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I Am A Roofer

Actually, I am not a roofer. Nor have I ever wanted to be one. Not that there's anything wrong with being a roofer; it's good honest work that is severely under-valued and under-appreciated by most people until rainwater starts drenching their indoor valuables. I'm even convinced that the first thing Adam and Eve did after they begat Cain and Abel was invent a sod hut with tarpaper and shingles that eventually needed tending to.

The fair amount of personal discomfort inherent to professions like roofing, furniture moving, and professional wrestling is why I chose to become a newswriter and later a graphic/ad designer instead. However, when you become an out-of-work graphic/ad designer, you can become a lot of things temporarily. This is how people like my friend Tony (an out-of-work construction project manager) and I ended up working for a week stripping and re-roofing his mother's garage on the East Side.

I cannot call myself a roofer, even while involved in the actual act of roofing. I didn't learn any secrets or insights into what it takes to be a really good professional roofer other than it all begins with the ability to not go sailing off the edge of a roof. The only thing I learned - other than how quickly you can trash a few pairs of jeans - is that relatively sedentary guys a year or two short of their 50th birthday with pack-a-day cigarette habits since high school have no business roofing anything more complex than a treehouse.

Tony: You know what we need right now?

Me: What?

Tony: Four 21-year-olds.

* * *

The typical residential power line strung between a pole-mounted transformer in any Chicago alley and any house along that alley carries somewhere around 440 volts. Or maybe less - 440, 220, whatever it takes. The danger lurking behind something like that is that power lines like these are intentionally left dangling a few short feet from the tops of garage roofs.

This is not a sign of negligence or oversight on the part of major utilities like ComEd or NIPSCO. It's because - beyond having to retrieve the wayward Frisbee, dispose of several pounds of maple tree whirlygigs, or hang Christmas lights because the spouse insists - there's really no occasion where any homeowner in his right mind should be on the roof of his own homestead. Yet, instances like these - when we go digging out the aluminum ladder - is where electricity becomes a major concern; instances where people like me with the capacity to lop off a leg with a socket wrench find themselves with potentially-deadly sources of electricity hanging inches from their skin.

When they're not hanging around collecting gym shoes hanging by their laces ever since Clackers started disappearing during the 1970s for being a safety hazard, those power lines can spend decades lollygagging about, just waiting for some roof-crawling yutz like me to stop paying attention to my immediate surroundings long enough for the brain inside my skull can be turned into a poached egg. As such, I've always considered electrical-service lines much the same way I've always considered in-laws: From a distance, they're all basically harmless - until the first time you do something really, really stupid right next to them.

Say what you will about trade unions, but this is exactly why most of them have some sort apprenticeship program that extends beyond, "Dude, what are you doing Monday morning?"

* * *

This is the point in the year when nature quietly begins nudging assorted forms of wildlife like Woolly Bear caterpillars to grow more fur so the folks responsible for Poor Richard's Almanac can predict how bad the upcoming winter might be. Natural forces like this also consume the yellow jacket, which is for good reason lumped into the same group of persistent and ill-tempered little beasties that includes fire ants, Canadian geese, telemarketers, and billy goats. Anyone who has tried to drink a can of pop or eat a hot dog outdoors during a Labor Day weekend cookout has been molested more than once by the yellow jacket, an insect whose primary purpose in life is to get amped up on sugar and see how many of themselves they can pack into sheltered, tucked-away places. Places like garage-roof vent caps that need to be disposed of, and various portions of water-rotted wood that have also become great nurseries for silverfish.

These yellow-and-black wasps were our constant companions even several days after we saturated their nests with enough hornet/wasp killer to fill a wading pool and covered up their life's work with tarpaper and shingles. Yet, the persistent little bastards kept honing in on the same exact spots no matter what, no matter when. This made me think that these pests inspired the invention of GPS technology. I even saw a few dozen of our yellow jackets communicating furiously with each other by rubbing their antennae together just before I got caught up in the perverse pleasure of dispatching them two or three at a time beneath my shoe or the head of a hammer. Feel free to turn me in to your nearest PETA office if you must, but I guaran-fucking-tee that if a few dozen bunny rabbits came streaming out of a vent cap looking to sting you in the head, you'd be crushing their skulls, too.

Still, I'm no more well-versed in yellow jacket-speak than I am in Latin, but given the disposition of the average yellow jacket, I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Jacket A: Hey, you sure this is where our hole was?

Jacket B: Yuh. I'm pretty sure this is where it was. I coulda swore it was right here this morning when we left.

Jacket A: Where'd it go, then?

Jacket B: I dunno. Hey, see that guy over there with the hammer? How 'bout we go sting him in the head?

* * *

By and large though, I'd rather deal with a naturally-occurring wildlife pest like the yellow jacket than the urban wildlife annoyance known as The Invisible Yappy Dog. Yappy Dogs have shrill voices that carry for blocks and hit your brain like an ice pick through the ear, and are inclined to bark incessantly at all sorts of non-threatening things like sidewalk ants and air molecules.

Unfortunately for us, we had one of these critters as our constant companion at various but extended periods of time. The problem is, you never actually catch sight of the little fuckers so you can climb down the ladder and spear them with the same pitchfork you're using to strip a roof.

If turkeys were smart enough to catch on to this strategy, we'd all be eating White Castles for Thanksgiving.

Invisible or not, Yappy Dogs are roughly about the size of a dustmop with a broomstick shoved up its ass, and serve basically the same general purpose. Otherwise, they have historically been seen taking up the laps of grandmothers or wicker baskets owned by Dorothy of Kansas. Most recently, though, they have been held captive - sometimes en masse - within the very expensive handbags of women you wouldn't trust to leave the car window cracked for their own children while they went shopping.

Or worse - for some un-fucking-godly reason at all - they end up perched within the protective arms of perilously large or dangerous-looking men.

Say what you will about me, I'm not the one showing up in public with these horrid little beasts. Which is why in any Chicago neighborhood, Yappy Dogs are often confused with the common alley-breeding, Dumpster-diving Norway Rat, and are pretty much regarded just the same.

Which means they both probably taste like chicken. Or frog legs.

* * *

On one particular day on the job, I was constantly reminded of The Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Wall of China. Not because these architectural wonders are so wondrous or great, but because I spent some time trying to figure out a more comfortable way to schlep two dozen 80-pound bundles of asphalt shingles up a ladder without rupturing myself, slipping a disc, or re-awakening a particularly nasty case of something that I'm inclined to believe involved my sciatic nerve four months ago.

It didn't work.

The Egyptians and the Chinese somehow built towering structures like these - which involved blocks of rock roughly the size and weight of a Honda Civic - which have endured for several millennia without the benefit of block and tackle, the Archimedes Screw, the catapult, or President Barack Obama's vision for national health care. In fact, I consider any motorcycle that makes it home without turning into a donorcycle a modern marvel. Still, my friend Tony is a structural engineer, so I figured if anyone could appreciate the dilemma at hand, he would. I was wrong.

Me: If the Egyptians and the Chinese could do it, how come we can't?

Tony: They had slaves.


See tales of security guards, pizzeria waitresses, baristas and office drones in the Life at Work collection.


Posted on September 8, 2009

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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