As Sid’s first year of teaching — which turned out to be his last — was ending, he asked a fellow teacher what he did for work in the summer. The teacher said he was in the painters’ union and made good money painting houses.
The coworker said he could get Sid into the union. He gave Sid a list of equipment that he would need to buy first. Oddly, the list included a painter’s suit in a specific size, which was much too big for Sid. Sid bought the suit, but he didn’t know why he was buying it.
When they next met, the coworker looked at the suit, said it would do nicely, and put it on. He handed Sid his own suit, which was covered with paint, and told him to put it on.
They went to the union hall, and Sid looked the part. The coworker explained that Sid was an experienced painter from Waynesburg, where they didn’t have a union, and he wanted to join. They welcomed him.
One of his jobs was painting the rafters in a tall arcade at an amusement park. The park was open, and he and the other painters worked high above the crowd. On another painting job, he and the other painters were on a tall, movable scaffolding.
He told his fellow painters that he was going to New Hampshire to climb Mount Washington. They asked if he had ever been mountain climbing before. He said no, and they all thought it sounded much too dangerous. They advised him not to go, but he went anyway.
When he got back, he only recognized one of his coworkers. All the rest had been replaced. He asked where they’d gone, and he learned that the scaffolding had fallen while he was away. Everybody was in the hospital except the one guy. The one guy, who already had a limp from a previous accident, happened to catch his overalls on a hook on the way down, which saved him, cartoon-like, from the fall.
When I was a teenager in Colorado, I took up rock climbing. During college, I put new shingles on my mother’s two-story house. Sid thought this stuff was too dangerous, and I said, “Wait a minute — weren’t you painting steeples or something when you were my age?” I didn’t hear any more comments about the climbing and roofing.