Troll Dolls and Scarecrows
Troll Dolls and Scarecrows
Feel like every job a person could ever get has a downside. Has a hold-your-breath-and-deal-with-it part. Either the money or the task. Mostly the task because the money will just eat your brain if you think about it too much.
We’d all like a golden car that drives itself, and us, not to work, but to the beach, our bare feet up on the golden dash.
Instead we take the bus and hope for elbow room and a book to keep us alive.
When I was seventeen and finally had a car, I liked working at this place on the highway that sold watermelons and flowers and honey and you could go there in the summertime and get your propane tank filled if you wanted to barbecue.
The people I worked for didn’t explain any of the safety precautions for filling the propane tanks, or as I thought of them, the little metal bombs … It was just, hey kid, stand here in this cage and let the gas pump in until the bell goes off or whatever. And, “Hey sir, please don’t smoke, cigarettes’ll make us go boom.”
The guy in the cowboy hat says, “This is a cigar.”
“Ok. Ok. Cigars are probably fine, sir, just please go over there a few feet, I’ll put the bomb in your back seat when it’s ready. We’ll even buckle it up.”
I drove the forklift, too, but the forklift was scrawny and had flat wheels designed for a factory floor and of course I was driving it through sugar sand and mud and if I got it stuck I had to spend the afternoon digging it out with a shovel. The boss’ son was a guy with wire frame glasses, that made him look semi-weaselly, but generally he was okay. Problem with him was he would never shut up about D&D even though he was in his forties. Mostly he just ripped around on the quad pulling a small trailer with trays of begonias and impatiens or depending on the season, pumpkins, wreaths, corn stalks, etc.
He wouldn’t shut up about girls in my school. And D&D. Always D&D.
“Bet you got some little hotties in your class that would love to toss some dice.”
I wonder what level wizard this guy was …
“Get some to hang, we’ll have a game night,” he said.
I pretended not to speak English.
When the forklift wasn’t stuck, I used it for unloading pallets off delivery trucks. Statues and birdbaths, thousands of apples at a shot, peaches, plums, cantaloupe. Bays of hale. Decorative whatevers for your mother’s whatever.
There was a lot of coming and going with wheelbarrows and a hand cart, or just plain carrying plants, buckets of anything, stacks of blah blah blah to and from the greenhouse. I went home tried and usually filthy but fifty dollars richer.
In the fall, I pulled on a hooded sweatshirt and stacked firewood, and sometimes chopped firewood by hand if the electric log splitter wasn’t working, which it never was. Delivered it too.
“Just back up the driveway and chuck it against the wooden fence.”
When the last of the wood is off the truck, the door to the house would open and an elderly woman, your grandma’s age if she hadn’t passed would call, “It’s cold, you want some hot apple cider?”
The answer is always, “Yes I want some hot apple cider.”
In the winter, there were grave blankets and Christmas trees.
Walk around with a lady your mother’s age and help her pick out the right grave blanket to put on her mother’s plot over there by the river. And then when you get paid, take a grave blanket home for your own mother to take to her mother’s grave by the river. Keep the dead warm through the winter solstice.
In November a couple guys would jump in the work truck and we’d all drive three hours north, listening to the boss’ son and his tales of adventurous D&D dice tossing and raiding of castles fantastic.
We didn’t care though about the rambling, the babbling, we were out of New Jersey and the small town jammed with strip malls that we were used to and bored of. The wilderness of upstate New York like it was a new planet itself; and well worth having to listen to the utter glee of landing a natural 20 when your party is pressed up against a quarry, the orcs pressing in!
Even the rest stops on the way up there were exotic, faced off with blocks of stone and walls made of logs … They had different soda. Hell yeah.
I remember being sixteen and hitting it off with this cashier girl while I was buying a weird ‘new to me’ soda and a pack of peanuts and we got into talking because she was so bored because this was her shitty hometown and it was nice to both of us to be communicating to people from alien lands, then we were making plans hang out that night, go to the last seasonal showing of the drive in.
A Drive In?
What the fuck is a drive in?
We don’t have them down in the garden state … All our movies happen indoors at the multiplex in the county mall.
And what town is this. And ah shit my boss is laying on the horn in the work truck and we are leaving. And now he’s flicking the lights. Bye bye forever cashier of my dreams!
We drove another hour up the highway to the plot of land the farm market grew their Christmas trees on. The mountain. Walk around, snip snip cutting the nicest branches off the trees. Isolation and looking down the mountain at endless other acres of trees flanking the narrow gravel road.
The clipping came back to the farm market and became the wreaths.
You could stay as late as you wanted in the weeks leading up to December, wiring the pine branches to pre-fabbed metal rings mig welded in a spot with metal arms jutting out. Beautiful people would hang on these wreaths on their doors with joyous bells that’d ring cling clang come inside, we got mulled wine and yule logs on every TV.
All this extra work you did was passed to you in an envelope, tax free, under the table, save it for college if you’re crazy or a sadomasochist. Or just don’t want to break your back till ya die. Choose wisely.
I bought guitar pedals and studio time because my band was writing songs and we were going to make an album. I should have gone to school instead.
That’s always been the thing I’ve done with my extra money, fund some art project or some trip to see a place on this big earth. Now when I get extra money, I fund a book project for myself or someone I want to publish. I haven’t changed much from 17-34, shame on me.
I’m not from a tiny town, but it felt tiny after a couple summertimes jumping in the same waves and winters digging out driveways and warm nights getting drunk in the fixed point on the map gravel lot behind the recording studio.
Believe it or not I was my only friend with a manual labor job. All these perfectly capable young men (16-22yrs old) and none of them knew how to swing an ax or drive stick shift or how to use a hammer or pull start a chainsaw or could even pick more than forty pounds over their heads. They were telemarketers or other types of desk-warmers or clerks or had no job at all because their parents paid for their car insurance, phones, whatever else they wanted.
I only bring this up because sometimes it’d get busy on a Saturday at the farm market and there’d be more watermelons than you could count that had to be unloaded at six am and the boss would say, “Get some of your friends to come in tomorrow, I’ll pay them under the table, cash.”
And I’d have to say, because I knew from experience, “I don’t have friends like that. They won’t come. They’re allergic to sweat.”
And those same friends now have suits on right now and are still allergic to sweat.
But I did work as a telemarketer for a little bit. Usually in January I had to find some random job that wasn’t outside. January through March.
My brief telemarketer stint was in this place that called cold people, and tried to sell them a special enzyme they could dump down their toilet to clean out their septic tanks.
But I had a hard time sitting there and calling people on the phone. My legs wouldn’t stop jumping around. A part of me missed being out of breath and lugging things around like a dumbass caveman.
I even missed filling the propane tanks and worrying about exploding or getting the fork lift stuck or listening to the boss’ son tell me about how him and his buddies (a cleric, a barbarian and a knight) had successfully infiltrated the crypts beneath Whisper Vale, defeating a spider as big as the state of Texas, collecting a treasure so vast and expansive that they were forced to leave over half of it there, else risk being overtaken by the hatchlings coming out of the spider’s dark nest!
The telemarketers didn’t really talk when they weren’t on the phone. They gave all their talking energy to the sales pitch and because of that had nothing to say beyond the sales pitch.
Every year, Easter couldn’t come fast enough. When the weather would finally turn, the ground thawing, the green and yellow begin to shyly emerge from underneath the ice and dead things piled on top. And I’d get to leave my shitty job of temporarily calling people on the phone or delivering office furniture …
But Spring was the worst at the farm market because it meant cleaning out The Seasonal Trailer, as the boss’ elderly mother called it.
I’ll tell you my favorite part of working at the farm market before I get into the part I hated most about the farm market …
In the dead of summer, you could walk back into the greenhouses and it would be so humid and boiling hot in there and the plants would be just bursting with life. The smell of all the different flowers and the basil they grew. The rosemary and the thyme. I used to spend a few hours a day back there watering the plants and listening to my headphones and sweating and when I got thirsty or too hot I just turned the hose on myself. You’d be dry in twenty minutes anyway.
Back there, though hidden in the plants were the biggest praying mantis. Some of them four inches long. Hanging out, alien eyed and sometimes leaping through the air from table to table. That was something to see.
And there was a stone cellar where we packed flower pots with soil and the stone cellar was cool and sunlight streaming in through the block wall where there wasn’t a window but instead a busted out block that time and weather had cracked and then upheaved. I liked to go down to the cellar on hot days and hang out during my lunch breaks. I’d read for a while or write in my notebook but wouldn’t eat much of anything because when you’re busting ass on a hot day you don’t get hungry, or you are and you don’t want to give in because you’ll just feel lousier.
Besides there was a place that sold Italian Ice, so you could always walk over there and buy a lemon ice or something, any time you wanted, as long as you grabbed a couple for the other people you worked with, the ladies who pruned the flowers, the old grump who sold the peppers and zucchini inside the store, the cashiers, the other brave kids who pumped the propane, prepared to die in a blaze of glory if $7 an hour decreed it, the boss’ son, all of them … all of these good people.
All that sounds nice in a rose tinted John Steinbeck way, but I am still fond of that job.
Unless I think about working in the seasonal trailer, by far the worst part about working at this farm market.
They used to have me clean out the seasonal trailer whenever it was really slow.
Walk up and see the old lady who really ran the place, “Hey done with the flowers what’s next?”
And you might as well run if she said, “I need you to go back to the box and move all the Fourth of July stuff out, and make room for the Halloween stock … the scarecrows and the witches …”
Just stare at her.
She was the size of Yoda from Star Wars but she was tough.
“What?” she’s say like she was going to smack you with her cane if you said anything else … “Set aside the American flags and the Uncle Sams and the bald eagle pinwheels and drag out the red white and blue everything’s and shuffle the haunted ghost banners up and shuffle the Frankenstein dummies up and the Dracula kites/streamers and the creature of the black lagoon lawn ornaments. All of it.”
Just stare at her so hateful.
Because you know what opening the seasonal trailer and starting to clean it up involves.
The seasonal trailer is packed tight with troll dolls and beanie babies and Pogs and American Idol cardboard cut outs and corn husks with brown recluse spiders that have moved in and a metric ton of mouse shit and mold and Santa Clause and Mrs. Clause and Santa’s Village and the store’s massive chop choo train set and god damn; a zillion other things: Christopher Columbus and Pocahontas and every nameless pilgrim stuffed with cotton that rode the Mayflower over busting out of its seams; not to mention plywood Cupid and his plywood arrow and a trillion waterlogged magazines and newspapers back there for no reason with silver fish running through the wreckage.
But you agree to do your job because that’s what you always do even if you hate a part of the job you’re asked to do. You don’t have a golden car, after all.
Walk over to the forklift. Because you can drive the forklift back there, behind the greenhouses, down the little path with weeds grown so high on either side in the summer it looks like Vietnam … Or the Vietnam you’ve seen in the VHS tapes you rent from captain video.
Open up the doors to the seasonal trailer and see the impossible task that lay ahead and become jealous of your friends who are allergic to sweat, sitting in the office air conditioning somewhere, lazily clicking on a mouse, lazily pecking away at keyboard.
But they don’t know what you’re up against today and they are looking out their window too, all they see is the blue sky and the yellow sun and they want to weep too, to be outside to feel the sun and the grass between their toes – cry their eyes out for what they have, and for what they have to do with their lives.