Lordy, but good help is hard to find these days. It seems that when they’re not stealing the silver they’re mowing down the tulip beds or staggering in to work drunk as skunks (remind me to find out why skinks are alcoholics…). Whatever happened to the good old days when the help treated us like royalty? Back before unions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, mandatory coffee breaks and welfare you can be sure that anyone would jump at the chance to apprentice to a genius like myself. In fact, in the old days they would have paid for the privilege.
Instead I have to practically beg people to work, pay them scandalous wages under the table (so theycan go on collecting unemployment) then babysit them on the job. This spring I was thrilled to find two people who actually wanted to work for me. I made big plans for them to take over some of my more boring and less lucrative jobs and thus they could embark on a challenging and rewarding new career! It would be like the good old days when the village smithy took on an apprentice and could sit back in the shade sipping a mint julep while the scrawny, dirty, underfed little feller sweated away at the forge. Only I’d feed and pay my apprentices a lot better. Picture me as the kind oboss who hauls out a six pack at the end of a hard day and generously shares both her beer and her vast knowledge and skill with her eager, devoted apprentices (I wonder if I could ge them to tattoo the company logo on themselves. Harley Davidson did it, why can’t I?)
Alas the scene is not unfolding quite like I had pictured it. I always knew that there are those with a talent for landscaping in general. You know; the understanding of plant materials and soils, the artistic knack for putting the right plant in the right place… that sort of thing. But I never knew that some people have the innate ability to efortlessly distinguish between a live flower and a dead one, and there are those who have to be taught to do this. Matt belongs to the latter group. Now Matt is one of those people who actually wants to work, wants to learn and wants to do a good, conscientious job. A little thing like having to be told that dead flowers are sort of shriveled and brown and , well, dead-looking whereas flowers that are still alive are colorful, perky and well, alive: this small lesson shouldn’t be that difficult. We all have to learn sometime. Its just that this was one of those lessons that most people don’t have to be taught. They just sort of figure it out from experience and common sense.
I found out that that wasn an erroneous assumption last Sunday, Matt’s third day ont he job. I learned a lot that day. I told him: “you start over at the Cottonwood Court job (one of the ones I want him to take over eventually) at 10. Finish cleaning out those two flower beds we started on last week. Then come on over to this other job and help me.” Being very conscientious, Matt followed my instructions to the letter. Only it took him five hours to do a job that should have taken no more than two. I have no idea what he did for five hours (“weeding” he’d said when asked. What did he weed with? a toothpick?) but I sure was mad at him for doing it. I really needed hiim at the other job, and besides, how could I charge the client for five hours for weeding two flower beds? They weren’t exactly on the scale of Kew gardens of anything.
Note to self: In future, allot Matt a precise time-frame along with each job you assign him.
Next I had him dig a hole, since that should be easy enough for him, and a chance for him to build his confidence back up. I was a little surprised that he had to ask me no less than fifteen questions about how to dig this hole. “What should i do with the dirt? Should I carryit over there in buckets? You mean just pile it on the concrete then clean it up later? O.K. How do I mix compost with the soil? In buckewts? On the ground? In the wheel barrow? Oh… just straight in the hole. O.K. I get it. Is this deep enough? Is it deep enough now? Do I put the rocks back on top when I’m done?” There was more. Suffice to say that I could have dug three or four holes in the time it took to explain to Matt how to dig a hole. But you know, everyone has to learn sometime. All the other employees I’ve had have obviously had much more experience digging holes. Mat will learn.
Note to Self: Allow Matt to gain experience with basic landscaping skills like hole-digging, hauling hoses around, shoveling manure and the like before introducing him to more complicated techniques like humming while walking and carrying a shovel all at the same time.
By the time Matt had dug his hole, planted the juniper, filled the hole back up, cleaned up and taken a breather it was just about time to knock off for the day. I thought it might be prudent to get Matt out of my sight for the next task, so I assigned him a very basic, simple, tedious mob. I showed him a tulip that had run its course, having dropped all its petals. I showed him how to cut off the seed head of such spent tulips. I showed him exactly where to make the cut. I showed him some narcissus flowers and said “don’t dead-head them. I’ll show you what to do with those later.”, and sent him off to make the rounds of all the flower beds, dead-heading tulips. This job is a little like Kew Gardens, so this simple task should keep Matt busy for a while. I went about my own work (demonstrating my unparalleled genius to nobody) while Matt patrolled the tulip beds. Next time I saw him he was smiling brightly, cheerfully clutching a huge posy of tulips. Beautiful, fresh tulips.
I swear I reeled. You read about people reeling in books when they receive a shock. They reel, they stagger, they even swoon from time to time, and usually we attribute all this melodrama to poetic license. People outside of novels, as a rule, do not reel. At least that’s what I thought. Now i know that people DO reel. And clutch their heads in the shock of despair. I did that too. “The dead ones!” I croaked, “you were only supposed to cut off the dead ones!!” As I looked behind him, I saw that a magnificent bed of bright, lemon-yellow tulips was now just a patch of green leaves. And all the narcissus were carefully dead-headed, too. I’m sorry to say that despite my best efforts to keep my tone instructive rather than accusatory or punitive, Matt sensed my displeasure. He bravely tried to defend his slaughter of poor, defenseless lemon-yellow beauty: “But you said that if the petals were about to fall off anyway, I should dead-head them.” His facial expression was the perfect picture of innocent dejection. I didn’t know what to say. So I said “Well, it was a judgement call. But do you see a beautiful bed of lemon-yellow tulips behind you now?”, thinking that this might shock him into a common-sense evaluation of the situation. He just looked behind him and said, with a puzzled look that suggested that there was mystery afoot, “no.” He just doesn’t seem to have the knack for landscaping.
Note to self: Try not to let Matt out of your sight too much, even though this can be painful.
Almost done! We’re at the clean-up stage of the game now, and not much more can go wrong. I’m watering some things, Matt is cleaning up, putting the tools away and whatnot. He shouts over to me from a distance some sort of question. I can’t hear him because I’m standing right next to the waterfall. I gesture that I can’t hear him. So he shouts again. I gesture again. One more time he shouts, and one more time – you guessed it. But this time I gesture more precisely ‘come here!’ He comes. “Should I put the wheelbarrow away?” he asks. By now I’m getting the hang of this, and I know it will not be constructive to speculate on why he might think that of all the tools to be put in the truck, the wheelbarrow is somehow different. “Yes, Matt, put the wheel barrow away.” I finish up watering, and start gathering hoses.
When I next look up, there’s Matt way over on the other side of the property, putting the wheel barrow behind a wall. He notices that the wheel barrow that belongs behind the wall is, indeed, behind the wall where its supposed to be, where its been all day, ever since he took my wheel barrow off my truck. Anyone could do this. You know that there is a wheel barrow that is kept behind a wall, so when the time comes to put anywheel barrow away, you head for the wall. At the end of the day, one tends to act on auto-pilot, pointing wheel barrows at walls or sticking your sweatsocks in your tee-shirt drawer. There have been times when I was tired that I drove 50 miles away from my destination simply because I drove in that other direction a lot. But at this point, I wasn’t remembering my own absent-mindedness clearly. Instead I vaguely hoped that Matt might head for the wall, vault over it and sprint off into the sunset.
Note to self: Avoid reading any books that include descriptions of apprentices. Discard all Dickens’ books. Buy instead a hefty tome on capitalism, and study up on oppressing the masses.