This series is about working with the now-28-year-old man-without-a-home (by choice), 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, in this series, 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, October 4
My day started with notes to the drifter still posted on my storm door in case he came while I was somewhere else. The header read, “You’ve got work if you want it.”
He is incommunicado, by choice. I cannot call him or leave a message and, despite his signed commitment (for the judge’s sake?) to show up every day through October 5, he has not. I tell him his cell phone only works one-way: from him, and that his “mailbox is full,” but he hasn’t bothered to change it.
And so I spent two cups of coffee this morning jotting down things that The Drifter could do to fill the time he needed to work (and get paid for it) IF he showed up as he said he would IF it was still raining.
I hired The Drifter on September 14 and we had been working on my Clear Clutter with Feng Shui garage project three weeks so far. For each week, I typed a contract listing tasks to be completed and deadlines. We both signed that piece of paper, and The Drifter got a copy. So far, he had done as he pleased, showing up if and when he chose, and not following directions from his employer, me.
Today, he showed up at 1:05 p.m. – just a tad later than “noonish.” I did not offer him tea or an opportunity to talk about the fabulous letter I had written on his behalf for the judge, the one he hadn’t bothered to pick up before his court session on Tuesday, despite calling me the night before to do it. And he didn’t ask what had happened on the project since his absence.
Even so, we both made efforts to be civil.
Cutting straight to the job, I explained the concrete situation. The guy in charge mentioned that the concrete had not set yet yesterday, and Jose said he’d drop by today. I was waiting for Jose to tell me when I could move things inside.
I showed The Drifter the places that kept getting unwrapped at night in the backyard where all the boxed contents of my garage sat on pallets.
“After having to redo the plastic wraps several times, I finally figured out why they kept falling off: because there is no high point in the “plastic tent”, the rain collects pools in the plastic that gets pushed down from the weight of the water, and then the wind lifts it, uncovering the stuff underneath it. See? Like it’s doing now.”
No comment. H was not impressed.
I said, “I had planned to paint, but I didn’t buy the paint, because I wasn’t sure you’d show up.”
Now I had his attention.
“But you’re here now, and until we know whether or not we can go inside the garage, how about doing these things instead? You could:
- Cover everything that isn’t covered now.
- Lay that big table that is by the fence on its side and cover it with plastic. When it finally dries out, you can prime and paint it. (It was the base of the 8 x 4 x 6 foot shelving unit he had taken apart.)
- Cut the Buffalo Berry bush out of the corner by the Yield sign and stuff the dumpster closest to the street with it.
While you’re doing that, I’ll go get the paint. If we get the go-ahead, I’ll join you.
About an hour later, while he was still cutting out the bushes, the cement guys showed up to retrieve the machine they used to score the concrete.
I approached the team leader and asked him, “When can I put stuff back inside?”
He said, “I’d wait a few days.”
A few days… that’s Sunday! I get to keep all my stuff in the yard during monsoon season until Monday? Huh. I decided that it had already been rained on for several days straight; it could handle two more.
And so, without asking permission, I decided that, by golly, we were going to paint the walls because The Drifter had already primed them, and I didn’t want to put the shelves back in until the walls were painted!
I stopped by the corner where the Drifter was working and asked how long he planned to stay today.
“If you pay me cash, I’ll stay until 5 p.m. The bank closes at 4:30 and I have to leave before then to get the check cashed.”
Lucky you: being paid every day for the work you’ve done. What a great employer you have! I had to wait a whole freaking month! Does Miss Apples pay by the day? NO!
He was cutting the Buffalo Berry out of the front corner where the Yield sign sits, using the wrong tool. I’d brought the correct tool with me and showed him how I’d done that task for oh, thirty years. Because of something he said that I won’t repeat here, I added, “The 16-year-old kid did the other half in half an hour. Just saying.”
His response was all about him, how he likes to take it slow and enjoy the moment and do whatever inspires him. Uh huh.
I said, “That’s great on your time, but the guy paying you when you’re hired to do a job by the hour sees it differently. I’ll be back soon with paint and cash.”
I tried to process my rampant emotions while I was driving. Did I want to tell him to leave because I had done this kind of work (painting) for 35 years and knew I could finish it by myself — especially the painting because I had painted a 1 ½ story house three times in the years I’d lived here, and each apartment maybe three-four times? Or did I want to let him keep working because this whole thing started with an intention to help a homeless man?
Bottom line: I wanted the garage painted today because it’s the next logical step until I can put things back inside. With only two hours left in the work day, I chose to keep him, at least today.
When I returned, I found him and said, “I got the paint, and new trays and liners, and I‘m going to help you so we can finish the job today.”
I found the tools I needed, went upstairs and put on my old paint clothes, came back down and said, “Have you finished laying the plastic drop-cloths?”
I could see that he’d prepped only one wall with drop-cloths and was ready to paint it, but I stopped him.
“I asked you to put drop cloths down before I left: on all walls. I told you I was going to paint the one with the window because it’s the one I see when I open the garage door and you have zip paint skills. You’re going to do the two long walls, and I’ll help you, but I’m going to start with this one.”
He put plastic drop-cloths down for the wall with the window only. I asked why he didn’t do the other wall as I had told him to do, and he said he’d just slide it over to do the next wall. At that point, my mouth was full of my favorite curses, so ready to spray him with the juice of my anger.
Smart people don’t mess with me, a woman of German-Irish-Choctaw Indian heritage who has a freaking mountain lion as her main sprit guide! But he’s not smart, and I was so tired of arguing with The Drifter who doesn’t do what I tell him to do. I took a deep breath and managed to let it go.
Why didn’t I just fire him? Because we both signed a typed commitment to go the distance on this project. And I was fascinated by my lack of polished perfection in dealing with him because he pushed all my buttons every time whether he showed up or not. The Drifter was the perfect tool to show me what needed work; he was giving me the opportunity to diffuse those trigger points.
We painted in silence until I asked, “How’s your relationship with your mother?”
He said, “Okay. She tells me what to do a lot, but mostly we get along.”
“That’s what parents do. They’ve lived longer and made lots of mistakes, and they’re trying to help you do better than they did. I’m not a parent, but I’ve painted a professional building in town and this house for thirty years. When I tell you to turn the roller sideways for top and bottom margins, there’s a reason.”
He did not respond, just continued to slop it up and down with a fully loaded roller.
I quit at 4:30 so he could get maximum minutes and said I’d come back at 5 p.m. When I did, he had already quit, having finished the last wall and cleaned up the tools.
After he signed the receipt, I gave him the cash (with a tip). We walked back to the front of the house. “Are you coming back?
“I’m committed to finishing this project and the other things you mentioned.”
“So when will I see you?” His signed commitment was “every day until October 5.”
“I’ll be coming back from Rico on Monday.” That’s the 8th! Not the 5th as he committed to do, as in tomorrow, Friday! “Hmm. Probably noonish. It’s a hundred miles.”
“Actually, it’s eighty-three miles, about a two-hour drive if you go the back way to Telluride from here. I was a massage therapist at the Doral near Telluride for a while — that’s beyond Rico — and always took the short way through Mancos.”
I wasn’t trying to be smart; I was trying to impress upon him that I’ve had a life, I’ve traveled in my local area, and I was really tired of his bull-shitting.
“But you’ll be having lunch at Manna Soup Kitchen,” because I will not be fixing organic food for you, ever again, “So I’ll look for you around one-ish, deal?”
He stuck his hand out, and I reached to shake it, but then he switched to a high-five. On that, we parted ways.
Standing there, watching his back, I suddenly felt a streak of joy: I was about to have three full days without him! Three full days without The Drifter! -0-
Want to start from the beginning? Click Here.
Want to read about homeless in Durango? Click Here.
The behavior gap isn’t only shown in young poeople who choose to be homeless.
Till next time,
“Please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.” ~Tzaddi, a.k.a. Pam Young.