This series is about working with a 27-year-old “man without a home” whom I hired to help me clear out my double-car, dirt-floor garage that was piled high with boxes and maintenance paraphernalia. 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) or “Heathy” when he’s having an “UP” day. But when I’m challenged by his behavior, he’s The Drifter, the guy who chose to be a “man without a home.”
Wednesday, Sept. 26
He arrived at 9 a.m. sharp, wearing a straw cowboy hat. Because yesterday I had offered him mine? I asked how he slept because he had mentioned a sleepless night.
He said he slept well because he smoked some marijuana. And my mind wondered, Is that why you’re here? Because marijuana is “legal” here but not in Prescott, where you’re from? How much of the money I paid you did you spend on it? Am I only helping this guy get high?
“Well, I’ve got a win-win option today. Interested?”
He nodded, and the hat didn’t wobble, stabilized by his thick, curly hair.
“I was thinking I’d be the princess in the tower, stay off my sore foot and go through some of those boxes I missed. You’d do the second coat of stain on the railings and stairs, and when you finish that, you could start putting the rest of the garage stuff in the yard.”
And then I remembered that he likes “the whole story” and so I told him about the contractor calling, that the concrete project was on, and they would be here early Tuesday morning.
“What that means is that in the next day or so, everything must come out of the garage, be put on pallets, and covered with plastic.
“Works for me,” he said.
“Now, before you stain the steps, I want to go with you to the garage and get those boxes I missed yesterday.” We continued to review deadlines, like the one we’d be missing this week if we didn’t get the junk on the street by tomorrow afternoon for the Special Pick-Up by the City on Friday.
And I would wait until the last minute to schedule that event that would cost me $90, based on whether or not it seemed possible that he would actually show up again on Thursday.
“What’s the rush?” he asked.
“The next available time would be November because the City starts Fall Clean-Up the first week in October and it takes a month to get all neighborhoods done. But it might be good to wait until November because then we could put all the pallets out there, too. We can’t do it now because rain will be heavy soon and we need those pallets to put the garage stuff in the yard until he says the concrete’s dry and it’s OK to put stuff back inside.”
I could see that he was considering all that information and beginning to comprehend this situation from my point of view, just as I was grasping his need to get the full picture. In all the years I was in charge, no one ever wanted to know the big picture, only what I wanted them to do – including faculty and administrators.
I felt, perhaps for the first time, that someone actually understood me. I hold a lot of information in my head, information that can change throughout the day, and I rearrange it for scheduling according to new information. I was a basketball player, on the balls of my feet, determining moment by moment which way to dribble.
Before we got to the garage, I remembered it was my trash and recycling pick up day and asked him to top off the different dumpsters as best he could because I had filled the old garbage cans in my work yesterday.
I couldn’t help noticing that he had already put them on the street and later, returned them to their places exactly as they had been — with the recycle dumpster between two garbage dumpsters to make it more challenging for a bear to pick it up and dump it in my yard. He was observant!
Once in the garage, I started sorting the boxes by destination: upstairs so I could continue clearing clutter, Thrift Stores, and in the yard on pallets.
Naturally, once I started working, I was reluctant to quit. On one of his trips to the yard, I yelled, “Make sure I’m upstairs before you paint those steps!”
By the time he’d finished delivering all the boxes I had sorted, I was looking at my poster collection and rolling the donations into one so I could put them all in the same tube. Once I started seriously clearing clutter, I found it hard to stop.
He announced that he was ready to stain the stair steps, so I dropped what I was doing and went upstairs.
I worked in my apartment until around one p.m., when I felt drawn to the backyard. When I stepped out on the bedroom balcony, I saw him rinsing out the brushes under the Mugo Pine.
“You didn’t wash that brush there, did you?”
“This is just the final rinse. I cleaned it behind the garage.” He must have remembered my telling the teenager to do that yesterday after he finished staining the fence.
“Smart man! Thank you! Did you use all the stain? You know it’ll freeze in that garage…”
“Yes. And I took the lid off and set it on the south side of the garage so it could dry out.”
“Super! Got something else you’re going to do?” He said he’d continue taking boxes from the garage and stacking them on the pallets.
“Great! Just remember to cover them with plastic. And when you’re done, please close the garage doors. Call me, and I’ll cut your check and pitch it off the front deck like before.”
He didn’t call me, but he was there the instant I was. I tossed. He took the check off the heavy clip and fired it back. I caught it and asked, “So what time will you be here tomorrow?
“I’d like to start earlier, say 8:30?”
“Sounds good. See you tomorrow.”
It was a good day. I was even beginning to believe that we’d actually meet all deadlines and finish this project together. Until today, I had been holding my breath, wondering if he’d show up. But he has, two days in a row, and he has done good work.
That little girl inside me was relaxing. Maybe it was okay to trust a man again…
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Till next time,
“Please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.” ~Tzaddi (a.k.a. Pam Young)