The Windowman sat in front of the computer, the wafer of RAM gripped lightly in his hand as he peered into the guts of this infernal device that had become both a lifeline and millstone. The CPU had gotten a little slow in it’s old age, though how anyone could call something bought only five years ago “old” was beyond him. His son and son-in-law had both assured him that upgrading the computer’s memory would work wonders, but they had yet to produce the goods, so now – with instructions printed from Google spread in front of him – he was going to attempt the installation himself.
He hadn’t always been the Windowman. For a time, fresh out of Germantown by way of Coal Country, he was the Navyman. For many years he was the Salesman, his natural gifts of gab leading him far. He tried for a time to be the Funnyman, touring a comedy circuit down the East Coast into Florida, then the Printerman, putting all he and his wife owned and more into a business that almost cost him everything. And finally, thanks to Big John, he became the Windowman, and that’s where he found his true calling. For two decades, rival installers trembled when they knew he was on the bid. Philadelphia and New York became his biggest stomping grounds, but his reach went as far as Kansas and North Carolina and Boston. He returned from these jobs, sometimes meeting his wife and the kids at the airport, filled with stories and souvenirs. And when his young son greeted him, it was with eyes wide – as if he had seen him fly in with a flowing cape instead of stepping off a puddle-jumper that was more a cab with wings then an actual airplane.
When he entered a new job, at a housing project or school or a prison, the call would start. “It’s the Windowman” they’d shout. “The Windowman is here.” The people he met at these places! That crazy foreigner in the New York Public Library who kept insisting he didn’t need any “Birth Control” when the Windowman wanted to install the spiked rolls of “Bird Control” on the window ledges. The amateur boxer in the Elizabeth projects who seemed so full of promise and who ended up returning to the thug’s life and stealing from him. The homeless guy who came into that bar near the Holland Tunnel, ice melting in his beard. The Windowman had given him his jacket. Just slipped it over the old guys shoulders and didn’t say one word to anyone. His son heard about it a few years later, from the bartender who told him the story while his father was in the men’s room; and when the Windowman returned to the bar, the son looked at him with that same wide-eyed wonder of the younger boy looking at his superhero.
He remembered the installers, the rippers, the panners. All those men, who seemed so reckless, so crazy, so young. They were boys, really. Hard partying Good Ol’ Boys. He would rant at them: “I’ve got to retrain you after every coffee break!” They would gripe, call him a hardass – and he could be when warranted – but they loved him, his boys. And when they had to get the job done, when the inspector or bad weather (and how often did those two go together) were on the way, those boys put their shoulders in it and Hot Steaming Deal, those windows got placed and the job was done.
He had taught them well, none more so then his son. The importance of doing the job right, sticking to it until it was done. If you make a mistake, you own it and you fix it. The son of the boss works twice as hard because you have that much more to prove. If you feel you’re right, make sure you’re right, and then speak up. And perhaps most important of all, to never give up. No matter how hard life knocks you down, you brush yourself off and start again.
And of course, there were the stories, wonderful stories, some real, some thick with bullshit, all acting as creative fertilizer in his son’s mind. The son would go on to tell his own stories, to share them with the world, and to believe that someday he could even carve out a living on the strength of his words alone.
Not long before health and circumstance turned the Windowman into the Retiredman, the son saw the Tim Burton movie, “Big Fish” and spent the last twenty minutes of the film alternating between laughter and tears. He could never understand Billy Crudup’s reluctance to embrace his father’s tales. He brought the DVD to the Windowman and they watched it together. When it was done, the son had hugged him and thought, “never stop telling them” And thankfully, ten years later, through stroke and sickness, good times and bad, the stories continue still.
The Windowman peered deeper into the CPU and found the slot for the RAM, right where Google said it would be. He reached in and slipped the memory into place with a satisfying snap. He closed up the computer and fired it up, saying a brief prayer. The computer started and soon the Windowman was zipping around the internet, the computer faster than new. A few days later, he called his son and described his small victory. He didn’t know that the son listened with a big smile and eyes wide, like a younger boy, watching his superhero fly again.
I Love you, Dad. Happy Birthday!