We were working at one of our accounts — a small home with a large backyard. The very back of the yard was one giant planter filled with flowers, which I hated because they required constant deadheading.
Slim and I were cutting the never-ending sea of flowers while the other guys mowed and used the leaf-blowers. Slim was a heavyset guy with a huge gut and adult acne. He also chain-smoked, so wherever he went, he lugged a trashcan with one hand and puffed on a cigarette with the other.
Slim and I were both snipping away, tossing dead flowers into our respective trashcans. I could hear Slim huffing and wheezing as he undertook the grueling, strenuous labor.
I liked to daydream while I worked … but unfortunately, Slim always ruined the moment by talking.
“Did I ever tell you that I write songs?” he asked, blowing a stream of smoke and wrenching me from my thoughts.
“No,” I said.
“Well, I do,” I said. “Music and lyrics both. I play a mean guitar, but I don’t have a band. So after work, I like to sit outside strumming my acoustic and writing lyrics.”
Despite myself, I was rather intrigued. “I didn’t know you wrote anything.”
“Oh, yeah,” Slim said, continuing to cut flowers at his usual snail’s pace. “I’ve been writing music all my life. And my lyrics are abstract, but observational. I write about human behavior, but in an off-the-wall way.”
“You know,” I said, allowing myself to be sucked into the conversation, “I used to write lyrics in college.”
Slim looked at me, blowing smoke. “Lyrics?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’d string together verses with alternating rhymes. I’ve got tons of them.”
“Did you write music to go with them?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t know how to write or play music, so I just focused on the words. I always wanted to find a musician at school who could put my words to music, but it never happened.”
“Hmm.” Slim sliced off a dead flower and chucked it into the can. “You know, lyrics without music aren’t really lyrics. They’re poems.”
“Poems?” I asked.
He nodded. “Poems. So at the end of the day, you write poetry.”
I shrugged. “OK. So I write poetry. So what?”
“So that’s pretty lame,” Slim said, lighting a second cigarette with the butt of his first. “Real men don’t write poetry.”
“Wait a minute.” I set down my clippers. “So you’re cool because you write lyrics, but I’m lame because I write poetry?”
“Exactly,” Slim said.
I threw my arms in the air. “How does that make any sense?”
Slim shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I don’t make the rules.”
Crew Leader Carl approached. “What are you guys talking about?”
Slim pointed at me. “Dig this. Did you know that Peter writes poetry?”
“What?” Carl laughed, pointing at me. “No way! What a wuss! Wait until I tell the rest of the crew!”
I stood there with my pruners in hand, glowering at them both.