[This series is about working with a 27-year-old homeless man I hired to help me (and him). I first met him two years ago when his pal was flying a sign — “Will work for money” — at the Wal-Mart exit. Here, I call him Heathcliff (from Bronte’s Wuthering Heights), but when he’s having an “UP” day, I call him “Heathy.”]
Tuesday, September 18: He showed up at 8:05. No tea, no chat. Instead, we talked briefly about what he was going to do:
- 2nd coat of semi-translucent stain on handrails of the deck. First coat on handrails and steps of the staircase.
- Spray weeds with homemade pesticide – in sidewalks and dirt strip by the fence.
- Sweep off cobwebs and clean window in the garage so handyman can caulk the gap.
I stressed, “Make sure both cats and I are inside before painting the handrails and the steps on the staircase. “About how long do you think it’ll take to do the deck handrails? Asking, because that’s how long I’ll have to be in the garage talking with the handyman.”
He said he’d find me before he continued, and I dashed down the stairs to check out the garage one more time before being locked in the tower.
The handyman father and son team arrived about 8:40 and they had three jobs: (1) fix the garage walls with mortar, (2) remove old fence posts, and (3) see what it takes to restore a fence that had been removed. They needed nothing from me – not a reminder on why they were here, and definitely no instructions. They were a well-practiced team. But I wanted to greet them and explain that in just a short time I would be trapped upstairs, unavailable, except by phone.
The son was taking out poles for fence gates that had been removed last summer, and then he would collect fence materials from behind the garage to add to the stack in the backyard.
They apparently left at 10:41 or earlier because the handyman had phoned me. I called him back when I saw the missed call, and he told me he needed more materials, a different kind for the window, and that he would be back either Thursday or Friday afternoon to finish the job.
I thanked him and said “That’s great! I won’t have to work in the garage again until Monday!” I was trying to remind him, subtly, that Heathcliff was working with me so his decision to come back “this or that day” affected not only me but my helper.
The handyman was a serious man and had raised his son, who was being groomed to be a preacher, with iron gloves. He did not approve of my hiring a homeless man.
I responded with “It’s the way I was raised – to lend a hand when you can and help other people. This man has been in my life three times now, and I figure he’s mine to help.”
No comment from the handyman, and so I said, “Thanks for the work you do.”
As the princess trapped in the tower, I got to go through the boxes of old tax returns I asked Heathy to bring upstairs before he started staining. I scanned all the paperwork quickly for dates. I was only keeping the “last seven years” of returns because that’s what the accountant said I should do. The shreds filled two plastic kitchen bags!
And then it was “me time” – making up for things I do that I hadn’t had time for since the Garage Project began – like making “lemon juiced.” I washed four organic lemons, chopped them into small chunks, and tossed them into a quart of water to be processed in my Vita-Mix for two minutes. I prefer this to the old way of juicing a lemon because I get the benefits of the whole lemon and it’s not tart like squeezed lemon juice.
When he finished the stain job, Heathy sprayed the weeds with my homemade weed-killer. The recipe appeared at my favorite Health Food store:
- 1 cup industrial grade vinegar (much stronger than grocery store vinegar), which breaks down the protective coating of the plant
- ½ cup dish soap, which acts as a surfactant, making your homemade weed killer adhere well to the weeds you spray it on
- 1 tsp Clove Essential Oil, which kills weed seedlings
- ½ cup salt, which dehydrates plants and dispels the internal water balance of plant cells.
Heathy also watered the south part of the Caragana hedge, leaves yellowed from drought, and he found the missing squeegee for washing windows and cleaned the big one in the garage.
I checked periodically over the front deck and the back balcony to see where Heathy was and if all was well. He said he’d be finished by noon, and I said come to the front. Sure enough, there he was.
I quickly figured his pay and wrote the check. I fastened it to a large, heavy plastic clip and tossed it off the balcony. When he returned it, I told him what the handyman had said about coming back to finish their jobs on Thursday or Friday and asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted Wednesday and Thursday off to drive to Rico (where the vet’s cabin is) and find some paper he needed for his hearing. Hearing? What hearing?
He added, “If I come back early I’ll just get started and note my time. You trust me, don’t you?”
“I don’t know. Should I? Do you trust me?”
“I did until you made me work in that dusty garage without a face mask!” And then he went off on a lengthy tangent about OSHA.
“Whoa. I didn’t make you do anything. I offered you work, and you took it. The people I generally hire bring whatever they need to take care of themselves, including gloves and face masks. Remember our discussion about being the adult and taking care of your Inner Child? (His was having a major tantrum.) Besides, I’ve been working in that garage for many years without ever wearing a mask. And I’m allergic to dust!”
In the silence that followed, I could hear the tiny birds in the cedar bush hopping around.
Finally, he said, “I’ll get two, so you can have one, too.”
“Thank you! By the way, you got a raise. See you on Friday?”
He nodded and left.
Heathcliff hadn’t noticed, but his check reflected a 20% raise, mostly in recognition of his efforts to just do the job instead of quarrel about it. Despite today’s outburst, I believe he’s learning how to work with me. And when he’s focused on the task, he does good work.
I agree that this project has been intense, dirty work in that old dirt-floor garage. I’ve never felt so dirty, and I have camped in the desert for a week without a shower!
I am so happy to have a few days off, even if I will be making calls about pricing a concrete job and special pick-ups for junk and trying to figure out whom else could step in if Heathcliff bails on me.
Till next time—
“Please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.”
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