Friday, July 22, 2005

I'd like to sup with my baby tonight

Although it's nothing compared to what areas of the country are currently suffering through, it's been noted that, until a break in the action on Monday, we've been sweltering through what passes for a heat wave in these parts:

It was a good run for the Twin Cities: nine days of 90 degrees or better. But we could have been a contender if only we had held on until Tuesday.

Then we would have tied for the second-longest hot spell in the state's history.

Last weekend, the 2005 MS75 (seventy-five mile inline skate from Hinckley to Duluth) was held. This would have been my fifth straight year participating in the fundraiser to help fight multiple sclerosis, but developments on another front prevented me from joining the fun. Looks like my timing was impeccable.

That will leave us tied for the third-longest heat wave, right up there with July 1932, July 1937, June and July 1949 and the hot, dry summer of 1988.

Ah yes, the summer of '88. Having experienced more than my share of summer that year, I would also add LONG to the list of adjectives used to describe it.

Back when the summer of 1988 began, I was a mere lad of nineteen. By the time it was over, I was a lean, well-tanned (tanned as well as someone of Irish-German descent can ever hope to be) man of twenty. The long, hot, dry summer of 1988. My summer on the lawn crew.

Lawn and landscaping crew that is. Most of the time I was on the lawn patrol, although I did a little sod busting as well. It may not sound like the most glamorous job in the world, but for a college kid looking to make a few bucks while home for the summer, it fit the bill. It offered a chance to work outside, the opportunity for overtime (important to maximize your income during the summer months), and best of all, involved little or no thinking. I was the perfect man for the job.

The pace at the beginning was frantic. Lawns needed to be cut every week, our crew was undermanned, and thus we were overworked. Early on that summer, I spent many an hour steering a "walk behind", becoming a pro with a weed whacker, and discovering that carrying a gas-powered leaf blower on your back in the heat of the day can get a little sticky. Not that I minded. The more green I cut, the more green I made.

Looking back on those days, one thing that really stands out for me is not only what I did at work, but what I did after work. It was not unusual to spend ten to twelve hours working outside, come home for a quick bite, go down to the park and play hoops until it got dark, and then hit a local watering hole for a pitcher or two (or three). And then get up the next day and do it all over again. Ah, the energy of youth.

As the summer wore on and grew increasingly hotter and drier, the need to cut lawns diminished. But since most of our jobs were contracts that covered the entire season, we went out and mowed anyway. By the end of July, we were essentially just running the machines over dirt, stirring up huge clouds of dust as we went. We were hot, sweaty, dirty, and most of all miserable.

I don't know how long the dry spell lasted, but it seemed like it didn't rain at all from the beginning of July until almost the end of August. I can still recall a stifling hot afternoon late in the summer when we had just finished up at an apartment complex. Suddenly, black clouds rolled in and the skies opened up for a tantalizingly short lived spot of precipitation. We were whoopin', hollerin', and dancin' around like kids running through a sprinkler. It was our manna falling from heaven. Rain never felt so good.

It was a summer that offered many a learning experience for a young man in my position. And many of those experiences involved Larry. Larry was a lifer on the lawn crew. Not in the sense that he would spend his career working for this particular company in this particular field. It was just the type of work that Larry probably had done up to that point in his life and would do again throughout it.

Larry was in his mid to late thirties. I was paired up with Larry my first day on the job and rode with him in a pickup for most of the summer, so I got to know him pretty well. He claimed to have been in the Navy and had the tattoos to prove it, but, like most of Larry's stories, you took that claim with a grain of salt. He had been married a couple of times and had a few kids here and there. He liked to smoke unfiltered Chesterfields, enjoyed a beer or twelve on a regular basis, and was one of the first examples that I ever noticed of irrational economic decision making.

Every day Larry would stop at the Super America (gas station and convenience store usually referred to as "SA" in these parts), buy two packs of smokes, donuts for breakfast, a couple of sodas, a sandwich for lunch, and maybe a Gatorade. He was dropping over $20 a pop for his daily fixins. He never bought a carton of cigarettes, a case of Coke, or bread and meat to make sandwiches. He never ate breakfast before work. He never brought a lunch from home. He was an early inspiration for my October 2002 post, Life In The Deli Express Lane, in which I speculated on the lifetime cost of such a convenience lifestyle.

He liked to talk a lot about p***y (here after referred to as P). The P he had gotten. The P he was getting now. And the P he was going to get in the future. In his mind, he was quite a man of the world and proud of his accomplishments in this arena. I was considerably less impressed with his game when I actually met his then girlfriend when we stopped by their apartment one day at lunch. Her name was CC and, after getting a gander at her, I could never listen to the song "CC Rider" the same way again.

But Larry's main interest in life was getting stoned. Most of the time I knew him, he was under the influence of the herb. And he wasn't real shy about it either. My first day on the job, I was told to ride with Larry. The pickup truck hadn't even reached the end of the company's driveway before Larry broke out his little porcelain pipe and started packing it up. Later, I came to marvel at his ability to simultaneously pack a bowl, smoke a cigarette, and drive the truck (with trailer full of lawn equipment behind it). That first day, he noticed me noticing him and offered, "You want a hit?"

Now being a FNG as well as a nineteen year old kid trying hard to fit in with the crew, I didn't express what initially came to my mind, "Are you freakin' crazy?" Instead, I played it cool and nonchalantly shrugged and demurred, "Nah, not today" as if I had just turned down an offer to partake of a Cherry Life Saver rather than an illicit drug.

During the long, hot summer of 1988, Larry would bake at least two or three times a day in my presence. If memory serves, he never missed an opportunity to offer to share the pleasures of the pipe with me. And every time, probably hundreds of times over the course of the summer, I politely but firmly turned him down.

Until one day. I don't recall exactly what lead me to just say yes to Larry. Maybe it was because it was near the end of the summer and I only had a week or two left before I returned to school. Maybe it was because it was a Friday and I wanted to start the weekend early. Or maybe I felt that somehow, after being asked day after day and declining, I owed it to my brother in lawns. Whatever my motivations may have been, I took the plunge.

After a couple of decent pulls, I still wasn't feeling anything. Larry had always assured me that he only smoked "the good s***", but now I was beginning to have my doubts. As I put pipe to lip and prepared for another hit, Larry warned me, "You better be careful man. That's some real good Hawaiian s***." I smiled as I inhaled deeply. Yeah, whatever Larry, I thought. Seems more like North Dakota ditch weed.

I was just about to share these sentiments with Larry when it hit me like a ton of hemp sandals. If it was an after-school special, this is where the Hendrix riff would have kicked in. And indeed, I was soon kissing the sky. I was not a complete stranger to the world of weed, but Larry's warning was well founded. This was some good s***.

At first, I enjoyed the ride. Cruising along in the truck I was flying high. Sitting on Cloud Ten (one higher) man. Life was beautiful. Stoned out of my gourd and getting paid for it. Why didn't I do this every day at work?

Oh yeah. Work. Our first stop of the day was at a prominent estate on Lake Minnetonka inhabited by one of the heirs of a family that had made its mark in the local milling scene. Mowing under the influence wasn't all that bad. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to operate a walk behind in a competent manner. However, another chore tested my dexterity and coordination.

The house had a large deck area in back that was not accessible from the ground. Part of the job was to clear it of debris each week with a leaf blower. Apparently the owners didn't want the "help" inside the house, so one of us would strap the gas-powered leaf blower on, and clamber up the side of the house to reach the deck. Under normal circumstances it was actually a somewhat enjoyable task to perform. Under the haze I was operating in at that time, it was a challenge.

I slowly and carefully scaled the side of the house and reached the deck. Then I performed what was probably the most thorough and complete cleaning of the deck area ever. I blew every leaf, twig, and piece of dirt off. It probably took me three times as long as normal, but damn was that deck clean. I likely would have spent the whole day up there cleaning it down to the subatomic particle level had Larry not summoned me with a shout of, "What the hell are you doing? Let's go."

After reaching the ground, I realized that being stoned in dusty ninety plus degree heat and operating a leaf blower gives you a bout of cotton mouth without equal. I also began to experience one of the key downsides of smoking weed on the job. Time crawls by. To me it seemed as if we had been on the job for hours on end and that surely it was almost time to go home. In reality, it had only been a couple of hours since we arrived.

At that point, I was ready to return to "normal." It had been fun for a while, but the fun had passed. I wanted to get that feeling of control back. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of smoking Larry's "really good s***" was that the high lasted a really long time. Way too long for my comfort.

I pounded a Gatorade to momentarily relieve my saliva free mouth and hopped in the truck with Larry. I don't know why regular pot smokers take such pleasure in seeing others who normally don't partake get stoned, but Larry was having a grand old time knowing that I was still reeling from the hits earlier in the day. He informed me that we were going to meet up with the rest of the crew and take lunch at another site and that our boss Rick would be there. For some reason Rick and I had never hit it off that well. Maybe it was my often sarcastic sense of humor. Maybe it was the time I put a live gopher in his lunch cooler as a practical joke. Hey, how was I to know that he'd reach into it while driving? Anyway there wasn't a lot of love lost between us and the prospect of having to see him in my current state suddenly filled me with dread. Yeah, the ol' paranoia started kickin' in hard and heavy.

Larry picked up on this and drove me to the point of panic by telling me that it was obvious to anyone that I was stoned. That Rick would surely notice and no doubt fire me on the spot. The drive to our lunch location was pure hell. I was petrified that Rick would pick up on my condition and was trying my damndest to sober up in a hurry. "Don't act stoned. Don't act stoned. Don't act stoned?" was the mantra I quietly repeated to myself over and over as we neared my appointment with certain doom. Larry, now the very embodiment of the Serpent in my mind, found the whole situation hilarious and cackled at my plight.

Luckily my fears proved to be unfounded. We arrived at the appointed location, shot the breeze with Rick for a few minutes, and went off to have lunch. He never even looked twice at me, and in hindsight, the chances of him suspecting anything were slim. Of course, with my marijuana induced paranoia (made worse by Larry's prodding) there wasn't much room for rational thought or logic.

After a couple of more hours, the effects finally wore off completely. By then I was completely shot and wanted nothing more than to go home and crash. But I still had to toil for a few more hours. It was one of the longest working days of my life and taught me a valuable lesson:

Stoned, paranoid, and stupid is no way to go through a day at work.

It was a lesson that I've learned well. The most important lesson that I learned during the long, hot, dry summer of 1988 is a lesson that summer jobs, like my stint on the lawn crew, have been teaching college age kids for years and years. Stay in school, study, and get a degree. You don't want to be Larry.

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