whose shirt is soaked in sweat from havin been out in the hot sun for the past three hours washin your dirty-ass windows. A real job. Is it because I’m white that I don’t fit the bill here? Like, I can’t see anyone askin a Mexican guy that question after he’s done a buncha physical labor at your house all day. Seriously, think about it. Think about how incredibly stupid that would sound. “Hey Jose, great job paintin my living room, but when you gonna get a real job, huh? This painting shit…c’mon, this ain’t real work. When you gonna stop bein lazy and find a nice desk to sit behind for the next thirty years like a responsible adult, huh?” Sayin that to someone…it just doesn’t make any sense, ya know? Like, why is it any of your fuckin business how I pay my bills? Maybe some people just aren’t cut out for corporate life, ya ever think of that? Like, just because all my contemporaries who got the typa job that requires ‘em to wear a shirt and tie into the office every day make five times more than me annually, does that make the blood, sweat and tears I’ve shed doin this shit for my piece of the pie any less “real” as you say? Like, I don’t think so, motherfucker. So why don’t you bend over and let my foot show your ass just how real this job can get.
So yeah…that definitely pissed me off. But the worst I’d ever been offended by a customer – or by a potential one I should say because I actually hadn’t even done any work for this person yet – had been in early November of 2020 when I’d been puttin together our fall gutter cleaning list for the year. This is a task that my dad’d normally do every year in mid-October. It’d usually take him about two weeks to complete. He’d go through the names of every customer we’d done gutters for in the past five years and give ‘em a call. If they said yes, he’d throw their card – all our customers’ information is kept on index cards – in the to-do pile. If they said no, he’d put their card back into the file. If they didn’t answer and he’d left a message, he’d wait to hear back for a yes or a no. Once he made it through the whole alphabet one time, he’d go through again and call all the people he’d marked as “LM” – for “left message” – and still hadn’t heard back from. He might even go through the list a third time if he was feelin particularly ambitious, but that wasn’t always the case. As for me, when I was doin this chore in the fall of 2020, I only planned on callin everybody once. I didn’t know how much help I’d have and figured I’d rather have a lighter workload than to be overburdened, even if such a decision meant I’d be makin a bit less money. As it turned out though, in spite of only callin each customer once, we ended up gettin about the same amount of work we’d normally get.
First of all, I’d just like to take a moment to quickly comment on a couple people’s last names. I’m curious about the origin of ‘em. I know sometimes people’s last names are formed based on the occupation of or for something one of their ancestors’d once been known. So, when I was goin through my dad’s old card file and came across the info of a customer named Sexton, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of their long lost relatives used to fuck a lot – that is to say, had a ton of sex. Likewise, seein the name Dickinson…well, it had me thinkin that maybe one of the men somewhere along the line in their family tree’d had an inappropriate amorous relationship with one or more of his male children. I dunno. I was considering callin ‘em up to ask, but didn’t think the conversation woulda gone over too well.
So anyway, dirty jokes aside, when I was makin the gutter calls in the fall of 2020, there’d been three telephonic interactions that stand out to me. One of ‘em had been with one of my dad’s old fireman buddies who didn’t know my dad was dead. I already talked about that one back in Chapter 15 and won’t get into it again here. The second one was with some old guy whose gutters we’d never done before. I wasn’t really all that interested in takin on new jobs last year, but I was talkin to a long-time customer of my dad’s and he asked me if, when I’m at his house, I could do the gutters for the old couple across the alley as well. He said their landscaper used to do it, but the guy went outta business or some shit, and now they were scramblin to find someone new. He’s like, “Yeah, I told ‘em I got these guys who come every year and they do a pretty good job too. I’ll have ‘em call ya.” And I replied to the guy, “Well, if you wanted to give ‘em my number and have ‘em call me, I’d consider doin it, but I’m really not interested in takin on more work than I already have, so callin up people I don’t know askin to do their gutters is just somethin I don’t wanna be doin right now.” And he’s like, “Nah, I already told ‘em you’d be the one callin them. You got a pen? I got their number right here.” So I was like…fine, whatever, I’ll fuckin do it.
So, I call this number up and someone answers, but they don’t say anything. I say, “Hi, is this Mr. or Mrs. Whatever-Their-Last-Name-Is?” And some old guy goes, “No, it’s not. Why don’t you suck my fuckin cock, you piece o’ shit? Yeah, just wrap your lips around this dick and suck it. Fuck you.” And he hung up. I was shocked. Like, yeah, I was shocked, but at the same time thought it was one of the funniest things I’d heard in a really long time. So, I call the first customer back up and tell him what just happened on the phone with his neighbor. He can’t believe it. I say, “Is this the right number?” And I read it back to him. He says yeah. Then I say, “Are you sure he knew I was gonna be calling?” And he said yeah again. So I’m like, “Okay, well, there’ve been a lotta bullshit political calls lately with the presidential elections comin up in less than a week, so maybe he thought I was one of those guys. I’ll try him again.” I hang up with that guy and again start dialin up his elderly neighbor. Phone rings, someone picks up. “Back for more, huh?” he musta looked at the caller ID and saw the same number. “Didn’t get enough of this cock the first time around?” Before he could say any more, I cut in and said, “Mr. Whatever, this is Tim Lally the gutter cleaner that your neighbor Mr. So-And-So from across the alley recommended. I’m just callin to see if you wanted us to clean out your gutters this fall at the same time we do your neighbor’s house.” And he’s like, “Oh yeah, sure. Yeah, I’d like that very much.” “Great,” I said. “We’ll be starting on November 15th and goin until all the jobs are done which is usually around Christmastime if the weather complies, so I’m not sure exactly when we’ll be there, but it’ll definitely be somewhere within that timeframe. We’ll ring the bell when we’re there, and if you’re home, that’s great, you can pay us then. And if not, I’ll still do the job then leave a bill in your mailbox, and you can send a check over to my house at your convenience. Any questions?” “No,” he said, “that sounds pretty good to me.” “Great,” I said. “We’ll see ya sometime this fall.”
Now that I think about it, unlike the first two calls I mentioned, the last memorable call from the fall of 2020 didn’t actually take place when I was putting our gutter cleaning list together. It was from when the list was already done and gutter cleaning season was already underway. Every night, I come home after work and listen to all the messages and call everybody back and all that shit. They’re long days. Including all the bookkeeping and other “secretary boy work” (as my dad would say) that’s gotta be done every evening, gutter cleaning season is like twelve-hour days, seven days a week, for a month and a half straight. It’s lucrative, I won’t deny that, but it’s also pretty mentally and physically exhausting.
So, one of these days when I got home from another long day out on the roofs and’d been listening to the messages, there was one from some young woman sayin that her and her husband and kids just moved into the Wildwood neighborhood – the neighborhood where the majority of my work is – and said that she needs her gutters cleaned. I give her a call back and say that, “I’m sorry, I got a full roster this year, I got a ton of jobs to do and really…my plate is full right now.” She says that that’s too bad because she’s read so many reviews about how good we are on nextdoor.com. She says that no one else on there had as good of reviews and… All this flattery was makin me feel that guilt again that I’ve talked about quite a bit in the past few chapters – the guilt I feel drivin me to keep my dad’s business not only alive, but runnin in the exact same way I imagine he’d have run it. And listenin to this lady talk, I was thinkin to myself, “Dad wouldn’t say no to new jobs, especially if they’re in the same neighborhood where the majority of our other work is.” So, I decided to ask the lady what her address is. She tells me and I quickly punch it in to Google Maps to have a look. It’s an easy one-story ranch. I quote her a price and tell her I could squeeze her in at the end of the day – not tomorrow, because tomorrow I’m working in a different area of the city and my schedule is absolutely jam-packed to the max – but the day after tomorrow at the end of the day is when I said I could do it. She thought the price was great and was stoked about how soon I could be out there. I hung up the phone feeling good about myself and went on with all the pending secretary boy work awaiting my attention.
The next day, I went out and spent all day doin whatever I had planned then went back home, threw all my dirty clothes in the wash and started listenin to the messages. There was another message from that woman I talked to the day before. She said she had a few more questions for me about my gutter cleaning service and would appreciate it if I could call her back. I hit “erase message” then kept listening to the rest of the voicemails while taking notes in my notebook and, as per usual, after I’d listened to ‘em all is when I started callin everybody back. When I got to this same lady’s info and began dialing her up, I thought perhaps she wanted to ask about our methods. Some people like you to scoop all the stuff out by hand and then run a hose down their downspouts to make sure they’re clean, as opposed to usin the gas-powered leaf blowers we use to just blow all the shit out. I figured maybe this is what she wanted to talk about, so these were the types of questions I was preparing myself to answer.
“Oh hey, thanks for getting back to me,” she said just as friendly as the day before. “I was just calling to make sure – because I forgot to ask yesterday – that you guys are, ya know, licensed and bonded and insured and all that good stuff.”
Every time a customer called up and asked that of my dad over the years, he’d invariably respond that, “Oh yes, of course we are.” And that kinda always rubbed me the wrong way. Because we never had any of those things and never planned on gettin ‘em. I mean, we’re not a legitimate business, we’re just a hillbilly-ass father and son that do this shit for a living, ya know? Well actually, my dad at least had a legitimate career as a firefighter and was only doin this stuff on the side, so I guess that makes him far less of an urban hillbilly retard than I am. In fact, bein a firefighter always gave my dad lotsa credibility with customers old and new. And in addition to feelin they could trust him based on his occupation, Dad was a friendly guy with a handsome face and a nice smile that happened to be great at tellin everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. “Of course we got insurance,” he’d say. And I’d be like, “Dad, why do you lie to people like that?” And he’d say, “I want the work and people want the peace of mind, so…” He ended a lot of sentences like that – “so…” And like, I always knew how to fill in those blanks. But like, this little white lie never compromised the quality of work we did in any way, shape or form, and his customers were always happy with everything he did for ‘em, so…no harm, no foul – am I right?
So, that said, even though that approach always worked for my dad, I myself just didn’t wanna be that way. It’s not me, ya know? I mean, takin on this lady’s gutter cleaning job because I felt guilty towards my dad and wanted to uphold his good reputation as a reliable guy who’s always there for you even though I promised myself I wouldn’t be takin on any new jobs that fall was one thing, but no part of me felt like lyin on top of it. It was just too much. And actually, a couple other people’d asked me this question over the course of the summer since I’d taken over my dad’s business after he died and I answered honestly in those instances. Those people weren’t super jazzed about my answer, but they had me do the job anyway and were, I think, overall pleased with the work I’d done. So, I thought this situation was gonna go the same way. I mean, why wouldn’t it?
“Oh no,” I said as frank as could be, “to tell ya the truth, I actually don’t have any of those things.”
“Hmm,” she said. “I see. But like, what happens if you fall off my roof?”
“Well,” I said, “from what I saw on Google Maps, the roof of your house is not steep at all, so there’s a very very slim chance of me falling. And god forbid if I were to fall, your house is only one-story tall so serious injury is extremely unlikely.”
“Hmm. Yeahhhh, I see. The thing is…I’m just worried about your safety.”
“Well, thanks,” I said, “but I’ve been doin this job for over fifteen years now. I’m at my physical prime and’ve been on roofs way scarier than yours in my day, so I’m honestly not too concerned. Your job’ll probably take me no more than thirty minutes to do by myself and that’ll be it. I’ll be on my merry way.”
“Hmm okay, yeah,” she said again. “But without insurance, I’m really worried about your safety up there.”
“Okayyyy,” I paused, confused by what she said. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. I don’t see how the two are correlated.”
“If you don’t have insurance, I don’t think it’s safe for you to go up on my roof.”
“Uhh…how would having insurance make walkin on a roof any safer? Like, insurance isn’t a giant net that comes outta nowhere and catches you if you slip offa someone’s roof. It doesn’t work that way. Believe me, I like bein able to walk. Goin on walks and hiking are some of my favorite things in the world. They’re what keep me sane in life and I’ll do whatever it takes to hold on to those activities. So, when it comes to doin my job, the best insurance is to always pay close attention to every step I take so I can get back to the ground safely and get paid with my body intact. You understand what I’m sayin?”
“I understand. But there’s no guarantee you won’t fall, and we’ve had bad experiences with uninsured workers before in the past, so…”
“Oh,” I mentally filled in the blank. “I see what this is all about. For a minute I thought you were actually concerned about my safety up there, doin my job. You don’t care about me at all. This is about you bein afraid that I’m gonna sue you. Ha! I wish you woulda been upfront about this right from the start instead of twistin it around like that. That’s just so…sneaky.”
“I’m very sorry. But like I was saying, we’ve had bad experiences with uninsured workers in the past and…”
“And what?” I asked. “And you comparing me to them right now – comparing me to some lowlifes that ripped you off in the past – is supposed to make me feel better and make me understand your point of view? What happened to all the good reviews you’d read about us on Nextdoor that you were citing yesterday when you called up convincing me to take on your job? Ya know what…my father was a hard-working honest man who worked until the day he died to provide for his family, and when he fell off the roof of one of our loyal customers a couple years ago and broke his face and couldn’t walk for a couple weeks and didn’t remember who he was, suing the customer was the last thing on any of our minds. We’re a proud people and there’s no honor in such a thing. Do you understand about honor?”
“I’m very sorry,” she said hurriedly, “I’m going to have to find someone else to hire.”
“Pfff…Yeah, you bet you are,” I said then hung up the phone.
I was so unbelievably upset that our integrity would be called into question like that. I couldn’t stop playing that conversation over and over in my head for the whole week that followed.