Astoria Characters: The Plastic Bag on the Roof

It’s not the first time that someone has thrown something on my roof.

A while ago, a shiny silver ladder fell from the sky like a hammer and landed, splat, on the shingles.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jimmy doesn’t have perfect pitch.

This time, it’s a black plastic shopping bag.

My friend Jimmy Ruchalski hurled it there.

This throwing of things, it seems to be a tradition in Astoria, one that I was initiated into on Day One of my residency.

Seventeen years ago, when I moved into my house, a stranger on the street stepped into my open front door as the moving van pulled away from the curb and pitched a new quarter up the living room stairs.

It was, he said, a Greek good-luck charm.

What Jimmy launched, though, was a bag of flannel shirts.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Stuck on the roof.

It was an accident; his aim and his arm were off.

His car was parked in front of my house, and he was cleaning it out.

The bag was on the floor of the front seat, right next to a bunch of crunched-up candy bar wrappers and empty packs of Seneca cigarettes.

He had bought the two shirts the day before at some discount store for $6.99 each and didn’t bother to try them on, because, well, why would anyone do that?

At some point, he realized that they were way too small.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jimmy: A cigarette and a gas can.

Instead of returning them (Jimmy doesn’t have a credit card or much hair; it’s not his style to save receipts) he tossed them back into the car with no idea of what to do with them.

Until he saw me walk out of my house with my dog, Zora.

“I figured you could use these,” he says as he grandly presents them to me, oblivious of the fact that I’m an XXS and he’s an XXL. “I thought you could wear them around the house when it’s cold.”

“Sure,” I say, figuring that I have several friends they might fit.

While my back was turned, Jimmy, with a mighty fling, pitches the bag at my front porch.

And misses. By a wide, long fly-me-to-the-moon shot.

“Oh, no,” he says. “I just threw the bag on your roof. Do you want me to go up and get it?”

I first encountered Jimmy, grizzled and gregarious, while shoveling myself out from The Great Blizzard of 2015.

The snow looked so pristine pretty in the January sunlight that I replaced my shovel with my smartphone, hoping to record the activities of what turned out to be a day of dubious historical distinction.

Jimmy, who I later found out lived on Crescent Street’s apartment row across from St. John’s Prep, was sitting on the trunk of his old red sedan serenely smoking a cigarette, his arm resting on what I hoped was an empty gasoline can.

His car was still snowbound, and he wasn’t in any particular hurry to dig it out of its igloo.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jimmy just retired.

After all, the tank was empty and it wasn’t going anywhere, at least not until he got himself to a gas station to get fuel.

Around the same time, Jimmy started taking care of Titus, a laid-back lab whose owner didn’t have time to exercise him.

Jimmy walks Titus, and I walk Zora; sometimes we see each other in the street and meet.

At the end of last year, Jimmy retired from his city job, which is why he was cleaning out his car when he decided to play Major League pitcher in his newly found spare time.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jimmy got the bag down from the roof.

The black bag stayed on my roof for about a month after Jimmy’s fateful fling.

I thought about crawling out the window to retrieve it or stretching myself flat and pushing it over the edge with a 10-foot pole, but I don’t have a 10-foot pole.

A windstorm blew the bag into the roof’s gutter, where it got stuck.

Just when I had given up all hope — I couldn’t reach it from the window, and I couldn’t get the ladder through the tree to poke at it from the front steps — Jimmy came up with a grand plan.

He had a rope in the car, and he intended to lasso the bag.

When he arrives at my house, it is pitch black.

There’s no reason to wait for daylight — he has a flashlight with him.

He realizes that the rope won’t work, so he goes back to the car and gets his tall walking cane.

He climbs up the wall of my porch and stabs at the bag, but it doesn’t budge.

Now he knows exactly what to do: He wraps a wire hanger around the top of the bag in an attempt to hook it.

After five minutes of prodding, the bag falls through the tree branches and onto the ground.

“At least,” he says, grinning triumphantly, “you’ll have something to remember me by.”

Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling