This series is about working with a 27-year-old man, homeless by choice, 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), “Heathy” when he’s having an “UP” day, or just “The Drifter” when he’s being … difficult.
Thursday, September 27
He showed up at 8:30 a.m., just as he said he would!
His tasks for today were:
- Everything moved out of the garage, including the giant shelving unit and platform built out of pallets topped with sheets of plywood.
- Move all junk from garage driveway to the street in front of the house and stack it neatly in the spot identified by Pam.
He’d have to tear those two items apart and get someone to help him haul all the junk to the front.
We walked to the front so I could show him exactly where the pile should go.
“It’s got to be in the street and preferably, not close to the neighbor’s car; he always parks it there. And you’re going to need help today. Know anyone?”
“I’ll find someone at the Manna Soup Kitchen if I leave here around 10:30. People gather outside before it opens.”
“Okay. I’ve got donations to deliver and want to hit Home Depot for some primer that seals concrete. Want to be in charge? Keep track of yours and his hours, tell him what to do, and pay him?”
“How does that work?”
“I’ll write the check to you for both of you. As you know, I start people at $10/hour until I see how they do, but you’re the Bossman today so you can pay him whatever you like, knowing that if it’s more than $10, it’s your money, not mine..”
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll be the boss. I’ll go early to Manna Soup Kitchen and come back with a guy before lunch.
”OK. Let me know when you leave so I can stop the clock.”
”No way! It’s for your job. I wouldn’t need help if I weren’t doing your job.”
He obviously has never worked before. At least in my experience, if I’m hired to do a job but can’t complete it without help, finding that help is not part of the job, but is on my time, my dime, not the person’s who hired me.
He went back to the garage to start his tasks, and I took off with another car full of donations to the Thrift Store and to Home Depot, feeling jazzed about my decision to share the load of responsibility. But I was growing weary of fighting with Mr. Homeless By Choice, and so I let it go. Fortunately for me, it only took him half an hour to find help.
His Helper was also a young man, but one who had a job as a dishwasher and a home in Durango. I chatted with him briefly and learned, coincidentally that he was from a wealthy family because I knew his father. The Helper was tricked out with earrings and his hair was pulled into a high, choppy ponytail emphasizing the blue color he’d added to the tips.
The Helper was polite, did not question what I asked him to do something when Boss Man was off doing his own thing instead of supervising his helper. In fact, after a brief correction when I was Capt. Picard, and had invited The Drifter to join me in the yard, my ”Ready Room”, I overheard The Helper’s response to whatever The drifter said.
”It’s her job. She has the right to expect you to do as she asked, the way she wants it done.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Finally, I had an assurance that my difficulty with The drifter wasn’t all me!
After that little incident, I popped into the garage to say I was making another trip; be back soon.
I returned in about an hour and could not believe the difference. Yesterday, there had been junk spread all over the driveway to the garage:
But when I got home, I saw a tightly-packed pile of stuff on the curb, just as I had hoped! Wish I’d taken the photo then because went I went out later as an afterthought, someone had taken things out of the neat pile and hadn’t bothered to put them back:
Either way, this pile was so much more organized than any “Special Pick-Up” pile I’d seen before in this town.
Heathy had returned his friend and taken his lunch break at Manna. He was ready to start again. I asked him to wash the garage walls with the hose top to bottom and showed him what I meant — that if he applied too much pressure towards the bottom, the water would hit the dirt and bounce dirt on the walls. T
He said he’d do it tomorrow. I told him the washing had to be done today because it needed to dry at least four to six hours before priming and reminded him of the tasks breakdown on the timeline. Reluctantly, as if pouting, this guy who said he wanted maximum hours relented and said he’d do it.
The job took an hour. He had worked a total of five hours, and that included his trip to find a helper. My days as a teacher had been twice as long, including transportation.
When he came upstairs for his check, I asked what time he’d be in tomorrow.
“I need the morning to get things lined up for my court hearing on October, but I can be here by 1 p.m. and prime those walls.”
Friday, September 28
I remember what it was like to paint the outside of the garage. It was tiring work because the cinderblock is rough and sucks paint like a damp sponge. But I hadn’t soaked the walls, and the cinderblock was dry as the desert that July.
Heathy showed up at 1 p.m. and worked three more hours. I asked him to:
- re-do the plastic covers over all that stuff in the yard,
- find what you need to do the priming,
- and prime the garage walls.
I would be upstairs, sorting through boxes in my apartment and then making more donations to Thrift Stores.
Before I left for the Thrift Store trips, I went back to tell him I was leaving. He hadn’t started the priming yet! He had the primer and a paint brush.
I said, “Let me help you” and started looking for the paint supplies under the blue”tent” by the fence.
“Got it?” I asked.
He said he did so I left to make donations.
When I got back, he was wrapping up that job, cleaning and putting tools away, and drying the emptied containers in the sun. I stepped into the garage to see how far he’d gotten: one wall!
He said the stuff was too thick. I had forgotten to tell him he could thin it.
Huh. He really doesn’t know squat about painting! All that bravado about his skills when he was justifying his requirement for $15/hour pay… He really is a spoiled rich kid, just as I suspected.
I asked when I’d see him again.
“Well, I need to get back to the cabin in Rico and see if I can find that paper for court.”
He didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask, “What paper?” I still didn’t know why he was going to court. If he wanted me to know, I’m sure he’d tell me.
“So, afternoon, right?”
It didn’t matter at this point if he didn’t show, because his task on Monday would be to finish priming those garage walls and, preferably, painting them, before the concrete slab was poured. Fortunately, I knew the concrete team might not show up as planned on Tuesday because it was the same contractor who put me off, month after month, until there was no time left to do the sidewalk job last year.
I was learning to be fully present even about planning. Just take it one day at a time and see what needs to happen. “Best laid plans of mice and men…” “God laughs at those who make plans!”
“Yeah. After lunch, early afternoon.” He seemed distracted and I was reluctant to let him leave if he was upset about something.
“Oh, it’s my birthday. Twenty-eight today. I’m going to call that girl I met at the Farmers’ Market and see if she’ll have dinner with me.”
“Well, I’d better go write your check!”
When I came downstairs, I had his check and a ten-dollar bill in my hand as a tip.
“Happy Birthday! Enjoy yourself. You certainly deserve it. See you on Monday.”
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Coming up next:
Decorated American Vet of Three Wars Speaks Out Against War
I broke my elbow on 10/27 and am having sugery on 11/7. If all goes well, the series will continue. Fortunately, the guest post was already scheduled.
Till next time,
“Please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.” ~Tzaddi (a.k.a. Pam Young)