It was only mid-morning, and it was already warm.
I wasn’t working on the maintenance crew today. The owner, Benito, had paired me with the irrigation specialist, Bryce. Together, we were driving to different jobs and doing repairs.
We had arrived at a home in an older neighborhood to find the front yard saturated. There was an irrigation box near the front of the house, and the ground around it squished like a bog.
“I bet there’s a busted water pipe underground,” Bryce said, spitting a wad of tobacco.
I looked at him, my arms crossed. “You think so?”
“Only one way to find out.” Bryce handed me a shovel.
“How come I always have to dig?” I asked.
“Because you’re the laborer,” Bryce said. “Once you expose the break, I’ll repair the pipe. That’s how it works.”
“Any chance I can aspire to your job one day?” I asked.
Bryce shrugged. “Watch and learn, my friend. Watch and learn. I’m a wealth of knowledge.”
And with that, he sat under a nearby tree and pulled his hat over his eyes.
I dug relentlessly for an hour and a half. The pipe was buried deep underground. As I heaved out soggy shovelfuls of mud, water trickled back into the hole, pooling at my feet. My shoes sank into the muck, and it was almost impossible to move. The mud held me like concrete.
I stabbed at the ground, and the blade of my shovel wedged into a block of wood.
“There’s a tree root the size of a stump down here,” I called.
“There’s a digging bar and a saw in the truck,” Bryce said. He was lying on his back under the tree with his hat covering his face.
“Any chance you can fetch them for me?” I called.
Bryce lay there, snoozing.
“Thanks,” I said. “Jerk.”
I continued to dig and finally found the break. Water was gushing from ancient galvanized pipe entangled by roots.
“Found it!” I called.
Bryce stirred and sauntered over. “Awesome. Nice work. Hop out of there, and I’ll use the pump to suck out some of the water. That hole’s filling up fast.”
I clambered onto dry land and handed Bryce the pump, which was lying alongside the pile of dirt I’d created. He started to pump while I stood there and watched.
At that moment, Benito, the company owner, pulled up in his truck.
“Hey!” he screamed, slamming his door and marching toward me, pointing. “You lazy good-for-nothing punk! Don’t just stand there and watch while he work! I no pay you to do nothing!”
“Yeah, Peter,” Bryce said, holding the pump. “Don’t just stand there. Find something to do.”
I glowered at him, my eyes narrowed to slits. “You unimaginable bastard,” I said.