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:
We were in the maintenance truck, driving to our next job. It was only mid-morning, and it was already scorching. Even with all the windows down, the breeze gushing through did little to cool us off.
Crew Leader Carl was driving. He had one arm draped over the wheel, and the other slung out the window with a cigarette in his hand. He hadn’t talked much all day, and I noticed that his eyes looked red and baggy.
As we cruised along, his head started to dip forward. A string of drool trickled out of his mouth and dribbled onto his lap.
“Carl!” I said. “Wake up!”
“Huh?” Carl’s eyes shot open, and he gripped the wheel with both hands. The truck and trailer both swerved violently. One of the rakes tumbled out and clattered along the side of the highway.
The other guys exchanged worried grimaces.
“Damn,” Carl said, smacking his dry lips. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes.
“You feeling all right, Boss?” I asked.
Carl shook his head. “Not really. I’ve been feeling groggy and headachy all day. My stomach’s also irritated. I keep feeling like I’m going to hurl.”
“You don’t think it’s the flu, do you?” asked Stan, who was sitting beside me in the backseat.
Carl shrugged. “I don’t know. I woke up feeling crummy. It just seemed to come on overnight.”
“Maybe you should take the rest of the day off,” I said. “The rest of us don’t want to get sick.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not contagious,” Carl said. “I can usually tell if I’m catching a cold or the flu, and this doesn’t feel like that.”
He scrunched his lips, as if he were deep in thought. “Although I can’t help wondering if it’s the gin I drank last night.”
“Well, how much did you have?” I asked.
He shrugged. “A bottle.”
“A bottle?” I said, frowning. “Yeah, I’m not a licensed medical professional with the experience or training required to diagnose diseases. But if I were tasked with identifying this bedeviling malady, I’d probably conclude that the gin played a contributing role in the overnight onset of your nettling symptoms.”
Carl glared at me in the rearview mirror, his upper lip curled. “That sounded sarcastic.”
“You think?!” I yelled.
“Dammit!” Carl winced, massaging his temples. “No loud noises. I told you I have a headache!”