By Rick Rantamaki http://rantamaki.blogspot.com
DACULA, GA – The once vibrant reddish-brown pine straw in our backyard has faded to a dull grayish eyesore, but this is the normal cycle of our suburbia landscape. It’s like mood-scaping; lively and fresh in the spring and then it gradually shifts to dreary and somber in the winter.
We have about 8,000sqft of hill to cover and most of it’s on an extreme slope that rises nearly as high as our house. Due to the severity of the slope and its vast area, we usually outsource this project. This has led to some interesting encounters.
Last year we hired some good-ol’ southern boys to do the job. The trio was lead by a man named “Bo”.
Bo was a gruff, disheveled man who, apparently, was from someplace where clothes are laundered only if you wear them in the rain and teeth have been dropped from the evolutionary tree. He drove an old rustic-blue Chevy pickup with cigarette smoke-stained windows and a warped 8-track stuck on Merle Haggard. (I believe Merle was singing something about how “his mama tried to raise him right”.)
Bo was in charge of his two cousins (yes, we assumed they were related). Neither cousin spoke. One was scraggly and lanky with a sun-faded ‘Members Only’ jacket and an Oak Ridge Boys concert t-shirt – that appeared to be his only shirt since “The Dukes of Hazzard” went off the air. The other cousin was considerably shorter and, given the griminess of his hands, must have been on a sabbatical from his carnival duties.
They may have been a sordid bunch, but they sure worked hard. It took them a few hours to finish and in appreciation for their hard efforts, I bought them lunch too. I thought, surely they’ll remember our generosity and make an effort to see that we are taken care of next year.
So, when we needed to re-pine straw our hill this year we optimistically called Bo and, of course, his number is no longer in service. Yeah, I’m an idiot. Investing in the loyalty of pine straw laborers is like buying an extended warranty for your cell phone – you’re just going to replace it next year anyway. Besides, how long can pine straw laborers hide from the law?
This sparked a debate about the fate of ol’ Bo: perhaps his trailer burned down, or his sister’s paternity test came back positive, or he’s become the gourmet chef at Café Risqué – at Exit 173 where truckers and couples are welcome and fine food and topless dancing are the order of the day.
Either way, we had to find someone else, and, little did we know, that wasn’t going to be easy. Because, as it turns out, pine straw is in short supply this year, which forced us to prowl the local streets like druggies looking for a connection.
Finally, after weeks of searching, my wife stumbled upon some Hispanic guys that sell AND install pine straw. She setup delivery for Saturday, but, she noted, “They never asked where we live”.
Sure enough, we get a phone call Saturday morning from “Freddy”. Freddy’s mastery of English is a bit rough, to say the least, and that led to an interesting exchange:
“Jess, how do I get to jew. I coming from one two four.”
“Near the county line?”, I asked.
“Okay, take 124 to Hamilton Mill and make a left.”
“Right, make right at Hampton Mill—“
“No, no, make a LEFT on Hamilton Mill Parkway.”
“Right, Hampton Mill.”
This is going well. Why the hell did I take French in high school? Why is it even offered? Did I subconsciously want to runaway to Canada? Now, unless Freddy wanted some "aimer chaud", which roughly translates to “hot lovin’” (yes, these are the useful things I remember from French class), we were going to have a hard time communicating.
Perhaps, I thought, he’ll understand me if I used my Universal English. By "Universal", I mean draw out the words like: “Dee–rive–on–till–it dead–ends–o–in–too–Jim–Moore–o–road-o.” Somehow, adding an ‘o’ helps me feel like I’m speaking Spanish.
Twenty minutes and four phone calls later, I agreed to meet Freddy’s cousin at a nearby convenience store.
As it turns out, Freddy’s cousin (let’s just call him Juan) was a portly little fellow with a broad white smile. His jovial mix of Spanish and English was just enough to keep me happily confused. We had complete conversations, laughing and smiling, even though I could only make out half of what he was saying. I believe this is what they call “partial immersion”. (A couple of days with this guy and I should be able to read ALL the posters at the DMV.)
Juan dropped off the pine straw in my backyard along with his non-English speaking workers. He gave them some instructions, then he left to get more pine straw.
I don’t know where Juan went, but he was gone for hours. I began to wonder if this was some kind of scam. (Stick with me a minute, because this made sense – briefly.) Here’s how the scam works: They abandon a couple of their guys at your house and you’re force to take them in – like stray cats. You feed them, clothe them, and next thing you know you’re throwing them a graduation party and then you’re the best man at their wedding and suddenly their children are calling you “papá magnífico”.
Well, I’m not having any of that. I have enough dependents as it is. So I began to devise a plan to take them home myself. Yes, there’s a language barrier, but when I’m determined, I can find a way. I could only imagine what the conversation would be like as I attempted to drive them home…
“Do I turn right here? Do I turn el left-o? Who has to pee? el leak-o?”
If I could just get them to point, I think we can make it.
But, before I could put my plan into action, Juan returned with more pine straw. They finished the job and, to my relief, Juan took his co-workers home with him.
The backyard looks muy magnífico.
Next week we plan to mulch the front yard…ourselves.