My Job as a Landscaper

By Mike Johnson

I told people I was a landscaper but I was actually a weedeater. The “landscaping” company mostly mowed lawns.

Occasionally we planted shrubs or palm trees or laid sod. This was rainy Florida where you literally COULD watch grass grow. Everything there grew quickly. Except paychecks.

I was 23, between white collar jobs, & was half-heartedly trying to be a writer. Too young to have much to say, nobody was buying my pitches.

But I was lapping up experience in the topic of shared misery. 95 degree temps, 96% humidity. No matter the heat, humidity always twisted the dagger 1% deeper. I’d never hang with my coworkers outside of Hell, but bonded by tortuous work, camaraderie grew by watching them suffer too.

Our boss was a bit scattered. Our clients were condominium complexes, housing developments & a few ritzy homes. His fleet of Grasshopper mowers covered overhead. Any other projects his customers needed – like planting, painting or hauling trash -- was profit.

Whenever I want to feel miserable, I remember Whiskey Creek.

This enormous gated community had a tree & shrubbery-lined, mile-long island between its roadways. It was my job to trim it. The boss would drop me off at the west entrance with a gas can and weedeater. Then he took the drink cooler a mile to the east.

What would arrive first? Dehydration & delirium or bordered Bermuda? This was shear madness.

The condo complexes were just as bad, but with the torture of witnesses. Close concrete walls radiated heat. Rich widows, reading novels in air conditioned sunrooms, radiated fantasies. Skinny, I was too self-conscious to go shirtless. About 30 minutes in, that went out the window. Pants too. The survival instinct has a way of clarifying basic needs.

By noon we were deliriously hosing down our heads & eyeballing measurements that might confirm we’d fit inside the ice chest. We’d trade a dozen rich widows for five minutes of air conditioning.

There were a few benefits. I was never in better shape. I was never browner. I was eating 10,000 calories a day and burning 10,001. Coworkers proved I wasn’t the dumbest rock in the box.

And I accidentally invented a perpetual motion machine. For every 8 hours you operate a weedeater, you vibrate for 16.

I never got off that weedeater. Never got the promotion to riding lawnmower. It was my second biggest disappointment. The first was being so dispirited that I actually coveted that promotion.

Eventually I learned that the same energy it takes to make your misery more comfortable, can be used instead to escape the misery altogether.

The best thing about horrible jobs is surviving them. The second best is remembering them. The third best is writing about them.

For your sake, I hope the fourth best is reading about them.


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