For the offended

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

I love wordplay as much as the next guy. However...


    And people think "every goddamn day" is edgy...
    Wednesday I was leaving the Department of Motor Vehicles—after a more than two hour wait for a simple driver's license renewal; get on the stick, Jesse White. 
     There it was, in the parking lot. I raced over, pulling out my iPhone.
    But clicking a few pictures was not enough.
    I had to know. 
    "Why are you asking?" said the voice that answered the number a few hours later. 
     I explained.
     "It happened in a bar," owner Ross Reed began. "Forty years ago."
    "Seandell's," he continued, a bar in Lincolnshire, at Milwaukee Avenue and 22, now long gone. "As red neck as red neck gets."
     He was in the tree business, understand. Sold a lot of firewood. Firewood goes in fireplaces. Creating smoke, that billows up chimneys and, eventually, over time, dirties them. 
     "So many people were asking who I knew in the cleaning business," said Reed. The tree business cools down the in fall, just when the chimney-cleaning business heats up. 
     "One night I was out with the boys in 1980, and I said, 'I kinda like sitting in a nice warm living room instead of being up a tree in a blizzard,'" Reed said.
    He started the business with a landscaper friend, Kevin Winkler. A business needs a name. Names were discussed. A certain sooty pun was unspooled. 
    "They said 'No way' and I said, 'watch me' and it's been Ash Wipe ever since."
     Officialdom didn't blink. 
    "Oh hell, I'm incorporated with the state, my own trademark," he said. "If the government can accept it...."
    So can the chimney-owning residents of the tony North Shore? So does the name attract customers? Or drive them away?
    "A little of both." 
    But between the two, business booms.
    "It's crazy," said Reed, 59. "Here it is, middle of July, I'm absolutely slammed. I don't advertise."
    With that truck you don't have to.
   Ever find any interesting stuff clogging up chimneys?
    "Lots of times you find animals," Reed said. "The coolest thing I found is a letter to Santa Claus written by a girl named Sarah. The family in the house had been there 25 years and didn't have a Sarah. They knew the people they bought the house from: no Sarah. I could tell from the dolls and toys she asked for, the letter was from 1910, 1915, discolored from time. It had gotten stuck up behind the damper. The lady from the house wanted it; I would have framed it, hung it up. I hope she kept it. That's one of the cooler things. I've been waiting to find the box of diamonds that grandpa hid up a chimney, but it hasn't happened yet."
    We talked for a long time. Sadly, some of the more interesting things he made me promise not to repeat here, and I'm a man of my word. These rich people and their fireplaces...
     While on the subject. How do you clean a chimney?
    "Brushes," Reed said. "You send 'em up. "You do it from the bottom up, because if you do it from the top up you got no control. You push the brush up, with a vacuum running, to catch it before it gets out of hand. In some of those mansions in Lake Forest: white carpet, white furniture, white dog, white wife... you get one speck of it in there and you're in trouble."
     No doubt. I did not envy the man his clientele. 
     A cleaning costs $150 to $200, "depending on how far I have to drive." A mansion can have five fireplaces. Or more. He's cleaned the fireplaces of homes about to be torn down. He's cleaned the chimneys for artificial fireplaces.
     "You really don't got to clean 'em with gas logs," he said. "I tell 'em that. They say, 'Well, I'll feel better if you do it.' My honesty only goes so far. 'You got seven fireplaces. You want me to pretend like I cleaned 'em? Okay...'"
    Then, out of the blue.
    "I don't wear my top hat anymore. It's in a drawer, but I don't wear them."
    But you did?
    I started in '79. I have hats as old as I am. The real McCoy. I bought it because that's what chimney sweeps wear. If you see someone up there in blue jeans ..." 
     He paused, to let the thought sink in. "But if they're up there in a top hat, you know immediately what they're doing."
      He said that chimney cleaning began in Germany 800 or 900 years ago, and the top hat tradition began with undertakers throwing away their top hats and tails and chimney sweeps taking them. 
     We talked a long time, and I hung up with reluctance, wishing I had a fireplace.




  1. There's a company in Lexington, Ky. called Big Ass Fans, because that's what they make. They're those huge, slow industrial fans, 10 feet or more across, that you sometimes see in the background in movies while the hero and villain are duking it out in what Roger Ebert called an "abandoned flame factory."

    The company started in 1999 with the pedestrian name of HVLS [high volume, low speed] Fan Co. But the founder kept getting calls from people asking, "Are you the folks who sell those big-ass fans?" and he liked the sound of it, so in 2003 it was rechristened as Big Ass Fans. Its logo, which I would embed here if I could, is of a mule peering over her shoulder with her rump in the foreground. I know the mule is female because her name is, of course, Fanny.

    On the company website, you can see comments from offended people who apparently have a lot of time on their hands. "This is what's wrong with America. Their minds are always in the gutter," etc.

    1. Now, "Fat Bottomed Girls" by Queen will be running through my head for the rest of the day.

    2. Apparently, some of those people with their minds in the gutter have put them to work. My Northeast Ohio neighborhood has a cleaning service called "My Gutter's Keeper"--not bad, but there are even more funny (and punny) outfits around here.

      For some reason, our local chimney-cleaning services also seem to be wise guys and dueling punsters. It's a regular sweep-stakes. There's Chimney Cricket and Chim-Chim-Cher-ee, as well as Black Hat Chimney Sweeps and Top Hat Chimeny Sweeps. There's even a Chimagic Chimney Service, which sounds like it ought to be in Chicago, but it isn't. That last one soots me just fine.

  2. Lovely, thank you. You are pros and the world feels a better place for it.

  3. Hahaha... it's always great to hear a story about my brother! What a character!

  4. Regarding your comment about Jesse White and the SOS office, timing is everything. Arrive as they open the doors for license renewal and things go a little better. The final trick is to be elderly; if you go to one of the big places like on Elston Ave. in Chicago, they have spotters who ask your age and pluck you out of line if you are old enough. That speeds the process....

    If trading cars, most dealers have access to the state database and can change the vehicle assigned to the plates before you finish handing over your life savings. And you get the official state receipt. The title comes by mail in the time frame the dealer indicates.

    All in all, and compared to other state agencies, Mr. White has most of his stuff together.

    1. Same with the Bridgeview locaton. When renewing my license last year, I swung by one day and noticed a line around the block. Therefore, I showed up the next day an hour before the place opened. Lo and behold, as soon as the doors opened, they whistled all us oldsters to the front of the line. And didn't even give me a written test, which I had crammed for. They did test my driving skills, which apparently included the propensity to roll slowly through stop signs. In the old days, a double sawbuck on the seat would have cured that, but in these enlightened days, the examiner passed me after seeing that I did know how to come to a complete stop when cautioned about it.


    2. Tate, you still ended up waiting an hour...they just weren't open yet. :-)

    3. Tate, you still ended up waiting over an hour, they just weren't open yet.. :-)

  5. This was a fun read, I cracked up just at the photo of the van. It's a very clever logo, and I really dig the sweeper brush turned into a scan code, nice touch.

  6. In England, there's an air conditioning company named "Stiff Nipples".

  7. Bitter Scribe: I particularly liked the "cow production stress calculator" under resources where you can calculate the size fan needed to keep your cows cool and therefore more productive. Who knew?

  8. I’m not big on puns in general but am a sucker for business named puns. A favorite is Nacho Mamas.

  9. Mine is Zacotacos on the Southwest side.


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