It was a sweltering summer afternoon. The crew and I were working at a house that backed to the golf course. There were no trees to shade us, so no matter where you were standing, the sun pierced you like a relentless laser beam.
I was tired and sunburned and in an irritable mood. Every yard was starting to look the same, with their overgrown lawns and weed-choked planters. As soon as we tidied one, we were off to another to start all over again.
I was deadheading roses while the other guys scurried about with their deafening cacophony of lawnmowers, weed-eaters and leaf-blowers. Crew Leader Carl wandered around the yard with his arms crossed, supervising.
As I cut a dead rose, a thorn pierced my finger, burrowing deep under the nail.
“Dammit!” I said, dropping the rose. I wagged my finger, and a dot of blood appeared on the tip.
Frustrated, I threw the clippers to the ground and clasped my throbbing finger. It wasn’t a bad wound by any means, but to the casual observer, it probably looked like I’d been through triage.
Crew Leader Carl wandered over. “You cut yourself?”
“No,” I said. “This damn rose just pricked me.” I kicked at the ground, wiping my finger on my shirt.
“You OK?” Carl asked, frowning. “You’ve been short-tempered all day.”
“I’m just sick of this crap,” I said. “It’s a billion degrees out here, we have to work ten hours each day to keep up with all of the accounts, and I’m always getting cut by thorns and stickers. I’m over it.”
“Well,” Carl said, taking a drag off his cigarette, “it’s like my mother always said: It could always be worse.”
“No.” I shook my head. “It can’t get any worse than this. This job sucks.”
“Trust me,” Carl said, “there are worse jobs out there.”
“Yeah?” I asked. “Name one.”
Back at the shop, Carl handed me a toilet brush and a bottle of cleaner.
He motioned to the shop bathroom, which was wallpapered with Penthouse spreads. “I want that toilet clean enough to eat off.”
I looked at the filth-encrusted toilet and grimaced. “Man. This sucks.”
Carl grinned. “Don’t complain. It could always be worse.”