“Pitch”, he yelled.
“Pitch,” he yelled again.
We all jumped for this was Zal, the Portuguese foreman of the Portuguese team of my uncle’s roofing company. The other team, as there were two, comprised a group of Maritimers who mumbled their way through the day’s work. I never knew that English was a foreign language until I met this group of Maritimers that summer of 1968 – the hottest summer of the hottest year on record, I do believe. At least with Zal, when he screamed “Pitch” you didn’t have to say: “What?” Something that was so common with the Maritimers. But Zal only knew one word of English, “Pitch,” maybe two: “Pitch Asshole!” or maybe three: “Pitch, Fuckin Asshole:” the three English words that came to mind whenever one was in earshot of Zal. You knew what he wanted.
You could never really tell what the Maritime Foreman wanted as his diction and enunciation resembled that of a person with a bagful of marbles in his mouth. I thought it was just him until I met the other members of his crew. They all talked in the same manner: mumbled jumble. As it turned out they all came from the same small fishing village on the rock. As it turned out again the Foreman, Bob, married Tom’s sister who was only 12 at the time. Tom was married to Bob’s cousin Jillian, 14, who was the sister of Archie, another member of the Maritimer’s roofing squad, who married Katy, “the caper,” a distant relative, as she lived quite the distance away in the next village, which was about 20 miles around the Cape. Which Cape? Don’t really know as they never said anything other than she was a “Caper” from “away” lad, as they called me.
These two crews always worked apart. Zal’s crew was made up of four of his countrymen, thus the Portuguese crew. The Maritimer’s crew consisted of, well, Maritimers, hence the Maritimer’s crew. What was I? I was the go between as I was told to go between each of these crews and help out as best I could. I was the summer student. The uncle’s er the owner’s nephew: a fact which presented its own set of unique problems. Not for me but for them, the full time crews, as they immediately surmised a spy was in their midst and would report any or all misdeeds, vocal or otherwise, to the owner, my uncle. I don’t really know why they felt this was the case for even if it was true I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, especially the Maritime crew. When I was around they mumbled as a group, no, they whispered as a group, as if in some huddle, deciding the next course of roofing action, especially if I was within their roofing earshot. It wouldn’t have mattered because I could not understand a word of their mumbling in a normal voice so when they whispered it was as if they were communicating via Enigma. At least with the Portuguese crew you knew immediately where you stood. Zal didn’t have to speak English for Zal was distinct with his diction. It was a universal diction, like Esperanto. You knew when he was mad, which was almost all of the time, and you knew when he was at peace, with himself that is but never ever ever with us. Thinking back on this I do believe Zal considered himself like the Captain of some roofing ship where familiarity breeds contempt and being in charge, being the Captain, meant being remote and being lonely at the top…of the roof. He knew he could get things done in his own way. And he was right.
“Pitch” he would yell.
And when the roofing pitch was slow to come!
“Fucking Pitch….asshole.” Zal would yell louder…