This guy showed real promise. He had been doing lawn service for five years and knew not only the business, but how to repair equipment as well. Bonus, for sure. He told me he could literally run through the accounts, despite the long hours and the obnoxiously high heat. He told me he could work seven days a week, as many hours a day as needed. He told me if I gave him a chance he’d prove himself to me. He was confident, although a bit cocky. But I was willing to give him a shot. I was let down when I learned he was only 22 years old…never a good age, in my experience. Yet desperation drove me to give him a chance.
His name was Jeff, and he showed up on time. Actually, his mother dropped him off on time. He stood by my truck, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, with a massive cooler in other hand, and several towels in the other. We climbed into the truck and drove to our first account.
Jeff practically jumped out of the truck as it rolled to a stop. He scurried to the back of the trailer and released the ramp. It bounced to the ground and he immediately stepped up onto the foot rest of my stand-on mower.
“Whoa there, buddy!” I called out. “No newbie rides the mower the first day…or the second or third for that matter.” He looked like a dog who’d just been scolded.
“Oh, sorry ma’am. I just thought that was what you wanted. I’m sorry. It’s just what I usually do. Of course I should have asked. I’m so sorry. It’ll never happen again…” I raised my hand to stop his apologies.
“No worries, Jeff. Just calm down, man. Take it easy. Slow down. It’s a billion degrees out here. You’re gonna have heat stroke.” I glanced down at his jeans and 8 pound work boots and shook my head. This was going to be interesting.
I gave Jeff the edger and set him loose…literally. He was like a horse who’d just heard the starting pistol. I watched him disappear into the dust, then climbed on the mower and went to work. I assessed the edges as I mowed, pleased to admit he was doing a thorough job despite his speed. When the mowing was done I headed back to the truck. Jeff was leaning on the shady side of the trailer, looking pretty darn pale. He had one of his many towels over his head and a Gatorade in his hand.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked. “You don’t look so great.” With glazed eyes he turned to me and promptly barfed in the parking lot. I busied myself with the blower until I no longer heard gasping, then approached him with caution. “You okay?”
“I’m so sorry. What an idiot I am! I didn’t eat breakfast and I drank my Gatorade too fast and I took my meds on an empty stomach and ….”
“Stop!” I interrupted. “Those are all things you can do differently next time. I’m gonna blow off while you call your mother to come pick you up.”
“I’ll be better tomorrow if you’ll give me another chance,” he promised. “I just need to rest and try to eat and take my meds earlier.”
“Just do what you have to do, man. I’ll meet you in the morning.”
Next morning Jeff’s mother dropped him off on time. I noticed he was no longer clad in jeans and steel toed boots. He still had his ultra-large cooler and a collection of towels. He was still yanking on a cigarette. We drove to our first account and I instructed him on the concept of pacing himself, drinking water often in small amounts and taking breaks when necessary. I had somehow taken on the role of mother. It felt wrong and I had all sorts of doubts.
Ten minutes later Jeff was barfing behind a bush in hopes I’d somehow miss the fact that he was already beaten by Mother Nature. As I drove him home (his mother was at work) he was madly scratching at his legs.
“I think I’m allergic to grass,” he admitted. Awesome news.
Jeff tossed his cookies every day for four days. His legs and arms were red and splotchy and maddeningly itchy. He kept trying, and I held out hope because of that. But on the fifth day he didn’t show up for work. He didn’t answer his phone when I called. He didn’t return any of my messages. It was clear that Contestant #2 was out of the running. On to Contestant #3.