George Saunders in The New Yorker:
At twenty-six, at the embarrassing end of a series of attempts at channelling Kerouac, I was beyond broke, back in my home town, living in my aunt and uncle’s basement. Having courted and won a girl I had courted but never come close to winning in high school, I was now losing her via my pathetically dwindling prospects. One night she said, “I’m not saying I’m great or anything, but still I think I deserve better than this.”
That fall, my uncle called in a favor and soon I was on a roofing crew, one of three grunts riding from job to job in the freezing open back of a truck. My fellow-grunts, Leon and John, were the only black guys on the crew, and hence I was known as the Great White Hope. Once everyone had seen me work, I became the Great White Dope. Our job was to move the hot tar from a vat on the ground to the place on the roof where the real roofing was done. Leon had a thick Mississippi accent and no top teeth. He stayed on the ground, pulleying the smoking buckets up to us, muttering obscenities at passing grannies and schoolgirls. John was forty-two, gentle-voiced, and dignified, with a salt-and-pepper beard and his own roofing tools, which he brought to work every day, even though he was never allowed to do anything but lug tar. John had roofed all his adult life, and claimed to have virtuosoed his way into this job by appearing on the job site one day and outshingling the best white shingler.