Ask anyone and they will tell you that I was the one to coin that phrase years before the popular TV show. My dad not only owned a construction company in Queens, a borough of Manhattan, he spoke of it as if it were his magical kingdom.
Every morning (sometimes seven days a week), he would leave the house before we got up and regale us with fascinating facts and stories when he’d arrive home. The reason that the fruits and vegetables from Queens were larger than any we’d ever seen was because the vacant lots they were grown in contained special soil. While he couldn’t make his way around a country road, he knew of a network of back alleys which could magically transport him to any Queens destination in half the time.
Though he only stood 5 feet 6 inches, he lived life large. He had a powerful presence that was not lost on any of the Queens store or restaurant owners. When he walked into an establishment, there was always a ruffle of excitement as they welcomed Mr. Frank and he delighted in that.
Wonderful marketer that he was, he noticed that the demographics in his area were changing. Many of the Queens homeowners were now widows who were a bit fearful of dealing with rough, tough and possibly unscrupulous contractors. That gave him the idea to create the persona of “The Gentleman Roofer.” His new Yellow Pages ad and business cards featured a photo of him in a bowler hat and tuxedo. When customers would ask if the Gentleman Roofer would be wearing his hat, he started to carry plastic ones in his trunk.
The photo shoot for the new marketing campaign was created in my parent’s living room. Initially, an argument ensued when my dad, in a hurry, insisted on just wearing the tuxedo jacket along with his boxer shorts, reasoning that the photo would be taken from the waist up. With JC* as the photographer (and no experience in this field of endeavor), what happened next was another Lucy and Desi moment. For years, those outtakes were the highlight of every family get together. We’d laugh until we cried at the photos of my dad yelling in each photo as JC repeatedly took crooked images of him in his combination tuxedo/underwear outfit.
Once he visited your home to give you a quote was when the magic happened. In five minutes, he would size you up. If you lived alone, he would show you family photos, tell you about his voice lessons and leave you a tape of him singing Frank Sinatra tunes. If you were aggressive and started haggling about pricing, he would suggest another area contractor. They were not as good as his company, but there might be a better rapport. This usually led to that customer calling, begging for another chance (and paying more for the privilege)
For months after he died, I would call his company phone number at night just to hear his robust voice on the message and smile. I knew that the new owner would eventually update it, but I doubted that anyone could match his Christmas message. Recorded over 50 times until perfect, it featured JC singing “Jingle Bells” softly in the background (again, with no experience in this field of endeavor) and my dad reminding you that you will have a happier holiday if you call the Gentleman Roofer for an appointment.
Happy Father’s Day!
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.