Thursday, May 26, 2016

Who mows my lawn? Crackheads, morons, and crazy people

Not our house, obviously.
I am a shame-based gardener. Let me explain.

One set of grandparents were farmers, the other champion rose growers. I spent my childhood digging, planting, pruning, weeding, watering, and picking. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it – it was a perfect way to commune with nature, to instill a work ethic, and to partake of the satisfaction and frustrations of growing things.

By the time I’d reached 15, though, I was thoroughly tired of being used for free labor. (Part of the family legacy. That’s why my ancestors’ families were so large until the 20th century – it was a need for many hands to work the farm, combined with the relatively high child mortality rate. We bred promiscuously in order to survive.) I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the allergy-free confines of the local library, and any theater that would hire me.

So, the calling was not passed down. Two generations ago, we were titans of the yard; now, it looks like hoboes live at our address. Grandma would be pissed.

On top of my natural indolence is the crippling arthritis that’s crept up on me. Add to this children who are equally loathe to push the mower, and we end up with a backyard that resembles a nature preserve. Waist-high grasses, weeds of every variety, yuck it up and party on, heedless of my sporadic attempts to control them.

Enter my beloved. Extremely intelligent and armed with the best intentions, she has nearly destroyed our yard several times.

This can be directly attributed to Craigslist. The digital marketplace has unleashed an onslaught of marginally viable humans who think they can perform just about any project, task, or service trained and reputable professionals can, for far less cost.

This is not true.

However, our glorious entrepreneurial system has created this thriving nether region, a prime mechanism for the destruction of transactional value. It enables anyone to assert anything about themselves professionally without verification, part of the American carnival of self-reinvention . . . just like when a murderer starting a new life in another town with a fake I.D. Whether you think you are a carpenter, an accountant, or a shaman, whether you know what you’re doing or have killed anyone doing so, there is a place to post your shingle online.

Of course, I am that stolid person who doesn’t trust bargains. I use established businesses. I pay too much. I am guilty of using substandard professionals for far too long, because of my stubborn sense of customer loyalty. I’m no better. But I am less annoyed.

The first time the yard got out of hand, the sight-unseen shoemakers’ elves who were to work their magic on our lawn were, literally, crackheads. Unwashed, unused to the light of day. They pulled up in an old pickup truck, towing a dilapidated landscaping trailer that looked like Huck and Jim’s raft on wheels. Fever-eyed and hyperactive, the lead worker, a sinewy little man with a bushy ‘fro like Marc Bolan, picked up a chainsaw and went at it.

The first and only thing he went at was the decorative flowering bush at the end of the driveway, at that time seven feet high. The little man slashed away, hacking out about 75 percent of it, as his wife or wives and children proceeded to tear out all of my Cerastium tomentosum, leaving the weeds beside them alone. Between this debris and the leavings of the one unfortunate bush, which Marc Bolan piled onto his trailer and slashed at again and again with his chainsaw, like some Spirit of Arboreal Vengeance brought to life.

After two hours, they had attacked only about 50 square feet of my third of an acre. Finally I dashed out into the yard, stopped them, gave them money, and sent them away.

The next year, it was another cut-rate (as it were) disaster. This time, it was someone “recommended,” by whom I will never know, which is fortunate as now they will never find a flaming paper bag full of dog poop in their porch.

The phrase “now don’t get me wrong” often prefaces outbursts of racism, and so it does here. Now, don’t get me wrong. (Here come the bona fides that seemingly excuse my hard feelings. I took Spanish all through high school.) I have Hispanic grandchildren. I love them. But, I do not “love” any race indiscriminately; as a paranoid, I am deeply suspicious of everyone on an equal-opportunity basis.

The pair of workers that made it to the house this time didn’t speak English, for quite some time. They didn’t seem to understand what was needed, interpreting a request to “trim things back” as an opportunity to recreate the defoliation of Cambodia. Grass, trees, bushes, flowers, all fell before their gasoline-powered scythes.

I stumbled on the scene when they were about halfway through. Rapidly chaining myself to the maple tree like an Alaskan protester, I vehemently refused to let them continue, in both English and my Primer Libro-level Spanish. No dice. However, the magic words, “Well, then, tell your boss I’m not going to pay you” revealed an acute comprehension of English, with clipped, articulate responses worthy of Jeremy Irons. Assholes come in all colors, faiths, and sexes.

They left, taking their equipment but not their debris.

This year, the fun resumed. Heavy rains and an impending graduation conspired to make the yard worse than ever. A digital shout-out resulted this time in the sudden, unexpected appearance of a little old man with a backpack and an absolutely new riding mower just as we were leaving for our son’s high-school graduation.

“I got lost,” the old man said. Evidently he had seen the electronic appeal and ridden his mower unannounced from his home elsewhere in town, just like Richard Farnsworth in “The Straight Story.” We thanked him and gestured frantically towards the back yard, all while eating, dressing, and wrapping gifts.

He putted back there, and returned shortly. “You’re going to have to move some stuff,” he said. We laughed.

“It’s pretty bad back there,” he said. We laughed.

I think he did the best he could. He accosted us as we ran out the front door and into the car. “You’re going to have to do some trimming back there,” he said.

We thanked him. He drove his mower carefully around the car, cutting down three of my roses and another large swathe of Cerastium tomentosum in the process, took a left, and putted up the road, a demented Lone Ranger of horticulture, piloting a chrome-yellow Yardman. We took off.

Did he ever find his way home? I hope not. I like to think he is somewhere near the Wyoming border by now, periodically refilling his tank and stopping for a sweet roll and coffee every now and then.

Can we control these people? We cannot. We can do what I do – go with reputable professionals who charge too much. In the long run it’s cheaper. 

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