Adding beauty to the world

Adding beauty to the worldThe crew was loading up the truck after finishing a yard. As the other guys climbed into the cab, Crew Leader Carl and I stood on the sidewalk in front of the house, admiring our work.

“You know,” Carl said, taking a deep drag from his cigarette, “I love this job. I really do. I always get such a tremendous sense of accomplishment after sprucing up a yard. We showed up to find the lawn overgrown, with weeds choking the planters and garbage caught in the shrubs. By working together as a cohesive team, we transformed the place from an untidy scrapheap into a verdant paradise.”

He waved his arm. “I mean, look at it. Thanks to us, the homeowners now have this pristine sanctuary in which to seek refuge from the stress of daily life. Tonight after dinner, they can sit outside with a cup of coffee and admire the twilight sky. The wind will rustle through the tree branches above, and off in the distance the crickets will chorus, providing a relaxing atmosphere lit only by the moon and stars.”

He took another long drag from his cigarette and let it out slowly. “Humans are meant to be in nature,” he said, his eyes misting as he gazed into the distance. “We’re meant to be free and roaming; not caged in cubicles like corporate prisoners. And you and I, we’re advocates of nature. We not only beautify people’s yards; we purify their spirits. By enhancing the yards that surround their homes, we’re helping people to find peace and tranquility. We’re not only giving them a space to meditate – we’re giving them a refuge in which to rediscover their souls.”

He wiped a tear from his eye. “We create beauty – that’s what we do. We create beauty.”

As I climbed into the truck, Carl remained outside. I noticed him wipe a tear as he looked at the yard, savoring all the beauty that we’d helped sculpt from the once-messy landscape.

Then he climbed into the cab, sliding behind the wheel. Starting the engine, he took one final drag from his cigarette before flicking it out the window.

It landed on the front lawn just as we were pulling away.

No call, no show — no work

No call, no show — no workOne of the guys on the crew unexpectedly quit, so Benito hired a man named Marc to replace him. Marc was large and rough-looking, with tattoos covering his face and neck. If you tried speaking to him, he’d only glower and grunt.

After a week, Marc didn’t show up one morning. The crew remained at the shop to wait for him, even after everyone else had gone to their respective job sites.

“I hope he’s OK,” Crew Leader Carl said, pacing the shop floor. “According to Benito, he didn’t call in.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “He’s probably hungover or something.”

“He knows to call in if he’s sick,” Carl said. “And he obviously didn’t quit, because he didn’t say anything to me or Benito. I’m just worried that something happened.”

“Maybe we can obsess about it on the road,” I said. “The longer we wait here, the later we’ll have to work tonight to get everything done.”

Carl glanced at his watch. “We’ll give him a few more minutes. I’d hate for him to show up and for us to be gone.”

“Yeah, that’d be a real tragedy,” I said. “We’d all be deprived of his sunny disposition.”

Carl continued to pace while the rest of us leaned against the truck, loafing. Francisco yawned and started to nod off, even though he was standing up.

“It’s not like him not to show up,” Carl said.

“He’s been here a week,” I said. “He hasn’t exactly demonstrated longterm stability.”

“But he explicitly told me how much he appreciates this job,” Carl said. “He was so grateful for the opportunity. I can’t imagine that he’d squander it.”

He shook his head and sighed. “I wonder what could have gotten into him?”

“Probably a fifth of tequila and a six pack,” I said.

Finally, Carl’s cell starting ringing. He put it to his ear. “Yeah? Oh, you did? Well, that’s good news. I’m glad you found out. The entire crew was worried. Huh? Yeah, we’ll go ahead and hit the road.”

Carl put the phone away. “That was Benito. He just heard from Marc. Apparently, he couldn’t come to work this morning because he’s in jail for beating his wife.”

“Well, that’s reassuring,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Thank goodness he’s OK. Now we can all rest easy.”

Carl glared at me.

“I mean, I know all of us were deeply concerned about his health and well-being,” I said. “I’m just glad he isn’t hurt.”

Carl closed his eyes, sighing.

“I just have one question, though,” I said. “Is going to jail for beating your wife an acceptable excuse to miss work? I mean, can you declare that as sick time, or maybe personal vacation? I must have glossed over that part in the employee handbook.”

“OK, Peter!” Carl barked. “Enough! You’ve made your point.”

Seeking professional expertise 

Seeking professional expertiseIt was a sweltering summer morning, and we were working at one of our newer accounts. All of us on the crew were scurrying around mowing, pruning and pulling weeds, while Crew Leader Carl stood with his arms crossed, supervising.

The front door opened, and the homeowner came hobbling out. He was an older man with thin, wispy hair. He was wearing shorts that showed off his pencil-thin legs and knobby knees. The bright sunlight glared off them, and I had to look away.

“Excuse me!” he called to Carl. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Carl said, walking toward the front stairs.

“I’ve had that tree there since I moved in,” the man said, pointing. “Do you know what kind it is?”

Carl rubbed his chin. “You know, I’m not sure.”

“The reason I ask is that it seems to drop a lot of leaves,” the man said. “It’s as if there’s a new pile every morning. Do you know if that’s normal?”

Carl shrugged. “I really couldn’t say.”

“I also noticed that it’s close to the street,” the man continued. “I’m worried about the roots. Do you think they could tear up the sidewalk as the tree matures?”

Carl tilted his head. “That’s a good question.”

“The trunk also got a split in it during a recent windstorm,” the man said. “I don’t know if it’s a hardwood or a softwood. Is there a chance it could snap someday and topple onto my house?”

Carl licked his lips. “That’s definitely something to think about.”

I turned to Francisco, who was kneeled beside me, pulling weeds.

“I love to watch a professional at work,” I told him.

Spit happens

Spit happensBenito, the owner, had given me an address and told me to work with Bryce for the day. I found the house and pulled to a stop in front.

Bryce was standing in the front yard, scratching his shaved head. A gargantuan wad of chew bulged from his bottom lip, packed like gauze into an open wound.

I grabbed a shovel from the back of my truck and approached him. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Got a busted pipe underground,” he said, spitting a chunk of tobacco at the saturated soil. A stream of juice dribbled down his chin. Brown beads glistened from the stubble.

I winced, my stomach turning. “Broken pipe?”

“Yep.” He spit again, the juice landing on the toe of his boot. “Water’s coming up by that tree. Looks like a geyser. I reckon the pipe’s busted underneath.”

“So we’re going to have to dig down to find it?” I asked.

“Yep. That’s what you’re here for. Glad you brought your shovel.” Bryce spit again and grinned, showing off his rotted teeth. They looked like black beans protruding from rancid gums. My nausea grew worse.

“Aren’t you going to help me?” I asked. “You’re not just going to stand there while I dig, are you?”

“I’m the repair specialist,” Bryce said, spitting. “I’m not supposed to touch a shovel. I’m just here to diagnose the problem.”

“So you’re saying there are two types of employees: Those who diagnose the problem, and those who dig?”

He grinned again. “Yep. And because you’re new, you dig.”

He hawked another wad of spit, the juice trickling down his cheek and neck. He brushed the back of his hand across his face to wipe it off. I threw up a little in my mouth.

“Sorry,” I said, dropping my shovel and walking away. “No can do. I got to go home and take a shower.”

“Take a shower?” Bryce said, chunks of tobacco dribbling from his mouth. “What are you talking about? You haven’t even done anything yet.”

“I know,” I said, “but for some inexplicable reason, I already feel dirty.”

Requisitioning a company vehicle

Requisitioning a company vehicleIt was a chilly summer morning. We were all at the shop, loading the truck with our mowers and tools.

As I climbed into the backseat, Benito, the owner, grabbed my wrist and yanked me back out.

“You’re not working with them today!” he said. “I need you to do a job with Bryce!”

“What kind of a job?” I asked, as the maintenance truck took off without me, spewing dust and gravel.

“What kind of a job?” Benito repeated. “You all the time questions! It’s a job where I tell you what to do and you just do it! Understand?”

“I appreciate your sharing the big-picture vision,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Load a truck with shovels and rakes, and then see me in the office,” Benito said, stomping away. “I’ll give you the address.”

“How about I just ride with Bryce?” I asked.

“Because he’s already at the jobsite! You and your endless questions!”

“So we’re driving two separate vehicles? This company’s not exactly a paragon of efficiency, Boss.”

Benito pointed at me. “Take a truck and load it with tools! I’ll be in the office.”

“How do I know what truck to take?” I asked.

Per carita! Never-ending questions! Talk to Shoemaker. He’s the shop superintendent.”

So I approached Shoemaker, a short, balding guy with a long goatee. “Benito wants me to take one of the trucks.”

“Which one you want?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. How about the ’84 Ford?”

“That one’s been stalling at stoplights.”

“OK,” I said. “How about the ’79 Ford?”

“Nah. The brakes is worn.”

“The ’77 flatbed?”

“Nope. Transmission’s busted.”

I glared at him. “The ’68 Chevy dumptruck?”

“Clutch is out.”

“Well,” I said, “I need something reliable. I’ll just take the 2000 Isuzu Hombre, then.”

“That one … wait.” Shoemaker scratched his chin. “We don’t have an Isuzu Hombre.”

“I know,” I said, twirling my keychain on my finger and walking away. “It’s mine.”

A crew that carries in the groceries 

A crew that carries in the groceries“Oh no,” Crew Leader Carl said, as we pulled to a stop in front of our next account. “Mrs. Beale is waiting for us.”

I looked and saw a little old lady standing on the sidewalk, her hands planted on her hips.

“I need your help,” she barked, as we all climbed out of the truck.

“Yes, ma’am,” Crew Leader Carl said.

She pointed to the car parked in the open garage. The trunk was propped open.

“I just got back from the store,” Mrs. Beale said. “Carry all of the groceries into the house!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Crew Leader Carl said.

The five us grabbed an armload of groceries and paraded into the house.

“Each of you kick off your shoes before coming in,” Mrs. Beale said. “You’re all filthy. I don’t want you tracking mud on my carpet.”

We all kicked off our boots in the washroom before marching through the house with our sacks.

“Put the refrigerated items away,” she said. “The other things go in the pantry. Hurry up – my ice cream’s melting.”

She glared at Francisco. “Comprehend-o?”

Francisco nodded and started unpacking bags. When her back was turned, he rolled his eyes at me.

When we were done, Mrs. Beale led us back out to the garage. While we were tying our boots, she barked, “I’m having a get-together on Saturday night. Carry all of this patio furniture to the backyard.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Crew Leader Carl said.

Francisco and I each grabbed the end of a heavy table and lumbered out the side door. The other guys followed us carrying chairs and an umbrella.

“Set up the furniture,” Mrs. Beale barked when we got to the back patio. “Put the table over there. And I want those chairs by the house!”

We scurried around setting up the furniture. When we were done, Mrs. Beale put a finger to her lips and frowned.

“I don’t like it,” she said. “Put the table over there, and the chairs over there.”

We rearranged the furniture over and over until she was satisfied.

“Thank you very much for your help,” she said.

Crew Leader Carl checked his watch. “Well, our half-hour’s up, Mrs. Beale. We have to go to our next account now.”

She balled her hands into fists. “But you didn’t even touch my yard! You lazy bastards! What kind of a maintenance crew are you?”

It’s always wise to have a backup plan

It_s always wise to have a backup planIt was a sweltering summer afternoon. I was standing in a hole, digging, while Crew Leader Carl stood over me with his arms crossed, supervising.

“Ugh,” he said, scratching his left inner thigh with the heel of his right boot. “I have the itchies.”

I moved to the far side of the hole.

“So,” Carl said, scratching his left armpit, “how you liking the job so far?”

I shrugged, tossing a shovelful of dirt. “It’s OK. It wasn’t my first choice.”

Carl quickly sniffed his fingers, then continued to scratch his arms and stomach. “That’s right. You wanted to be a reporter or something like that, didn’t you?”

“Just something where I could pay off my student loans before I’m seventy-five.”

“If you’re lucky, you won’t make it to seventy-five,” Carl said, reaching into his shorts and scratching furiously. “Then you won’t have to pay nothing back.”

“Sound financial advice,” I said. “Thank you.”

“You should have had a backup plan,” Carl said. He was now scratching his right thigh with the heel of his left foot, balancing precariously on one leg. “You should always have a backup plan.”

“This is my backup plan,” I said. “Digging holes in hundred-degree heat for minimum wage wasn’t my first choice.”

“Take me, for example,” Carl said, crossing his arms and scratching both his armpits simultaneously, looking a little like Molly Shannon’s Superstar character. “I’ve always got a backup plan. If this landscaping gig doesn’t work out, I can always go back to my previous profession of being a chef.”

I dropped my shovel. “You handled and prepared food?”

He nodded. “For fifteen years, yeah. At restaurants all over town.” He checked his watch. “So, how about breaking for lunch?”

I grabbed my shovel and continued to dig. “No thanks.”

He frowned. “No thanks?”

“I don’t have much of an appetite,” I told him.

A company dedicated to staying current 

A company dedicated to staying current“So,” I said to Benito, “you never told me what you were doing.”

I had just gotten to work, and Benito was sitting on a stool behind one of the trucks, affixing letters to the tailgate.

“What business is it of yours what I’m doing?” he asked, striking a match and lighting the cigar in his mouth.

“Can’t a guy ask a question?” I asked.

“I’m not paying you to be journalist. I’m paying you to be landscaper. No one ever cut a lawn by asking stupid questions!”

“How am I supposed to learn anything if I don’t ask questions?” I asked.

“If you’re so curious, I’ll learn you how to find somewhere else to work. Now go do something useful and fetch me some more letters! I don’t have enough.”

I squinted. “Are you spelling out the company web address on the back of the truck? Is that what you’re doing?”

“Yes! That’s what I’m doing! We’re a modern company now. We have website!”

I frowned. “But Benito, this truck’s a ’79 Ford.”

“So what?”

“So the tailgate doesn’t even open anymore. It’s tied on with bungie cord!”

He clenched his hand into a fist. “So? What point you make?”

“We can’t be a modern company when all our trucks predate the Internet! For Pete’s sake, most of them predate me!”

“I paid good money for the website,” Benito said, sticking on another letter. “It was top-of-the-line. Very expensive.”

“More expensive than a truck built in the current millennium?” I asked.

Benito pointed his cigar at me. “You’ve asked your last question, Mr. Journalist. Now go in the office and fetch me more letters. The ’86 Ford is next on my list.”

“I’m glad to see the company is modernizing,” I said.

Starting the morning with a stale cup of coffee

Starting the morning with a stale cup of coffeeWhen I got to work the other morning, Benito, the owner, was sitting on a stool behind one of the work trucks, chomping on an unlit cigar.

As I approached the shop carrying my lunchbox, I peered over his shoulder, trying to see what he was doing.

It looked like he was sticking letters to the tailgate.

“What are you doing, Benito?” I asked.

“I’m working,” he said, not turning around. “And you should be doing the same. I’m not paying you to loaf!”

“But I just got here,” I said. “I haven’t even clocked in yet.”

“Then go clock in!”

“But I was going to grab some coffee first. I only got one cup this morning. Is there any in the shop?”

“I wouldn’t drink the coffee in the shop,” Benito said.

“Then what’s that?” I asked, pointing to the cup beside his stool.

“Starbucks. I bring it from home.”

“Why are you drinking Starbucks when we have coffee in the shop?”

Per carita! Because the coffee in the shop is mud! I shouldn’t have to explain these things to such a obstinate imbecile!”

“The coffee’s cheap, but it’s not mud,” I said. “Who made it?”

“You did!” he said, yelling. “Remember? Three days ago!”

“On second thought,” I said, “maybe Crew Leader Carl will let me stop at Starbucks.”

Safety meeting

Safety Meeting“On my crew, safety is paramount,” Crew Leader Carl said, as we gassed up one morning before work. “If you want to keep your job, you’ll have to make safety your No. 1 priority.”

As he was saying this, he was filling a gas can that was sitting in the back of the truck, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“You’ll need to keep your head in the game at all times,” he continued, looking me hard in the eye. “Pay attention to what you’re doing. Being distracted, even for a second, can cause you or someone else to get hurt.”

“I think the gas can’s full,” I said, pointing.

“Huh?” Carl turned and saw the gasoline overflowing into the truck bed. “Ah, damn!”

He yanked out the nozzle, tipping the can. Gas cascaded off the back of the truck.

“Piece of junk!” Carl bellowed, shaking the gas nozzle as if it were somehow deficient.

One of the crew members, Francisco, jumped forward and uprighted the can. Gas continued to drip off the open tailgate.

“Anyway,” Carl said, hanging up the nozzle, “what was I just saying?”

“We were having a safety meeting,” I said.

“Right.” He walked back to the truck and jabbed a finger into my chest. “On my crew, I don’t tolerate negligence. You got it? If you do something stupid and hurt yourself or someone else, I’ll kick your ass from here over the Rocky Mountains. You’ll be eating Hellman’s Mayonnaise for lunch instead of Best Foods. You understand?”

I squinted. “Not really.”

Carl slammed the tailgate closed … just as Francisco was climbing out the truck. Francisco tripped and fell onto the pavement.

“What the hell you doing down there?” Carl said, his voice raised. “Get up! Your clothes are getting soaked in gas!”

As we climbed into the truck, Carl glared at me through the rearview mirror. “You remember what I told you about safety, now. You got it?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

With that, Carl fired up the truck. As we pulled away from the pumps, he took his cigarette and flicked it out the window.