I Feel Like Dorothy Entering the Emerald City
What I Have Learned in Just Four Days Working at O'Toole's Garden Center:
1) I haven't worked like this in forty years.
I've been a ditch digger, a golf course mower (they call it greens-keeping, but I was just a mower), a hospital janitor specializing in cleaning surgical suites and delivery rooms (you should never consider what you're chasing around the floor with your mop), an interior painter, a school janitor scrubbing the accumulated mung off the floor of an elementary school by both hand and machine, a cleaner of commercial chicken coops, a farm hand, a stock room boy in New York City, a messenger for American Express Travel Services and a surgical orderly in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who told people jokes as I wheeled them down the hallway toward surgery.
(Actually, that last one is how I got into journalism. A heart surgeon asked the poor, dumb orderly (me) to sit underneath the operating table and pull on the patient's arms while he shot off a 36-roll of X-rays. I balked, told him to stick it where the scalpel don't shine, and it became a footrace to see who could get to the nurse's station first: Me to quit; him, to get me fired. I won. I frantically called a buddy who had mentioned a job and the next day I started in radio writing ad copy.)
Still, despite those adventures in the physical labor force, I haven't worked like this (or that) in forty years.
You become a "journalist" and you find that while you sweat and stress to scrape together enough money to live in a one bedroom hovel that looks into a very nice Catholic lady's living room (Good Morning, Rose!), you are, in reality, spending your time sitting, at a typewriter or computer, thinking great thoughts and telling stories. (Yes, Mr. Trump. I made them up. I made them ALL up.)
Journalism is not easy, but then again, it's not all that difficult either.
You slow down, you sit down, your fingers do the walking and working, while you gain weight, you go to the gym (on occasion) for the physical exercise you need to exist and you discover that none of your jeans have little bits of chicken poop in the pockets anymore.
You are, in the vernacular, a "professional."
Oh, that still makes me laugh.
Directly Ahead - The Doors to the Store
Just to the Left - My Favorite Tomato Movin' Cart
2) You forget what true physical labor entails.
True physical labor entails, well, yes, true physical labor. You work. You sweat. You keep going even though your back is screaming and you are leaning on a broom handle while talking to someone because you're convinced that if you don't, you will fall over as your feet simply cannot support you anymore.
In the first four days of working at O'Toole's, as the time clock of my life returned to the pace it knew in third grade, I moved 25 trees (You know, there really is a thing called a "tree dolly?" It is a marvelous invention.), hauled about 1 1/2 tons of mulch (put in barrel, move barrel outside, spread mulch evenly on walkway, do not pile up mulch and collapse on it moaning), and shifted 50 million tomatoes, herbs, decorative garden doo-dads and small shrubs from shelves A, B and C to shelves D, E and F, then to shelves G, H, J and M over the course of two days, some of the plants winding up right back where they began.
(Late one afternoon, as I became seriously dehydrated, I developed such a warm and personal relationship with one Celebrity tomato plant that I named it "Buddy" and bought it and brought it home so it would be safe.)
Where I Hide ... Rest! Well, Not Anymore as I Just Gave It Away
3) You discover the importance of breaks and lunch and hiding places.
There is a point where you think to yourself, I never needed to drink much water before, and I likely won't now, as all it will do is make me want to go to the bathroom right in the middle of a sales pitch I'm giving for Peonies. (Peonies? Oops, gotta fly!)
But you do need water because it is hot and what you are doing is deucedly physical and difficult and since all your internal systems have spent the last two years getting used to long naps and watching "Castle" reruns all afternoon -- NOTHING internally is keeping up with what you need it to do.
So, you must drink water.
In fact, you must drink a lot of water. And you keep drinking water all day, suddenly noting that your system is no longer crying out for potty breaks every twenty minutes. In fact, that first day, you drink just about everything in sight (including two Coronas immediately upon arriving home) and don't have to stop for relief until six the next morning.
That can't be good.
Also, since I am only working six hours a day, four days a week, I figured I didn't need to stop for lunch, which made the drive home an hallucinatory thrill ride comparable to Kubrick's journey through the lights in "2001."
(It ended the same way, too, with an old man sitting in his bedroom, blindly staring at his feet, wondering where he left his pants.)
So breaks, as my supervisor Olympia tells me, are necessary. She told me to go to the gazebo out in the statuary garden and catch my breath, have some lunch, drink some water. I did that, but also discovered a WONDERFUL wooden chair out there in the sunshine behind the gazebo that fits my back perfectly, takes the back screaming to a minimum and is hidden away from all but the most prying eyes.
I want to buy said chair, two, in fact, but my wife has already told me that I must start bringing home a paycheck rather than spending it all on seeds and plants and chairs and spinners and pottery representations of Thurber dogs.
Row Upon Row of The Forever Moving Plants
4) The Pride of Working People
I've come to believe (thanks to reaction to minimum wage protests and the often erroneous belief in some non-stop, comprehensive upward mobility of the masses) that most politicians and many members of the white collar public look down upon those people who truly work for a living, those people who work physical jobs, for extra hours, at minimum wage, doing anything they can do, no matter how dirty or difficult, just to make ends meet and create a life for their family somewhere inside the American dream.
Good Lord, I do this as a hobby. It's a way for me to get out of the house so that I'm talking to someone other than a brace of manic Boston Terriers and one surly Proboscis Monkey for eight hours a day.
I do this to pay for my gardening addictions.
They do this to survive and grow in this country.
And it is impressive.
The work ethic, the energy, the drive, the determination are seemingly endless.
I had that once. Maybe I can get a bit of it back.
And I have come to realize that I got to sit on my ass for forty years behind a typewriter because people like Peter Moody in New Hampshire (1777) and Caleb Moody in Kansas (1870) and John Draa in Indiana (1888 -- squashed by box car on the Grand Trunk Railroad) did exactly what these people are doing everyday -- tilling the fields and breaking their backs for peanuts every day from dawn until dusk-- just so their kids, their next generation, might have a better chance at an easier life.
I bow to them with honor and respect.
My coworkers are amazing people.
Olympia - My Boss
"No, I'm Not Your Boss -- We Work Together"
Then She Tells Me to Go Move Cherry Tomatoes --
While She Moves Cement Blocks
(All I Can Figure Is She Recognizes an Easily Breakable Old Man When She Sees One)
5) Two Notes in Closing This Episode
A) Physical Labor is good for the soul and the waistline. I've lost eight pounds this week. (Five, really, after I drank a 50-gallon barrel of water.)
B) Mr. Bitterman continues to spend his day watching "Castle" reruns as he has a thing for Susan Sullivan. He was supposed to re-pot the beans, which are outgrowing their "Little Corporate Famer Genetic Modification Seed Starter Kit" but he swears he ran out of time.
We'll save that for our next adventure.
I Know How Those Little Sprouts Feel
In this space we have already discussed my peculiar lack of patience, which has once more manifested itself in my Little Family Farmer Growth Box and Government Subsidy Attractor. I planted the seeds at the end of March, long before I should have, and now, in the first full week of April, I'm being overwhelmed by Christmas Lima Bean plants and Cucumbers (two varieties) and something else of a presently unknown genus. You see, there was a problem during the planting phase and my best laid plans (I had it all mapped out on my Little Family Farmer Garden Plot and Treasure Map) got sort of fershimmered when the seeds started to go wherever they damn well pleased.
After all, when you've got my hereditary family shake, detail work can be a bitch. That's why I had to give up brain surgery. (If only I had done it before Mr. Rosenschmutz. He wouldn't be tortured today by a wonky left little finger and the ability to pick up WGN out of Chicago when he turns to the Northeast.)
Anyway, the seeds have taken off for the most part.
The Mystery Veg of Row Three
Basically, I know where two things are: the tomatoes are at one end, the Socorro chiles are at the other. Those will go in the garden known as Nick. Nora, the new garden, will get everything else. Along with the beans, fennel, squash, garlic, lettuce, spinach and Lord knows what else I threw in there. The plotting maps look like a relief map of Uruguay or one of the English essays I turned into Miss Bourgoin in tenth grade, all red lines and question marks.
Aren't You Glad I'm Not in Charge of Something Important?
I'm sure that in the next 14-15 years, I will get this plotting stuff down pat, but I have never been known for my attention to detail, or, for my ability to do ANYTHING right the first time. (Do it. Read Instructions. Take apart. Redo.)
I Think These are Tomatoes, Because They're on the Right End of the Box. I Think.
Honestly, I do think I can figure out most of these, even though the starter trays have been turned around on the kitchen table 3 to 6 to 25 times to take proper advantage of the sunshine, to give Mr. Bitterman something to do between simian shows on Animal Planet and to make room for lunch. A few of these will have to be replanted in the next few days, once again muddying the waters as to exactly what they might be. They're simply getting too big for their plastic britches.
Thank God for the Christmas Limas. Their distinctive seeds are at least giving me a point of reference. And God help the Socorro chiles. They seem to be slow germinators.
Come on, Kids! Daddy Needs a New Source for Socorros!
Sometimes I feel like Lisa Douglas from "Green Acres," as the little plants "shoost up" toward the sun and the sky. (I can't remember where I left my keys or why I walked into the kitchen, but I can remember lines from 60's sitcoms like nobody's business!!)
What's Great: Even In MY Clumsy Hands, Life Does Find a Way!
I do enjoy this little adventure, however.
Somehow, it gives me a greater appreciation of life.
It certainly does find a way. No matter how I try to interfere.
Either This Came From My Brother, or, Bitterman Found the Credit Card!
Yeah, I know. I look like a big, fat Lima Bean (Which we are planting, by the way, Christmas Limas). I was going to bring you up to speed on my Mini-Monsanto Corporate Farming Seed Starting Program, which is going gangbusters, but the shirt came in the mail today and plans had to change. My brother Dave and his wife Laureen sent it along with a coupon for $100 off to join a wine club. After careful (read: sober) consideration of the offer (I think it was for $100 off $160 dollars worth of wine, which would have put us still $60 bucks behind), we passed on the wine, but did love the shirt.
In fact, Mr. Bitterman is currently up a Russian Olive being pissy that he didn't get a shirt of his own. He'll likely steal mine out of the laundry by the end of the week.
Mr. Bitterman Goes Full Crank on a Sunny Saturday Afternoon
I don't know what to tell him, other than the fact that he should have been nicer to Laureen the last time she and Dave visited, up to and including not eating her hat or pooping in her shoes.
I Got My Fashion Sense From My Father
So, my thanks to Dave and Laureen for the shirt. The seedlings are sprouting, more on that next week, I'm waiting for the weather to shift for planting and to get some hours at O'Toole's Garden Center (I suspect I'll dress differently for that, but I AM going to miss the hat), but I really just want to get started. Anyone who knows me remembers that I have the patience of a Mayfly. Though. with any luck, I have a somewhat longer life span.