You gotta love this job

April 23, 1996|By Kirk S. Nevin

I WAS YOUNG and strong, energized by the prospects of my new occupation. I was a chimney sweep!

New businesses need smart marketing. An editor at the Aegis in Bel Air agreed to do a feature about me and my new trade.

Opportunity! For the interview I had chosen an isolated house in Glenwood, a big two-story colonial with fancy brickwork in the fireplace chimney -- just right for this photo opportunity! The day was perfect . . . new early-May leaves on the big oaks, Greek-blue sky, gusty spring winds. The home owners had gone to work, leaving me a key under the ficus on the back porch.

Cindy, as new to her business as I was to mine, arrived fashionably late; she was cute, blonde, complete with tight little miniskirt, shiny black shoes and two Nikons.

I donned my spiffy new top hat, my long black tails, grabbed a brush and some rods, and headed for the roof. Up and up, my new aluminum extension ladder barely long enough to reach the roof's edge. I scrambled on hands and knees up a flashed valley to the ridge, walked carefully east across the rooftop in the brisk wind to the chimney, and looked down from that dizzying treetop level. Ready to strike a pose for the photographer waiting below.

''Cindy! Where are you?''

Cameras clacking

Big surprise. Cindy was perched neatly on the ridge, about 15 feet behind me, cameras clacking together with each cold gust. I swallowed.

Here is exactly what she said: ''Gosh! That was a tough climb, wasn't it? I'll never get up my nerve to go back down that steep roof!''

As she said ''roof,'' I looked down to my right as a particularly strong gust slowly, inexorably pushed my new ladder sideways. The next 10 seconds were filled with unique sounds: ladder hitting garage roof, ladder tearing downspouts and gutter from garage, ladder and gutter and downspout crushing Mrs. Jones' pretty tulip beds and azaleas.

Cindy spoke again. ''I'm freezing!''

That next hour, the hour I spent trying to attract the attention of the rare passer-by, was arguably the worst of my life. The neighbor who helped me get the now-bent ladder back up was impressed that I could climb down from the ridge with Cindy on my back like a big baby chimp.

Cindy caught a terrible cold and missed a week's work, but, in all fairness, she wrote a nice article. But without photos.


I learned something every day. I gained confidence. It felt right, working and whistling in my top hat and tails. My old red VW van was a bit rusty but looking very cool with the shiny ladders on top and the pretty logo painted in glossy black on the sliding side door.

So all was right with the world as I stopped at the front entrance to the majestic Roland Park home of Dr. and Mrs. Archibald T. Smith IV on that perfect June morning. The good doctor and his wife, both silk-robed and with teacups in hand, came out to the van and greeted me warmly. First-class folks. They admired my outfit and my neat new logo. I beamed.

Standard procedure

Standard operating procedure, after greeting the home owner, was to enter the home and inspect the fireplaces to assess their condition. Dirty or not? For this I needed my tool box.

So, with the kindly couple standing behind me, I flicked down the handle of the van's sliding door and gave it a shove. All went well . . . except that the door hinges were pretty rusty, I guess, because the door slid back perfectly, but it failed to stop. It continued, upright, with a god-awful crunching sound, to a point about 12 feet behind the van. It crashed, logo-up, to the pavement. The terrible din was magnified by the sound of the door's window breaking into a million tiny pieces. There was even an echo from a neighboring mansion, which surprised me.

I cleared my throat. ''Boy! That's not supposed to happen. Well, let me get my tool box and we'll go in and inspect those fireplaces.''

I grabbed the handle of the heavy tool box and gave a mighty heave.

A scuffed slipper

And guess what. The tool box wasn't latched shut. It instantly emptied onto the drive . . . scores and dozens of bolts and nuts and screws and cotter pins, followed by my huge collection of hex-head nutdrivers and socket wrenches and screwdrivers and adjustable wrenches. The mason's hammer hit Mrs. Smith on the foot, scuffing her pink slipper. Screws and bolts rolled 30 feet to the edge of the driveway, finally silenced by the manicured lawn.

Dr. Smith was the first able to speak. ''We'll be inside when you're ready.'' He held his wife's elbow as they ascended the circular stone stairs. Her teacup rattled in its saucer.


To be a good sweep, you need three primary qualifications: Ya gotta be big, strong and dumb. I, of course, am all three. The first two traits are clearly proved as I step out of my van; the third is pretty obvious after a short conversation. I love my work.

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