…My dad worked there until his death in 1971, about 8 years. He loved this job: worked right downtown in the heart of the city and even won some favour and recognition with a few promotions. Just when things were finally improving financially for him, and with his oldest daughter being engaged, he dropped dead of congenital heart failure at the young age of 54. Of course he loved his Pilsner, his Buckingham’s and did little exercise in his later years except by getting up off of his butt to change the television channel.
Sitting there with my mom on that stoop on that summer evening of 1968, the excitement of my circumstances just seemed too trivial in comparison. I immediately got up off of the step, went into the house, found my dad sitting in his chair and gave him the biggest hug I could muster. I told him how proud I was to be his son and how much I loved him!
The next day and the days after that next day at work were gruesome. I may have been making three dollars and forty five cents an hour but no amount of money could compensate the physical pain and misery of that job. Shovelling gravel into those inanimate buckets, hour after hour, day after day, for the hottest summer on record was pure unadulterated torture. I was dreaming of them. My bucket list! The only sound heard, besides Zal’s taunts for more “fucking pitch” being the grunts and groans from our bodies and the huffs and puffs of our laboured breaths with every shovelful of gravel taken. Sweat just poured down every crease and crevasse of our beings. Taking stints up on the flat roof itself provided no relief with a hot glaring sun beating down mercilessly on our lithe bodies. The humidity was a killer. The hard physical work and the potential for dehydration made it harder and harder to keep our pants above the waist. As roofers we had the plumber’s crack in spades. It was kind of comical watching everyone on the crew continuously pulling up on their pants or tightening their belts as if stricken by a nervous twitch. On top of that, by the end of the day, our calloused hands were the worse for wear as newly formed blisters would crack then burst, then sting, as the flayed skin would shed and coagulate with the pus and the blood, which became an ugly brownish red in colour. The soles of our work boots expanded vertically, about 2-4 inches, as the tar and gravel stuck to the undersides of our boots as we walked around by the area of the hot tar kettle, the conveyor belt and the adjacent pile of gravel. It would take us some time to scrape the gooey mess off of our boots at the end of the day. We felt so tall in our high gravel heels!
End of the day? Sore and bruised and filthy dirty in sweat and dust. The long ride home on the bus and subway, lost in thought, dead to the world and praying hard and fast for rain on the morrow or watching the clock, counting hard the seconds, minutes and hours before the whole miserable routine would repeat itself. Please, dear God, let it rain tomorrow for when it rained roofers didn’t work. It was Murphy’s Law and not God’s law that ran the day for it only rained on the weekends.
The summer finally ended. I was in great shape physically, well tanned and had a few bucks saved in the bank. I helped out at home financially, naturally, but I didn’t have to give the majority of my earnings to my parents as I no longer went to the Catholic private high school for boys. I thank God for that! Looking back on that hot and humid summer, my first real well paying job, I could have easily said that life was good. In some respects that summer was Pitcher (sic) Perfect.
Zal is dead. His crew is gone. The Maritime Foreman died relatively young. No one could understand his eulogy.
My uncle’s roofing business no longer exists. Jimmy Hoffa disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. Hal Banks was discredited for corruption and is also dead.
Everyone has the right to work, union or otherwise.