I had my chimney cleaned on Friday. And no, I do not mean that in any sort of metaphorical sense - I literally had the chimney cleaned. We hadn't brought in a chimney sweep in several years, mostly because a) we intend to do it every year but never seem to have it in the budget and b) our kid is a bit, ah, clumsy and we weren't convinced that she wouldn't pitch headfirst into a crackling fire. Now that she is a little older and we had it in the budget, I called the first name that came up on Google.
The gentleman on the other end was friendly and folksy. "I'll be coming myself because I'm the owner and I do everything myself. If you want it done right, you do it yourself. That's what I always say." We made arrangements for him to come on Friday afternoon, when I would be taking a late lunch in order to meet him at my house. I was instructed to have $110.00 in cash.
As I left the office on Friday, I told my co-worker, "If I don't come back, it was the guy at Alpine Chimney who did it."
The chimney sweep arrived at the appointed time and set up shop next to the fireplace. He had various round bristle brushes and other soot-covered tools. He was an older gentleman, dressed all in black, of course. He wore glasses with oddly tinted lenses. He had Santa Claus embroidered on his shirt, because his slogan has something to do with helping make sure that Santa can get into your house on Christmas Eve. Won't my daughter be thrilled, I thought. She has been asking me a lot of pointed questions about the Easter Bunny lately, such as "WHERE were you sleeping when the Easter Bunny came in?" Apparently she is having a hard time believing that a giant rabbit hopped all over our house and I somehow failed to spot him.
Before the chimney sweep got started he handed me a folded card which bore one perfect, sooty thumbprint in the corner. The card had some sort of motivational message on the inside, and a list of references. I noted that most were names with no telephone numbers. I went into the other room to watch Judge Hatchett while he worked.
About twenty minutes later, he called me into the living room to show me the fireplace, which has been sucked clean of its filth. He pointed out a few small cracks and suggested I do something about them when they get wider. He then gathered his gear and loaded it into his car. I was impressed that there were no sooty footprints on my carpet or anything. A few minutes later, he came back in to issue me a receipt and here's when things got interesting. Writing in a small folio, he leaned down to pet Fritz, who was on the other side of a baby gate and who didn't seem to mind having blackened fingertips scritching him on his head. The chimney sweep then pulled out a photo of a youngish blonde woman surrounded by three enormous St. Bernards. Not having any idea why he was showing me the photo, I said, "Oh, um, are they your dogs?"
"Oh, God no," he said, tucking the photo back in. "She went through a terrible divorce. Oh yeah, it was just the worst. Those dogs are her babies now." I have no idea who this woman was (and he didn't say) but I now knew quite a bit about her tragic personal life.
I handed the cash to the chimney sweep. "If I pay extra, will you dance on my roof like Dick Van Dyke?" I asked. No doubt I was the 548th person to make this request.
He smiled. "I used to have this one guy working for me," he started. "He wore the stovepipe hat and the coat and tails and the whole deal. Oh, the TV stations all wanted him, you know. Everyone always wanted to rub his button. That's good luck, you know."
Then he lowered his voice. "Yeah, that guy . . . his father beat him to death with a hammer." I just stood there, unsure of the proper etiquette for this type of situation. He wasn't done, though. "His dad was at all the bars downtown, you know. That alcohol is no good." I nodded.
He opened the folio again and handed me a blurry Polaroid of a tiny figure standing on top of a factory's smokestack. "That's me!" he exclaimed.
"Well, so it is!' I responded. He went on to tell me about that particular job and how hard it had been to work at that altitude. Not sure where this conversation was going to go (or for how long), I mumbled something about how I had to get back to work, which was the absolute truth. Otherwise, it seemed like we might be standing there until Santa really did show up.