When my wife asked if I would help out on the roofing job, I said I would. It was a chance to work with and help our oldest son.
Bear didn’t want to take on the roofing job but he was going to have his son for a month and he needed the extra cash.
He took the job down the beach. He needed a man and all he had was me. I said, “I’m no carpenter but I can carry shingles and clean up and I am not afraid to work on a roof.”
The Beach is prime real estate on the Chippewas of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation and it has been leased out for generations to non- residents. Despite the belief that land ownership on First Nations is communal, that is not the case. In certain communities, some members of a First Nation rent out the best land in the community to white people. This happens all across the country.
The ownership, use and access to the land have always been contentious between the Settlers and the Indigenous Peoples with numerous land claims and legal actions taken by the First Nation. On Kettle and Stoney Point this reached its tragic zenith with the assassination of Dudley George by Ontario Provincial Police Officer Kenneth Deane during a raid on the peaceful occupation of Ipperwash Park.
George’s sacrifice did lead to the return of the land and a final settlement agreement. The road home remains a rocky one with community and family divisions simmering below the surface as threatening as the unexploded ordnance sprinkled all across the once fully operational Army training camp.
It is still dark when we head from home to The Beach.
Lake Road right at centre side road and then left on centre side road towards the beach and then right on London Road.
We arrive at 7 am and meet the man of the cottage. He could have been played by Louis Del Grande from the long running classic Canadian comedy drama “Seeing Things”. He is super friendly and much appreciative of the fact that we are taking on the job. I could easily see him using his psychic powers to solve crimes.
We get up on the roof and Bear surveys the situation.
“Those fucking skylights are going to be a bitch.”
“Watch your step. It’s spongy there.”
“We might as well start up there. See how bad it is.”
“I never should have taken this job.”
He goes to the top level and begins ripping up the shingles with the appropriately named Ripper. It is like a flat rake with six stubby teeth to catch up roofing nails. He rips up and I roll back a chunk or pick up what is loose and take it from the top roof down the highest grade decline to the second roof, skip past the two skylights to the west corner of the house and toss the debris into the rented disposal unit. This will take most of the morning.
At 7:30 AM an old man who could be played by a late career Ernest Borgnine is standing on the road in front of the house with a cup of coffee in his hand.
He doesn’t say anything and neither do we.
He just sips his coffee and watches us work in the pale of the morning.
He comes back around 1030.
I can make him out in my peripheral. His second cup of coffee, I bet.
I can see that he is smiling.
It is heating up. It is going to be really hot and we have only a few minutes of shade remaining.
When working on a roof it is necessary to keep your mind and your eyes on where you are and what you are doing. I don’t really want to make eye contact but it is obligatory and I roam over to the street and my eye is caught.
He shouts from the ground.
I respond appropriately in vernacular that contains neighborly friendship but also a “you-can- see- I’m- working- here” tone.
He unloads what he thinks is a beauty and what I think must have taken him a good part of the morning to craft.
“What are you gonna do after lunch (comedic beat) when you’re all done.”
I just stare back as a number of responses are made available. My mind is often wicked with comebacks and shittier than you would think thoughts and so I have trained it. I hold back.
He awaits no reply to his bon mot and starts walking towards his cottage, chuckling as he goes.
The temperature would hover near 30 degrees from 11 am on and it would be mid 30s with the humidity for much of the day. It would easily push 40 on that black roof with the tar shingles sucking up the heat.
No shade. No breeze. No level surface to walk upon and spongy spots to beware and skip past the two skylights to throw the debris into the rented disposal unit.
At some point in the morning we meet the lady of the house. She could be played by Melinda Dillon the mom from A Christmas Story who is also the mom who loses her little boy to the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She was also Hanrahan’s dyke wife in Slap Shot and had that iconic boob scene with Paul Newman. Today, she is the Melinda from Magnolia.
She tells us from the ground that there is a lot of water in the fridge out back and that she “couldn’t go up there” and thanks us profusely for taking the job. I do take the initiative to check out the fridge which has a case of water on the bottom and loaded to the top with Labatt’s Blue.
Louis keeps a close eye on the situation, circling the house now and then picking up the bits of shingle and tar paper that don’t make it all the way into the rented disposal unit. He talks a few times with the neighbor who could be played by an aging Jerry Reed say a couple decades after Smokey and the Bandit.
Louis brings up a bag with bottles of water, he reminds us again to take our time and that there is no rush. “It’s all slow and easy here in Kettle Point.” I thank him and take a bottle over to Bear who drinks it up and takes the time to explain to me what he is doing.
I can only marvel at the skill and physicality it takes to do this work. All the numbers and the angles and seeing how it all fits together, my brain does not work like that. Neither does my body. I can skip past the two skylights but I can’t perch on the edge of a roof and cut shingles and punch them into place with an air gun.
There are literally dozens of people who stroll, bike, jog, speed walk and drive slowly by throughout the day who take in the spectacle of roofing. I joke later that night that we could probably sell tickets.
It is about 330pm and the day has been well into peak heat for a couple of hours. In my estimation if we take a break for a couple of hours we can come back after supper and the sun will be below that tree and we will be getting our first shade since the morning.
I take my plan public and Bear tells me to head on home without him. I say it will be better if we both take a break and that we will still have three good hours of daylight after supper.
I infer ever so slightly that I will not leave without him and that I’m old and I could die.
He agrees. We clean up first.
I am on the ground and I tell Louis the plan and he is in full agreement.
He launches into a bit of philosophy that sounds both natural and completely rehearsed. “Hey, it’s Kettle Point. No one gets hurt on Kettle Point. It’s slow and easy here. This is where you come to relax.” It has a bro country kind of feel like one of those songs where a fat white guy goes to Mexico and the local girls flock around him and he is completely oblivious to the poverty they live in.
Later that evening a sun savaged neighbor who would be played by the auntie in “There’s Something about Mary” loudly enters.
She is swinging a couple of cold beers and calling out for Melinda. “Melinda…What you got going on.”
Melinda squeals a greeting and soon they have dragged two lawn chairs to the front of the yard and are drinking cold beers and chitter away as they watch Bear and I finish up the top level of the cottage in what will be the hottest day of the year so far.
The next day Bear has to pick his son up at the airport in Toronto and the day after that it pours rain. We return to the job on Friday and once again it is sweltering. During our time off word must have gone around that perhaps it was not cool to gawk at these men working in the heat all day.
So today an unknown number of people have gathered across the street under cover of a thick evergreen and watch us from there. It is a little past ten before the tops are popping on the beers and by lunch the voices are getting loud.
It is mostly women but I can’t say for sure. At one point I get off the roof to clean up some debris that has missed the mark. After dumping into the rented storage bin I notice that the voices have stopped.
The ladies are not making a peep. That’s weird, I think.
When I get up on the roof, I see that Bear has taken off his shirt.
Once again I have to convince him that we should take a break and again it takes an effort but he gives in so he can take a dip in the above ground pool with his son.
I tell Louis and he again launches into the bro-country philosophy and it must be so obvious in my face that I am just not buying what he is selling and so he stops. I don’t mean to be rude but sometimes my face just does what it does.
Saturday is a big day at The Beach. The folks who have to work during the week are showing up in droves on the weekend.
Today the group has moved to a house to the right of the one they were at earlier. I still can’t see them but I can still hear tops popping and now and again the waft of marijuana smoke.
Around mid-afternoon, a truck pulls up with some inflatables in the bed and a trailer with two shiny Seadoos. The man who would be played by Bill Paxton In True Lies steps out of his full cab four wheel drive monster truck and shouts “Wasssaaappp? .
“Wassssappp?”from that long ago commercial that was all stereotypes and for much of the year of its peak popularity gave unfunny guys a line to put on endless loop.
I am spent. The humidity and the labour and never walking in balance. I can’t keep up to my son. Not in this heat. I tell him we should go and he tells me to go. This time I don’t have to pretend I am old and I might die. I know that I am old and I might die. So I go home for an hour. Cool off and return to the job.
Bear says you should have heard that one guy after you left. He was going on about how Stephen Harper had the balls to do this and that. The ladies began to drown him out with the happy birthday song.
I guessed they were doing the song in a sped up “For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow” version they were doing earlier in the day.”
Paxton also started going off on the work we were doing. The guy was saying that we had been here all week and the job still wasn’t done.
“What a shit show,” he expressed in the vernacular of his time.
A “Wassup” of the moment.
We had only worked Tuesday and Friday and this friendly neighbor shows up on another one of the hottest days of the year to loudly criticize our work.
We continue our chore with the sound of beer tops popping and the smell of marijuana in the air. At the end of the day we feel close to being finished. Even I can see it. We can get this done by Sunday.
The next day, the sun is still shining but the threat of a summer storm is heaving in the clouds and the humidity is thick in the air around us.
We are pushing hard to get this done but once again I have to take a break where Bear won’t. I can’t convince but I know I could pass out on this roof and that will not help.
When I come back Bear has torn up some of the work we had done earlier in the day.
“It was out half an inch when I ran the line.”
(Out half an inch…are you kidding me? Who would know? Who would ask?)
I don’t ask even though it burns me. But I am not the man on this job.
I think these people have no idea who they have up here. The guy is not a carpenter. He’s an artist.
A familiar black truck pulls up decked out in off-road splendor. Dressed in black jeans and black t-shirt with his long black hair tied back and mirrored aviator shades on his dark skin – it is Bernard “Slippery” George. He was played by Ben Cardinal in the movie One Dead Indian, Cardinal can also be seen in Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and Walking Tall starring The Rock.
Louis and Jerry greet Slippery. They give him some good natured ribbing.
He gets up on the roof and says, “Good job. I don’t do these shingle roofs anymore.”
The final touches are attended to by three other couples that have arrived on various transports from foot to bike to golf cart. It is pouring rain now. The clouds fat with heat and rain can no longer hold back its bounty. We are soaked to the bone but the job is done and only cleanup remains.
One of the couples could be played by the actors who were Jerry Seinfeld’s parents. Another one of the couples could be played by the actors who performed hilariously as George Constanza’s parents.
They congregate in the back yard patio underneath the one part of the roof that didn’t need to be done.
We bring down all the tools and start humping the unused shingles down the wet ladder. I am nervous the whole time. To me this is the most dangerous thing I have done this week. I had slipped earlier when carrying a light load. Now I have a bundle of shingles on my shoulder and the ladder is slick with rain.
I need to focus on every step.
When we are done the response from the gathered is muted at best. What we had accomplished these past few days was just ok.
I am bursting with anger. This is so wrong. We are killing ourselves for these people who do nothing but drink and smoke weed and complain. And we are the ones that carry that stereotype.
My God, could I imagine two Bill Paxtons going to work on a reserve and witnessing such addiction, laziness and undeserved affluence.
No one wants to hear that story. This is Canada.
There is this point in the drive back where the road curves and at this part of summer the leaves are thick enough that it is possible that you just see bush.
Just for that one moment. The sun is trying to break through and you imagine how this must have looked long ago.
Long before development.
Bear gives his opinion of the past few days.