Thursday, May 29, 2014

don't come around here no more

"Me? I'm just a lawnmower - you can tell me by the way I walk."
— I Know What I Like
Selling England by the Pound (1973) 
Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford
When I was a kid, one of my regular chores was to mow the lawn. I hated mowing the lawn. Since summer is lawn mowing weather, it was hot. We had a fairly large front lawn and backyard, so after the lengthy ordeal of mowing was completed, I had to rake up the clippings and bag them. Did I mention it was hot? The only saving grace was the nearby Nabisco Cookie factory. During certain times of the day, my neighborhood would be enveloped in the delicious aroma of fresh Oreos. I tried to schedule my lawn-mowing efforts around those times. It made the work a little more bearable. Not much, but a little.

When I got married and moved into my own house, I felt I was obligated to buy a lawnmower. My own lawn was considerably smaller than the one I grew up cutting, but I realized I still hated mowing the lawn. At the end of the first summer in my own house, I decided I would never push a lawnmower again. I would hire someone to cut and maintain my grass. I was working. I could afford it.

The next summer, we hired Mr. Edwards to cut our lawn. He (or one of his crew) would force a giant commercial riding lawnmower* into our tiny, helpless backyard like a rapist. In a matter of a minutes, a few unruly inches of grass was reduced to microscopic shreds — no raking necessary. At the same time, three strapping young men would guide three roaring gas mowers across my yielding front lawn, rendering it into a regulation US Army crew cut. Then, they'd perfectly edge the areas adjacent to my driveway and public sidewalk. The entire job would take less than ten minutes. Ten minutes that I could find another way to occupy.

Mr. Edward's visits were always preceded by a phone call at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in the morning. Many times, my slumber in my peaceful, pre-workday hours were harshly interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone by my bedside. I'd fumble in darkness, usually knocking my glasses to the floor or prematurely setting off my alarm, in my search for the receiver.

"Mistah Pincus!," Mr. Edwards would scream in his nearly unintelligible, thick Jamaican accent — and those were the last words that I would understand. In his best approximation of the late Bob Marley, he'd ramble on (I surmised) about the afternoon plans he had for my lawn and, through my grogginess, I'd "uh-huh" in agreement, although I had absolutely no idea what he was saying. For all I knew, he could have been explaining the secrets of quantum physics or slyly revealing a plot to murder me. When I sensed by his tone that he was winding the one-sided conversation to a close, I'd ask, "How much should I leave for you?" Suddenly, the island dialect would disappear and he would clearly intone "twenty bucks," the words spoken as though they were a Shakespearean soliloquy delivered by Laurence Oliver.

And so it went like that for years. I was pretty happy with the services Mr. Edwards provided. Actually, I was just happy that someone that wasn't me was doing the yard work. Of course, the price rose several times over the years. Each time, I was a bit surprised when his garbled Rasta-inflected explanation ended with a crystal-clear, eloquently-enunciated, Queen's English delivery of a price increase. Twenty went to twenty-five. Twenty-five went to thirty. The cost of spring clean-ups escalated, too. The only things that didn't change were the early morning phone calls and the size of my yard.

In February, this happened. A large tree branch crashed through our living room window. After the initial shock and panic, we were relieved to learn that our homeowner's insurance would cover the cost of damages and clean-up if we provide an itemized bill from a hired contractor. A neighbor (who is also a contractor) was able to replace the window and cut the offending branch into small, easily disposable sections. However, our area was pummeled relentlessly by more wintry weather, hindering the removal of the debris on our driveway. The big thaw coincided with our annual spring clean-up from Mr. Edwards. He called and I explained that he was not to come until the tree branches were removed and the other maintenance work was completed. His annual clean-up would have to wait until he heard from me. I repeated it again to Mr. Edwards. I can only assume he understood.

He didn't.

The first nice day, Mr. Edwards and his workers took it upon themselves to clean my yard. They puttered around my yard, filling leaf bags and uprooting some weeds. A short time later, Mr. Edwards left me a voicemail. Through his accent, I deciphered that his crew had been to my house and he was asking for a whopping $175. I was furious! He didn't provide anything close to $175 worth of work. Jeez, my lawn isn't big enough to warrant $175 worth of work! But, still, I put a check in the mail and called him. This time, I got his answering service. I left a message saying that he would be paid, but we would no longer require his services. (A few weeks prior, my wife found a landscaper that quoted considerably lower that Mr. Edwards' price.) I thought — actually hoped — that this would be the end of it.

It wasn't.

Mr. Edwards called me. I tried to explain that I was unhappy about his crew doing work when I explicitly told him not to come until I called him. I expressed my anger that he blatantly disregarded my instruction. He repeatedly interrupted my explanation, until I raised my voice well above his.

"Mr. Edwards!," I yelled, "I told you not to come to my yard and you came anyway! Despite that, I paid you! Now, don't come anymore! Understand? We got someone else!" I think I finally broke the language barrier as I was breaking the sound barrier.

The new lawn guy came the next week. He did a pretty shitty job, but better him than me. I still haven't been behind a lawnmower in twenty-five years and I intend to keep that record going.

* the type you see cutting the grass that grows on the median strips of six-lane super-highways

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