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April 25, 2013 1:43 pm

The roofing good with the bad

Written by Doug Blough

A great philosopher once said, “By day the roofer doth toil and tarry; to spreadeth no anguish, he must never marry.” Actually I just made that up, believe it or not. It causes one to ponder if I might have better served humanity as philosopher/poet than roofer?

Here’s another one: “The top of thine house doth repel the sky’s rain; the dry dweller in the cellar seeketh no insurance claim.” Those were just off the top of my head, and I coulda just as easily rhymed rain with “drain” or “gain.” It’s a gift. But it was Johnny Cash who put it to music, with: “If I were a roofer, and you were a lady; would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby?”  

You may have noticed I seldom write glowingly of my somewhat “chosen” profession, which leads many to ask, “So why do you do it if you hate it so much, ya idiot?” Well, sadly, I’ve been roofing so long, it’s basically all I know how to do. But I’ll state unequivocally (a pretty big word, I think you’d agree) that not all of my roofing memories are negative.

Especially in my younger day, the brutal, miserable, monotonous drudgery was at times momentarily replaced by a sense of accomplishment. Within the “biz,” the most esteemed bragging right has always been how many squares one can install in a day (one square of shingles covers 100 square feet).

There’s endless folklore about roofers getting four or more per hour, but that is embellishment seeking fame, if not bald-faced lies. Now, I was no slouch, but I’d have to place the shingling crown on the head of my brother and former boss, Jess. Utilizing the old-style hammer and nails, a huge mitigating factor, Jess once put on 25 squares of the now-extinct “T-Locks” in a 10-hour day. He is the rightful champion, but stupidly refuses to retire.

But there are other competitive aspects of roofing. In my 20s when shingling the Holiday Inn, “Blair Buildings,” I don’t recall who presented the challenge of which I valiantly rose. But I do remember taking my running start and successfully jumping from one building’s roof to the next, a distance that had to be 50 feet if it was an inch. Seeing my near-miss, no one else dared attempt it. My leaping-legend was cemented.  

Shingling the BBHC museum 35 years ago, co-worker Dale Holler and I, while loading shake shingles, raced from bottom to top of that long roof carrying a bundle in each hand. Jess noticed the rivalry and offered to time us on each succeeding trip, declaring an eventual best time for the day.

Neither Dale nor I were mental giants, so didn’t realize until much later with our lungs and legs burning, that Jess had orchestrated a brilliant ploy for absolute maximum work at no extra cost. Even with no monetary reward, I was proud of my victory.

Dale and I had another, much more dubious contest one day after work. Dale was an 18-year-old, summer-help, kid from Jess’s church, headed to Christian College. He had never tasted alcohol and never wanted to, but he could act every bit as goofy as any drunkard you’d ever meet. He was a red-headed, angular beanpole, but like Ed Norton, could never get enough to eat.  

He polished off a large pizza at a local restaurant that offered the pie free to anyone that could finish in 10 minutes. He utilized “the bucket” (which was within their rules) a time or two, but was one of the few to ever finish. One day on the roof, we began debating who could drink the most at one setting — he with his preferred pop, me with my beloved beer. I was convinced the carbonation would have him burping “No mas” while I laughed all the way to the bathroom to pee again.

The stage was set for Friday after work; the loser buys the winner his case of beverage, plus $20. The guzzling began in my tiny party apartment at 6 p.m. and lasted till after midnight. Jess and Marti didn’t condone my alcohol affinity, but even they couldn’t resist stopping by to watch for a while.

The next morning, my kitchen floor was littered with checks I had tried and failed miserably to sign. I was later told I passed out on beer No. 21, with Dale finishing his obligatory 22nd for the win. I slept it off till noon, while Dale actually got up early and helped hang sheetrock at the church. I’ll give him his due: the kid was good!

So you see, it hasn’t all been misery, windburn and heatstroke, but roofing is still an overall thankless way to make a living. I think Waylon sang it best: “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be roofers. They’ll never smile and ask all the while, ‘Has this mole cha-a-anged in appearance?’”

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