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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

A Muggle in a World of Wizards

Tomorrow is my last day of work as a roofing observer.  Yes, that's a real job and I've been doing it for the last four weeks.  I mostly just watch people put on a roof and make sure they do it right.  I then take pictures and write a report about it.  It has not been very pleasant. 

I knew absolutely nothing about roofing when I started work last month.  I immediately felt very incompetent and out of place which is how I imagine Harry felt when he first boarded the Hogwarts Express and was immersed in the wizarding world.

Harry was confused when his new friends mentioned things previously unknown to him like chocolate frogs and sorting hats.  I have been similarly perplexed when the roofers mention tools I've never heard of.  I was standing next to someone's bag and he said, "Could you pass me the and the ?"  I had no idea what he was talking about, but I peered into the bag which was very full and grabbed the two things that seemed like the right objects.  I said, "These?" and he nodded so I walked them over to him holding them awkwardly between my fingers like they were two lizard I had just caught. 

One of the products that we use all the time is called underlayment.  A popular brand of underlayment is called Ice and Water and, much like how everyone calls facial tissue Kleenex, everyone calls underlayment Ice and Water.  I didn't know this for my first few days on the roof and I was really befuddled every time someone asked for some ice and water for the roof.  First of all, I never saw anyone with ice and water even though it was constantly talked about and second, despite pondering about it for a long time, I never figured out how ice and water helped in roofing.  Luckily someone eventually explained it to me when I asked. 

In the last four weeks I've gotten pretty good at chatting about roofing and sports, the only two things that are ever talked about.  I've learned to give vague answers to hide my ignorance.  Today, for example, when asked if I thought the Seahawks were going to win, I said, "Well, they have their good games and their bad games," to which the roofer responded, "They sure the &%$# do!  I think they'll win tonight, though."  I replied, "I sure hope so!" which was sort of a lie because I don't really care at all. 

There are a number of times when the roofers talk about roofing and I have no experience with the vocabulary they're using and I really have no idea what they're talking about.  I've learned to respond based on their tone.  Like if some sounds upset or angry I just say, "That sucks," or if they seem happy or giddy I say, "Sweet!"  Whenever the response I should give isn't obvious I just nod and say, "Of course."  Now I've learned enough that I can say things like, "You got 10 squares!?  Dude, that's sweet!"  That would have been utter nonsense to me a month ago, but now I can be appropriate happy for someone who achieved something difficult. 

Roofing is not my world and I often feel very out of place among the roofers.  They swear like sailors, they smoke like chimneys, they don't know what linguistics is, and one of them has a tattoo of an avocado.  One of the roofers reminds me of Mater from Cars.  He asked me what I'm studying in school and I told him I was getting my PhD.  He said, "A what?" and I said, "A doctorate."  He still looked confused so I just said I was studying Spanish which isn't very true anymore.  Another guy reminds me of Pinky from Pinky and the Brain.  He's the one with the avocado.

Even though we're different, they are great guys.  They're the kind of people that I would describe as unfailingly loyal.  I feel like if we were buddies and I was in a jam they would have my back.  Most of the roofers have told me how they don't like roofing and how they would pick a different career if they could go back and do life again.  I asked one of the guys what he would have liked to have done, what his dream job is.  He thought for a second and said, "Heck (my word, not his), I don't know.  I've been roofing for too long to even remember what I wanted to do.  I suppose my dream job is that my kids will do something they love and have a better job than I do."  For some reason that really touched me.  Even though we're different, we both know what it's like to want the best for the people we care about.  Deep down, I think we humans are intensely similar.

It's been a good experience and I've made some money, but I'm so glad that tomorrow is my last day.  If any of you ever hear of me saying that I'm going to be a roofing observer again, please talk me out of it.  Remind me that I felt out of place, that the sun was hot, that it was super-boring, that I had to get up at 4:30, and the money wasn't worth it.  Tomorrow after I get paid for the last time I'm going to go home, throw my money in the air, and roll around in it.  I feel like I've earned that.  

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