By Mike Smith

"I cannot work ... but I can't afford to be 'gainfully employed' as I will lose all the government benefits that sustain me." --June Price

“I cannot work … but I can’t afford to be ‘gainfully employed’ as I will lose all the government benefits that sustain me.” –June Price

For the past month I’ve had a front row seat watching one of the most miserable jobs in existence: hot tar roofing. I feel nothing but gratitude that someone else is making a good wage putting a roof on my apartment building.

My voyeur’s apprenticeship has taught me everything I know about being a hot tar roofer: miserable hours, hurrying, lifting, climbing, inhaling noxious dust and tar fumes, getting burned by the sun and put out of work by the rain–hey, this is Seattle. I’ve listened to the boss abusing his crew in language that’s supposed to motivate them, and watched workers on cigarette breaks suppressing urges to rip his head off.

My disability–cerebral palsy–makes it impossible for me to roof a building, but it does make me eligible for SSI and public housing. Being free from this sort of work–free of having to work to survive–is a privilege. Randall Standish also appreciates being free from work–especially hot tar roofing. At 18 he fell from a building on a job site, breaking his neck at the C5-6 level. “Today,” he says, smiling, “I’m just goofing off.”