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Ash Friday

December 2005,
Kilkenny Ireland —

"Ash Friday" is a riff on the terms "Ash Wednesday" (the day on which begins [Catholic] Lent, the 40-day period before Easter,) and "Good Friday," the day before the day before Easter.

This morning, did a bit of work with Gary. We went to Avonmore and cleaned a chimney. Working for a Mickey-Mouse outfit, we had the equipment that he could scrap together with no help from the branch headquarters. A chimney-brush that he got from his father.

We laid down a blanket in front of the fireplace. We cut a "black bag" — a trash bag. Using broad masking tape that I had stolen from a building site we were on a couple of weeks ago, we fixed a sheet of the plastic across the bottom half of the fireplace. We then taped a sheet just more than halfway in from the sides of the top half, overlapping at the center and down in front of the bottom half.

The brush is a wire bristle about 11 inches wide and attached to the end of a pole about 2 1/2 feet long, about 3/4-inch thick and somewhat flexible. At the bottom of this is a female threaded metal attachment; to the side was a collection of pole units, each fitted with male and female threaded attachments on either end.

The basic chimney clean consists of pushing the brush to the top of the chimney — going outside to check that the bristle sticks out — then pulling it back down. Dirty job, though, in an active chimney. The falling ash brings a column of air down with it, and rushes of it are poofing out the gaps in the plastic barrier. We decided I'd pinch the sheets of plastic tightly around the pole. Still, a whiff of soot came through, each time the brush went up and the ash came down, air coming with it.

We didn't have a fireproof bucket with us, nor any other measure for disposing of hot ashes. Ah, but this is Ireland. Nobody hanged us for it. We figured and worked it out. And anyway, we'd requested they be sure and burn no fire in the thing, in anticipation of this job. Sure, they burn the fire every night — this is a care facility for troubled youth, in a large residential-style building. A house, I mean. It's these people's home, and they keep a fire. So the ashes were hot, and the coals beneath were burning.

Fortunately there was a metal bucket on site. We whangled it, and soaked the burning embers in water, and Gary disposed of the slurry in a safe and discreet manner. I didn't want to know, even.

We pulled two buckets full of chimney soot out of there with that brush. We scooped it out, brought it away, peeled the tape and plastic away from the fireplace, folded up the blanket to shake it outside, and vacuumed all the nearby horizontal surfaces.

__   ___   __

I needed to be done by about 2 o'clock, because I had to show my apartment to prospective tenants at between 3 and 5:30.

I never heard from Johnny, whose nephew was going to see the place between 3 and 5. Sheila, the banker girl, called me at 5:28 and canceled our 5:30 appointment.

Meanwhile, back at 10:30 or so, we had just finished the chimney at Avonmore. Gary had asked me to do Supervalu, and he had some other bits to do. He brought me up there, just a sharp right turn at the next roundabout toward Kilkenny, and left me there with the window-cleaning equipment.

A bucket, an applicator, a squeegee, a cloth, a scrim, a holster, a bit of whashing-up liquid and a ladder. An applicator is a faux-wool sleeve over the plastic crossbar with a handle. A scrim is a medium-coarse weave of cotton — and it's the trick of the trade. "Washing-up liquid" is the term here for dishwashing soap.

The job at Supervalu is not as extensive as normal, the last couple of times. The insides of the windows along the front of the small supermarket are painted with Christmas decorations, so the best you can do with any of them is to scrim between the designs, showing a natural and decent respect for the work of others.

So the amount of glass to be done was less, today. But, two days before Christmas and a Friday besides, the shop was busy.

The sliding doors, normally to be done in a cursory fashion with machinery disconnected and excuses for any inconvenience, were impossible. So that's okay. What's impossible, you can't do. This operation is going to be about 80% done, by normal standards.

But then again, for fuck's sake. These are not normal standards. It's bloody damn near Christmas. And it's Ireland, after all.

I texted Gary after a bit more than an hour and told him that I was doing the final scrim. I'd agreed to call, but my top-up was low and the queue at the small shop nearby was desperate. He got that text (though I didn't notice the response until after the next job) and he showed up about five minutes before I got the job completed.

The scrimming seems to be best done after the streaks on the glass have dried; but before they have set in. A little moisture grabs away the minor amounts of dirt that are left on the glass after the squeegee. But a lot of moisture dampens the scrim. A damp scrim is worthless, and worse; it smears goopy streaks a good bit worse than the ones you'd just been trying to wipe.

We went out to another place about 8 miles outside of Kilkenny city. It was another care facility, a residential home converted for the purpose. We were to clean another chimney, again for the Southeast Health Board.

This fireplace hadn't been used for years, and was easy to clean. I spent most of the time there speaking with one of the caretakers, I neat old hippie gentleman whom I hope I will meet again. The ash soot came down in chunks, bringing no blast of carbon powder so to waft in the air. This was altogether fortunate, as we were in the dining room and because I hoped to finish the day by 2 o'clock. I didn't expect us to, and had resolved that I would remain calm if we did not. But it was before 1:30 that we pulled out of there.

— 23 December, 2005