The following I will consider the first short blog of a series called WITABAR short for “When I think about being a roofer” So welcome to my mind and my memory as a roofer.
WITABAR- “When I think about being a roofer”
Story number 1,
“Have you seen Pete?”
I couldn’t tell you exactly how I became so rich. I lived in a big house, about 6000 square feet all brick and it looked like me. I remember waking and looking over the grand foyer in amazement of what I had accomplished. Although beautiful in spatial feature it made me feel doomed. I had dealt with a tumultuous time over the last few years attempting to challenge an understanding of the trauma I had experienced. Miles of hills I felt I climbed trying to reinvent myself falling right back to lower than where I started. I was back in roofing , the jobs were smaller, the men were troubled , less talented, and I was just scared to death every waken and sleepful moment.
I pushed myself each day because I loved my children but there were tears behind my eyes as i struggled with it all.
On the roof was different after closing my big company. Each day I was forced to pick-up my men at their varied residence. It was a routine,.. out of Rio Vista – Mahwah, my multi-million dollar neighborhood down Pulis avenue left on Franklin to 208 and straight down into Hawthorne, N.J.Passing through Hawthorne I remember my favorite roofer Phil, and I wonder if he is safe and happy. I keep going into Prospect park, a right onto belmont and then a left on some discreet street to pick up Tony. Tony was an eager roofer and he always came out of his house turned and locked his door securely. He was big blond man with a lazy eye that seemed to define him. He was very talkative always and he honored me from what other roofers had said about me . He really gave me a tremendous amount of respect. He was not shy at all and he was free to fill me in on everywhere he had been over the last 10 years. Tony was an ex-marine and he was talented,… yet a roofer…need I say more. He was published regularly in Stars and Stripes and was known to be the type of soldier that could get the job done. He served in the first Iraq war and he will be the first to admit that war had zero effect on his conscience for anything he had done. He admittedy had no conscience about anything. People knew this about Tony and I think they took advantage of it. There was the woman that just wanted Tony once a week to have sex with her. No commitment she just wanted it the way he could give it. We talked about that part of his life in deep detail . It was tantalazing to me since I had at that point of my life been solely with the woman I married sexually and quite frankly I was not feeling that was enough. Tony and his weekly stories were great.
Tony had no love in his life except for the many turtles that he friended and rescued from the perils of the road. He named all of his turtles and I believe he loved them deeply.Tony knew everything about turtles and was intrigued by their survival techniques and their age. Tony seemed to only bond with two things in his life, me and his turtles. He claimed that I was the only one that he ever let visit his turtles but I could not be sure of that. He told me something else as well.
Everday after I picked up Tony we would head down through Paterson, NJ AKA Ptown to ramp onto Rt 20 and to Rt 46 East. We pass through Italian Lodi and Garfield , past the “Hill” and the many fast food originals like “Pizza Town” and “Angelo’s” . Traffic was always moving and you had better move with it because it was always a typical Jersey morning. Passing the massage parlors left and right up over route 17 and down the Hill to one of the more seedier parts of New Jersey, on Rt 46 in Little Ferry, NJ. Pete was our next stop. Pete was right out of jail and he lived in the Quality Inn on Rt 46 , a known refuge for ex-cons and drug addicts just out of jail.
The first day Pete worked for me I was thrilled . He showed up with his tools and he had some understanding of EPDM roofing which was big at the time he worked for me. Petes’ first day of work he proved to be a valuable employee. On the second day I did the same pick-up routine through all the towns. Pete again was on-time and ready to roof. we finished a few small roofs and I dropped everyone off looking forward to seeing my babies. I almost felt that I was getting a groove back and that I could save my home and care for my family. Of course the each day was almost the same routine except that things started getting a little heated. Pete began demanding his paycheck and I gladly paid him just to stop his nagging. The next day Pete did not show up and I really had a sigh of relief. About 10:00 am I got a call from Pete and he asked if I had his tool bag. I told him we might have it but he should come and get it if he wanted it. As it turned out Pete had left his bag somewhere and we could not find it. Pete demanded that I pay for his tools and he relentlessly called for days on end. I tried to focus on work and ignore his constant threats and calls but it was taking a toll on me. I was furious with Pete, he was just drugged out and crazy. I really hated Pete but I kept it together.
Tony and I had a repair that day and it was my job to get up a forty foot ladder and do a repair on the peak of an Old Victorian Cone roof. I needed to trust in Tony to hold the ladder. He had my life in his hands. I asked Tony if he was good with holding the ladder. he answered back yes. I was working and Tony hollered up to me. “I have something to tell you” yelled Tony. He went on…” When I was in Iraq I wasted forty prisoners while they were handcuffed, I killed them all, I felt nothing” Tony was confessing to me a mass war crime. I felt sick about this and at the same time scared for my own life being up 40 feet and in the hands of Tony” When the day and the repair ended Tony and I talked. He explained to me that he was a different type of person. We discussed how he was a person without a conscience. his actions did not effect him. He could coldly do just about anything. I asked him to not feel that way. He told me he could feel no other way. He confided in me that he was scared of me. He told me that something in my eyes scared him. His comments made me feel uneasy but in a way I suddenly felt safe for my own life.
Tony seemed to become agitated and started asking me questions regarding the entire Pete situation. My conversations with Tony became more interesting as time went on. He had a hunch that the Real estate Market in 1995 was going to boom and he was sure that I should invest in as many properties as I could afford. Little did he know that I could afford nothing and I was losing my own home. It ends up that Tony was right on the money . His theory of massive escalation of home prices did come true from 1995 all the way through 2006. I am not sure if he was ever able to invest but I will admit he was right. I dropped Tony off at about 8pm that evenning and just as I pulled up to his house Pete again called and raged on and on. Without incident Tony left my truck and said goodbye.
It was a hot sunny morning in July and most people were probably enjoying the beauty of the day. I found it hard to look beyond the grime and craziness of urban NJ and roofing. It just seemed that it was bad energy every where and sweating made it stink. I pulled up to Tony’s house and beeped the horn but no one came out. Tony was nowhere to be found. I was without the help of a roofer for this day. I would be stuck doing all of the work myself. I muttered to myself that I could handle it, at that moment my beeper went off and it was Tony. His message read “I love you man, You will never see me again. I am going to OFF Pete today” . My heart dropped to the floor and my groin seemed to shrink and pain me. I was unsure and positive what I should do simultaneously. I had to stop this roofer. I immediately called the Paterson Police and they told me to come down to the station. I did just that.
When I got to the Police station the officer said “Are you the roofer” I said yes. he said “let me see your beeper”, I showed him and he asked me to turn around and put my hands behind my back. he cuffed me walked me outside into a police car, opened the back door of the cruiser, pushed my head down and put me in the back seat. The officer walked around to the front of the cruiser got in and said “you better hope that Pete is still alive”. I asked where we were going and he said we are going to find Tony. Apparently the Police were aware of Tony and they knew what he was capable of. We arrived at Tony’s house and there were other Police cars there. Two officers approached Tony’s home with guns drawn. they knocked on the door and said they were coming in. They were inside for a while but then the officer that drove me there came out. He got back in the cruiser and turned to me and told me that Tony said I was the salt of the earth, a good person. The officer asked me to continue employing him. I was confused. The officer also told me that they found Tony geared up in camouflage and weapons. He was ready to go and kill Pete. I told the officer that it was over I could never employ Tony again.
I never saw or heard from Tony after that. I never heard or saw Pete again either. I am still a roofer and I am happy to be a roofer.
Roofer, have you seen Pete?
Joseph Schwartz Author “Attachment”