It was early morning. I was at the shop loading the truck when Crew Leader Carl appeared at my side.
“Guess what,” he said, rolling his eyes. “The owner, Benito, is going on a ride-along with us today.”
My eyes widened. “No! Did he say why?”
Carl shrugged. “I don’t know. He just said he wants to watch us in action to make sure we’re working efficiently.”
“Working efficiently?” I set a can of gas in the back of the truck. “Wow. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.”
As we climbed into the truck, Benito hopped into the front seat, pushing Francisco — who normally had shotgun — into the middle. Benito’s lit cigar filled the cab with suffocating smoke. My eyes started to water.
“Well!” he said, looking at Carl. “Let’s go!”
Grimacing, Carl started the engine, and off we went to our first job.
Usually, Carl roamed the job site with his arms folded, supervising, while the rest of us scurried around and worked.
Today, however, Benito was the one roaming around with his arms crossed. Carl was scurrying around with the rest of us, looking harried and petrified. We all made sure to appear busy at all times.
Not that it did any good. Benito still screamed at each of us in his thick Italian accent, often waving his arms and pointing his cigar at his victim.
“You stupid morons!” he screamed. “That not how you mow lawn! Is too short! You idiots! Stupid, stupid idiots!”
I was on my hands and knees, frantically pulling weeds. In my rush, my hand caught a petunia and ripped it out of the ground.
Benito immediately appeared in front of me, his short, stocky body casting a chilling shadow.
“You stupid dipstick!” he screamed. “Per carita! Can’t you tell flower from weed? Stupid brain-dead imbecile!”
Carl emerged from the backyard pushing a wheelbarrow full of juniper limbs. He was walking so fast that he drove the tire smack into a half-buried tree root. The wheelbarrow toppled, taking Carl down with it. He landed face-first on the ground.
Benito appeared at his side — not to help him up, of course, but to scream violent obscenities.
“Stupid jackass!” he yelled, jabbing his cigar at Carl. “You walking demolition crew! You no exercise safety! Stupid useless dipstick!”
A woman emerged from the house next door, straining her neck to see us. She marched over until she was standing right in front of Benito. She was about a foot taller than him.
“How dare you speak to your employees that way!” she said, jabbing a finger into his chest. “They’re clearly working as hard as they can. You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Benito’s face turned crimson. “Stupid lady!” he screamed. “Nobody tell me how to run my crew! Go back into your house and shut your face, you stupid cow!”
The woman sputtered, as if her tongue was getting in the way of her words.
The rest of us just stared, awestruck. I think we were partly horrified that Benito was screaming at a non-employee, and half-amused.
In fact, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.