It was late Tuesday afternoon, and we were working at one of our last accounts for the day — a small, one-story house in a typical neighborhood.
Juan was using the leaf-blower, blasting all the scattered lawn clippings and debris into the street and the next-door neighbor’s yard. Francisco was using the edger on the lawn, and I was pruning flowers in the front planter.
Crew Leader Carl adjusted a sprinkler head, then stood up and stepped back to admire his work.
“The lawn looks great, boys!” he said. “Like a lush carpet of green. The owner should be happy.”
The guys wandered to the truck, and I joined them. We loaded our tools onto the trailer. Juan and Francisco pushed the mowers up the ramp, and I dumped all my deadheaded flowers into the garbage pile under the tattered blue tarp.
Carl sucked his cigarette down to the ash, then dropped the butt to the sidewalk and crushed it with his boot.
“We ready to split?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m beat. We all are. It’s been a brutal day.”
We all climbed into the truck. Carl jumped behind the wheel and fired up the engine. Putting the truck in gear, we started to cruise down the quiet neighborhood street.
Up ahead, an older man was wandering down the sidewalk, walking his dog on a leash. He smiled and waved as we passed. All of us on the crew waved back.
“What a nice guy,” Carl said. “I’ll tell you something: The work we do is important. We not only make homes beautiful, but we make neighborhoods beautiful. And personally, I do it for people like that guy. He’s probably some retired Joe enjoying his twilight years. And because of us and the work we’ve done, he’s now got a beautiful environment to walk his dog in.”
I smiled, nodding. I appreciated Carl’s point of view sometimes. The job often seemed harsh and brutal and exceptionally low-paying, but Carl was right: It did matter. We did improve people’s neighborhoods. We did make a difference.
Because of dedicated, hardworking people like us, others had a more beautiful neighborhood to call their home.
I turned in my seat to admire the yard we’d just finished. And as I did, I noticed the old man and the dog. The man was standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, holding the leash, while the dog was squatting on the front lawn we’d just mowed, taking a gargantuan dump. His haunches quivered as he dropped a sickening pile of poop on the lush, green lawn.
I turned back in my seat, grimacing. I wanted to tell Carl, but I decided not to.
I didn’t have the heart.