During the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.
This is a story from one of my many lawn-cutting crew adventures:
It was a sweltering summer afternoon. I was standing in a hole, digging, while Crew Leader Carl stood over me with his arms crossed, supervising.
“Ugh,” he said, scratching his left inner thigh with the heel of his right boot. “I have the itchies.”
I moved to the far side of the hole.
“So,” Carl said, scratching his left armpit, “how you liking the job so far?”
I shrugged, tossing a shovelful of dirt. “It’s OK. It wasn’t my first choice.”
Carl quickly sniffed his fingers, then continued to scratch his arms and stomach. “That’s right. You’re going to college to be a reporter or something like that, right?”
I shrugged. “Just something where I can pay off my student loans before I’m seventy-five.”
“If you’re lucky, you won’t make it to seventy-five,” Carl said, reaching into his shorts and scratching furiously. “Then you won’t have to pay nothing back.”
“Sound financial advice,” I said. “Thank you.”
“You should have had a backup plan,” Carl said. He was now scratching his right thigh with the heel of his left foot, balancing precariously on one leg. “You should always have a backup plan.”
“This is my backup plan,” I said. “Digging holes in hundred-degree heat for minimum wage wasn’t my first choice. I’m only here because the temp agency never called back.”
“Take me, for example,” Carl said, crossing his arms and scratching both his armpits simultaneously, looking a little like Molly Shannon’s Superstar character. “I’ve always got a backup plan. If this landscaping gig doesn’t work out, I can always go back to my previous profession of being a chef.”
I dropped my shovel. “You handled and prepared food?”
He nodded. “For fifteen years, yeah. At restaurants all over town. Who knows — you might have eaten in some of them. I might have prepared your dinner, and you never even knew.”
He checked his watch. “So, how about breaking for lunch?”
I grabbed my shovel and continued to dig. “No thanks.”
He frowned. “No thanks?”
“I don’t have much of an appetite,” I told him.