Friday, April 22, 2005

 

The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #3: Trash Collector (Part II)

As I've mentioned elsewhere, my family had lived for a time in the Midwest. When we moved back east, it was decided we'd spend the entire summer in the little town in New Hampshire where my dad was born. Before, we had only stayed a week or so, and could board in a hotel or stay with relatives. But if we were going to be there for the whole season, we needed long-term digs.

Somewhere in their travels, my parents had acquired a 1960s vintage Airstream trailer. It wasn't terribly roadworthy, but it was otherwise sound. All the plumbing, heating and cooking infrastructure worked, so my parents planned to put it on blocks up on the hill that my folks owned. "We'll be living like high-brow white trash," my mom tartly commented. And so we did.

There were only two problems: water and electricity. We had neither well nor electrical hook-up on the hill, and my uncle David had counseled my father that it would have been cost-prohibitive to dig a well where my father had wanted to put the trailer. "The water's too deep," he insisted. I wondered how he knew this, but my father accepted it as gospel.

We were prepared to rough it when aunt Barbara made the generous offer that we plant the trailer down on her two-acre spread near the lake. There was a spring nearby, one of many that fed the lake, which we could run a hose to for water. And my uncle produced some industrial-grade power cable which we used to tap into the electricity at the cottage where my aunt and uncle spent most of their summer nights.

My parents insisted on paying their share of the utilities, which my uncle was only too ready to accept, but my aunt flatly refused. We were family and not a burden and she was glad to have company close by. She and my mom got on like a house on fire and spent many evenings walking around the lake. And it was on one of these walks that my mom proposed a compromise: since they wouldn't accept money, what if "the boys" did odd jobs for her?

Well, "the boys" ended up being just me, because my brother had already lined up a summer job. Thus I became an indentured servant at the age of 13. Every day I'd get up and ride my bike into town and do what needed doing for my aunt. That meant mowing the lawn or weeding the garden or hauling firewood (in New England, it's never too early to lay in wood for the winter).

I got into a routine where I could finish my chores in an hour or two, so I spent the rest of the day with my aunt in the post office. She was the master storyteller of our family and had a gift for making the most mundane moment of her day sound like a grand adventure. We passed a wonderful few weeks in this manner until one day at lunch, uncle David showed up.

I had done a lot that morning and was sitting on the porch near the post office door. I had been wearing a pair of old work boots that didn't quite fit, seeing as I was in the midst of a growth spurt. I had the boots off and was examining my big toe, which seemed to be developing a blister on one side. It was definitely sore.

David usually ate down at the cottage or wherever he was working, but he had come back this day because he needed something from the barn. When he saw me sitting on the porch in his rocker, with my boots off, he glowered. "By gorry, you chop yer foot off in the mower?" he asked.

"No," I said warily.

"You break yer leg or something?" he asked.

"No..."

"Did a pigeon kick ya, maybe, and stun ya?"

"No..."

"Well, then...what THE CHRIST ARE YOU DOING SITTING AROUND ON YOUR DEAD ASS?" he hollered.

Barbara swatted him on his enormous arm. "You stop it. This ol' fella's a good worker bee." And she ticked off all the jobs I'd performed that morning, which had included mowing, weeding, carting several wheelbarrow loads of stone to a fence at the back of the property, chopping and stacking the last of the latest pile of firewood, and hauling mailbags for Barbara when the afternoon truck had come.

"Like hell!" David said. "Take him the day to finish all that. Softer'n a sneaker full of shit." And then he lumbered off to the back yard and saw that Barbara had spoken true.

"If there's more to do--" I said when he came back. I was young and stupid and eager to please. I pretty much played into David's hands.

"Goddamn right there is!" he said. He was holding an ax and a sickle when he returned. "Get in the truck." I put my boots back on and did as I was told.

He drove me to a scrub-ridden field where a young man named Dallas was working. David gestured that I should grab the ax and sickle and follow him. I waded into waist-deep grass and brambles as we crossed the field to where Dallas was working with a scythe.

"By gorry, Dallas here is a good man. He's clearing the field for me. You go into the scrub and cut down anything he can't get with the scythe. Trees, bushes, whatever." With that, David started back to the truck, talking to himself the whole way. I heard snippets of the one-sided conversation. "I think you're full of shit. He'll be lucky if he don't chop his goddam foot off!" and then he was gone.

Dallas smiled pityingly when I introduced myself. "I know who you are. I sure wouldn't want to be related to him. What's he got ya working for?"

I explained the terms of my indentured servitude--my labor in exchange for free utilities at the camp. Dallas gave me a sympathetic look.

"Well, you won't have much to show for it," he said. "Me, I made a deal with ol' Dubba for a '53 Ford he's got in one of his sheds. Said I could haul it away if I cleared this field and did one or two other things." Dallas, it turned out, had made several such deals with David over the years. David rarely paid money to anyone if he could barter work for any of the items he had accumulated over the years.

"Does he have a lot of junk?" I asked. The cottage was positively spartan and the barn up at the house seemed likewise uncluttered. Dallas laughed.

"That man has about 50 little sheds and outbuildings chock full of all the stuff he's found in the attics and cellars of the houses he'd fixed up. That plus the rubbish route," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The only reason David does the rubbish route is so he can poke through the trash of summer folk and keep the good stuff they throw out. Get a lotta flatlanders up here, ya know. No offense to your mom," he said quickly. I was young and stupid but even I knew that "flatlanders" was the slightly derogatory term for folks from places like Connecticut and especially Massachusetts. I was also still learning what life was like in such a small town, where a man I'd never met before not only knew who I was, but evidently knew that my mom had originally hailed from Boston.

"Anyway," Dallas continued, "you get these people up here fixing up old camps and cottages and they throw out the damnedest stuff. David does deals with em to clean the places out before they get started on the fix-up work. He hauls a lot of rubbish, but he keeps whatever good stuff he finds and uses it to trade. Or he sells it at the big flea market they have on the town green over in Newport."

So THAT was why he did the trash route. "Does he really find good stuff?" I asked.

"I'll say!" Dallas said. "Couple years ago, David showed me a bunch of spoons he found in one empty house. This was from one of the old Colonial homesteads on the side of town near the old mica mine. Guess what the spoons were?"

"Uh, silver?" I hazarded.

"Of course they were silver!" he said. "But on the back, David found the mark: little rectangle with the initials of the silversmith. P.R.," he paused meaningfully.

I shook my head. "I don't--"

"P.R. Paul Revere. He made em. David got the proof of it from some fella down in Boston. Keeps em in his safe now. Says he's also got a musket barrel that came from Revere's copperworks in Canton, but I've never seen it."

"Wow," I said. As I've mentioned before, I've always loved poking through old houses. When we moved back from the Midwest, we bought a house that had been built in the 1780s and I spent a glorious first week poking into every closet, scouring the attic rafters and cellar walls for hidden treasures. I never found anything of value, but the romance of exploring the place--or any other old house I could get into--never lost its luster. I wasn't so thrilled about the idea of hauling someone else's trash, but if it was trash I was collecting from 18th century farmhouses and Victorian-era cottages, well, that was a different story.

"Wow," I said again. "I wouldn't mind doing that kind of work."

Dallas went back to swinging his scythe. "You aren't the only one. But David doesn't let folks help him on the rubbish route. Doesn't think we're good enough, I guess!" And we both laughed.

Then Dallas frowned at me. "What's the matter with your foot?" he asked. I hadn't realized I was favoring it.

"Just a blister," I said, and went back to hacking at a bush with the ax. That toe of mine really was sore. I'd have to get a Band-Aid or something for it that night. I didn't want David to see me limping just because I had a blister. He'd probably volunteer to chop my foot off with the ax I was using.

Of course, within a few days, I was ready to do the job myself...



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Comments:
I just wanted to tell you that I enjoy reading your blog everyday. You have a way with words...
 
Well, Rose, he is after all the "editor of one of the most popular magazines in the world". I'm kidding. I enjoy this blog, too, MM. Will this story match the intensity of the other two job anecdotes on your resume? ;-)
 
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