Lessons of life learned from the rooftop

Janet's World

August 20, 2010|By Janet Gilbert

A window in my office cubicle looks directly onto the roof of the building next door. Ordinarily, this would not be a particularly captivating sight, but the building next door is having its roof replaced, and for the past two weeks I have been able to look right into the weathered faces of the guys who have been working on it.

In a way, it's like my cubicle has been annexed to a strange skyway connecting the typical American indoor office worker with the typical American outdoor construction worker. I can't help but make comparisons.

First of all, the outside workers seem to use their bodies strenuously all the time, hoisting tools and materials up from the ground, crouching to pry the old stuff off the roof and position the new stuff on it, drilling and sawing and hammering.

I hardly ever exert my body at work during the day, because I only seem to get up from my chair when I have to retrieve a document from the copier or visit the restroom. In general, I think I need to work up more of a sweat at the office. So I've made a note that it might be advisable to try a deep-knee-bend walk to the copier next week, and — in the extra-challenging category — throw in some hallway squat thrusts before I use the restroom. Surely I'll fall into a deep and satisfying roofer-slumber at the end of the day, unperturbed by the mental reshuffling of my abstract to-do lists.

My guess is that both roofers and indoor workers tend to have a gripe with the weather, because office workers have just about as much control over their pre-set indoor temperature as outside workers do with the relentless heat and humidity of late summer in Baltimore. Not a day goes by when someone in my office doesn't comment on our shared climate, and I'm pretty sure the guys outside my window are making similar remarks as they tie their T-shirts on their heads and guzzle water. Although, judging by their facial expressions, they appear to be taking their conditions more in stride, overall. They seem to smile a lot, and have an easy camaraderie. Maybe it's just easier to accept the unpredictability of nature rather than the incompetence of man.

I've got an idea to tell our facilities manager that she ought to drop the temperature by 20 degrees one week and turn off the air conditioning the next. After we've been through a month of climate boot camp that mirrors what our outdoor counterparts have been through, we ought to be a pretty tight group. Although there was one day last week when the roofers used equipment that made high-pitched backup beeps for approximately four hours. This meant most of us on my side of the floor have pretty much bonded already.

Finally, I like how the roofers stay on top of their schedule. They get out there in their safety harnesses first thing in the morning and walk around, and they see what needs to be done and calculate the manpower they need to do it. Office workers have to deal more with intangibles. But when I look out the window, I am reminded to view a project from the rooftop and work it that way, tile by tile. I think it's possible for office workers to leave at the end of the day a little happier, with a real sense of accomplishment, if we view our progress this way.

I'll be a little bit sorry when the roof is done, because I've enjoyed working alongside these guys with their big lunches and smiles and their subtle lessons passed through the secret skyway to me.

I hear they're going to start resurfacing the courtyard between our buildings next. You can be sure I'll be paying attention.

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