This story is about an intriguing man named Ernie. I met him in the summer of 2000 while working a summer job. Our chance meeting gave me insight into his tragic past, helped me overcome a secret fear and would ultimately impact both our lives forever.
You're listening to seven minute stories with Aaron Calafato , this episode: Jump on the roof!
AARON CALAFATO - STORY
It was my first day on the job site and I was scared because I didn't want to screw up.
You see, I had gotten this job through a family friend who knew a contractor. It was the summer of my 11th grade year and the deal was that this contractor was gonna drop me off five days a week during the summer to different roofing sites and construction sites and all I had to do was be a grunt. Be the lowest on the totem pole. I would carry scrap metal, wood, carry tools run errands take stuff to the dumpster do all the dirty work that no one wanted to do but that would help make the job easier for the workers.
The morning of my first job it was six thirty a.m. and the contractor drops me off I get out of the passenger side of the Ford pickup truck and here I am and this roofing site. And I knew it was gonna be a hot day because even at six thirty a.m. , The sun was just beating down and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't have the right attire,I had nice jeans and actually like a button up short sleeved shirt and sneakers, I apparently didn't get the memo, but when I looked around I saw there is about four to eight guys milling around this house. Some half way up on ladders some on the roof some on the ground moving around tools none of them had shirts on they all had bandannas and they weren't exactly welcoming. I mean I knew I was a stranger they knew I didn't really belong there. And so I stood there like an idiot with no instructions and not knowing what to do.
But that's when Ernie introduced himself. Ernie stood on top of that roof like a Greek God. He was tall and strong and confident. Blue work jeans no shirt brown work shoes a trucker's cap, long stringy hair, he had crystal blue eyes and he had a smile that was really kind. He was missing the top four front teeth, so when he smiled his lip would go underneath his gum...and his skin the only way I can describe it is: like Hulk Hogan. So sun baked that it was like leather but when he looked down at me I knew that he was the one running this job site and he had one of the most interesting speech impediments I can just never forget. He at Aaaawween, you know what you're doing around here? I said No Ernie, I don't.
He said here's what you gonna do. You want to take them shingles you going to put them over your shoulder you want to carry em over to the whift and a wift is gonna take him up to the woof. And I said that it? and then the lifts gonna do the rest of the work? He said: "Yeah but you're going to be carrying them shingles over your shoulder it's gonna be a lot of time we gonna get to through those shingles like bread and butter. And so I did what Ernie said and he was cool he was kind for giving me direction and not make me look like an asshole and so I was grateful to him. And so I did what he said. I'm carrying these heavy shingles or putting them on the lift and they take him up to the roof and the guys are just hammering him in.
They're going through so quickly that I'm having a hard time keeping up but I think I do just fine, until the lift breaks. And I called up to Ernie I said: "maybe I should go home since the lift is broken" and Ernie told me that I couldn't. The boss said the job needed to be done by the end of the day and I had to manually climb up the roof with the shingles over my shoulder and I did that and I'm sweating sweating and feel like I'm on a pass out but I get to the top of the ladder and it's creaking and I'm really afraid of heights and I kind of body slammed these shingles on the top of the roof and Ernie can tell I was really scared and he looked at me and he goes "Aaawwen you scared of this woof? and I didn’t say anything.
He said “come on now and get up on this woof. Get up on the woof!” So I slowly... my knees are shaking. I kind of get up on the roof and it's not natural it's like a sharp incline. Ernie's standing on it like it's just every day. And I'm standing on it like I'm gonna fall to my death and he goes: "Aaawen you gotta own this Woof. Don't be afraid. Here's how you do it: Just gotta jump on the woof." I said what? He said "jump on the woof, jump on the woof." And Ernie starts jumping and Ernie literally starts jumping. It looked like two to three feet in the air. He had the agility of a panther. He's jumping up and landing on his feet and he tells me: "Aaawen jump jump on that woof", and my jump, I'm jumping up it's like 30 centimeters. He goes "Come on Aawen and jump on da Woof.
Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid Aawen jump on the woof." And he's kind of coaching me and I'm getting my confidence up and I'm starting to jump and I'm starting to jump.
Now I'm jumping and I'm like "Ernie, I'm jumping on the roof." He's like "Aawwen you're jumping on that woof. I'm like "I'm jumping Ernie. I'm jumping, I'm jumping on the roof! He says "AAAWEEN! jump on the roof!" and there is me and Ernie lunchtime is about to hit.
And here we are jumping up on top of this roof. And I have all the confidence in the world and that fear went away. I was so confident that he invited me to eat lunch with him in the middle of the roof. Apparently he didn't get enough sun. So there I am sitting with Ernie, we're having our lunch and he's got a T-shirt over his head I get a T-shirt of my head and we're just kind of sitting there with this vantage point over the neighborhood. The roof is almost done and we're just looking around and eating our sandwiches then Ernie turned to me and he said: "Aawen are you going to school?"
I said Yep. He said "You going to cowege? I said Yep. He said "Good. Don't be wike me" and then he told me that he wanted to be an architect when he was growing up. But his dad hit him, not just a little bit, but a lot. And he let that get the best of him. And so after several bad choices and a couple of stints in prison he decided to go into roofing because that was the closest he could get to becoming an architect...putting shingles on the roof.
And so the day ended, I said goodbye to my new friend and I went into a long weekend. I slept for what felt like 100 hours. That following Monday, on the way to the job site, I was asking the contractor when I should check in with Ernie. I was excited to see him. The contractor looked at me and he said "you've seen Ernie?" I said No not since last week. He goes, "well no one has seen Ernie since last week." He said "the last we heard Ernie stole a van from the construction site and stole a bunch of copper and metal and drove down to central Ohio where he pawed it for drug money.
And he checked himself into a cheap motel and put a needle in his arm. And we don't know if he's dead or alive."........ I never saw Ernie again but here's what I can tell you. There was kindness in that man. The other thing I can tell you, is that ever since that summer if you ask me to get up on a roof. That I'm not afraid anymore.
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