The roof at St. Luke’s that we’re replacing presents a bit of a challenge because it’s a steep, 45-degree slope. So we have to remove and replace the shingles in sections, setting up our roof jack and platform scaffolding once to remove the old shingles and then again to install the new ones. We tackle about 20 feet across at a time, leaving the end shingles loose so we can weave the beginning of the next section before nailing them. It’s a bit of a painstaking process — the shingles and nail gun are now the easy part though it wasn’t always that way — it’s the preparation, ladders and scaffolding that require the most work.
I’ve mentioned that I started working with Jon at Cumming Construction in the fall of 2003. I had recently returned to Philadelphia after 10 years in New York City, dragging boxes of suits and client files behind me. I decided I didn’t want to open those boxes for a while.
So about a week in on this new job, Jon asked me to join him on the roof of an addition he was finishing in Wayne. There was a small section that still needed to be shingled. I climbed the 40-foot ladder and found him scooting around the roof like a squirrel. He tossed me the nail gun, which I trapped between my elbow and the roof, refusing to let go of the ladder. He held a shingle in place and told me to nail it, but upon pulling the trigger, the kickback blew the gun right out of my hand. Luckily he was also holding the air hose, saving the gun from shattering three stories below on a concrete patio.
“Is everything ok?” he asked (or some expletive-soaked version thereof).
I quickly reminded him of my sheltered upbringing and decade in Manhattan rental apartments. “I’ve never used a power tool before.”
Jon looked at me as if I had just told him I was a 31-year-old virgin. And (cue the melodrama) in a moment that changed both our lives forever, he thought a moment, took a deep breath, and said: “OK. This is how you hold the nail gun. You hold the shingle in this hand like this…”
Seven years later, those boxes remain closed. And I happily scoot around roofs without a care in the world (much to my wife’s chagrin).
I like to think it’s a testament to my progress (with a dash of obsession) that Jon will sometimes forget my prior inexperience with all things technical. We’ll have our heads buried deep in the engine of our 1986 Ford 350 dump truck, which sometimes has trouble starting. “Well of course it’s the starter solenoid,” he’ll say. “Haven’t you ever rebuilt an engine before?”