Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mowing Another Woman's Lawn

After the end of my sophomore year at the prestigious Universitas Viritis Montis, I was leaning towards staying in Burlington for the summer. During the school year, my parents had no objection to paying my rent. But once summer came, my dad said, “You have a free place to stay at home. If you don’t want to stay here, you pay your rent until the school year starts.” Fair enough.

Fortunately, I had G-money. G-money was going home to his parents’ house for the summer, but the room in his apartment on North Street was paid for already. He could have demanded that I pay him rent for the summer, and either pocketed the money or given it to his parents, but instead he told me to just pay my portion of the utilities for the summer and enjoy. Done deal. I was staying.

Meanwhile, my bartending job was only one or two nights a week. I needed a full-time day job to supplement the income. Enter Karen.

Karen ran a landscaping company as well as a horse and buggy service out of her home in Underhill, a small Vermont hamlet tucked just below Mount Mansfield. (The commute to and from Burlington to Underhill is still my favorite of all time.)

One of my fraternity brothers had been working for Karen already and told me she was looking to hire someone else. He introduced us. She asked what experience I had landscaping. I told her I mowed my parents’ lawn but not much else. She asked where I was from in New Hampshire. I answered. “Flatlander, eh?” she replied in her Green Mountain accent while sizing me up skeptically. She hired me anyway.

Karen is about ten years older than me. We haven’t seen each other in years but I remember her kind of like the big sister I never had. She was a strong and rugged woman yet unquestionably feminine. She was just as comfortable changing the oil and sharpening a mower blade, as she was getting gussied up for a night out with girlfriends. While she loved her horses and her pick up trucks, she also enjoyed making pretty flower gardens. One of my favorite Karen quotes was that she needed a husband so he could do the dishes and clean the house while she ran her businesses.

Karen had a wild and crazy fun side that showed up when the time was right. She’d throw a couple of us guys in the back of her truck as we drove around her pasture. We were supposed to be searching for missing horseshoes because the blacksmith was coming to shoe the horses. While we held on for dear life, she’d hoot and holler while accelerating the truck over hills all while honking the horn as horses galloped wildly around us.

Karen once arrived at a job where we had been working already to check on the progress with the customer. Like the idiot that I’ve always been, I avoided wearing a shirt whenever possible partially to fortify the tan but also to put any young ladies on notice that the gun show was in town. Karen preferred that we keep our shirts on whenever customers were present but she didn’t care if it was really hot or if our crew was working alone.

As Karen and the customer walked around, she flashed an urgent look in my direction. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or what. I was worried I planted a flower in the wrong spot or something. Or maybe it was because the shirt was off. Once the customer was out of earshot, I asked her what was wrong. “You’re damn pubes are sticking out of the top of your shorts!” she said while shaking her head but laughing at the same time. (I don’t remember owning much for undies in college.)

At the end of a summer work day, as the setting sun turned the sky orange-pink and stretched our shadows longer and darker, Karen would duck out for a short bit. A few minutes later, she’d reappear with a beautiful six pack of Molson, Moosehead, or Labatts (it was always an “Ice” brand of beer) to reward the crew on a job well done. That was the whistle ending our shift for the day.

After two summers, Karen and I logged in many hours together. Lots of laughs. Many great times. Before we met, I’d never operated a weed wacker, an axe, a chainsaw, a hedge trimmer, a rider mower, a tractor, or a truck with a trailer attached to it. I had never planted a flower, a bush, or a tree, for that matter. She was the first to teach me how to do any of that manly stuff. Of course, there were the occasional rough patches when I broke something expensive and we negotiated how much of it she’d have to take out of my pay. But we got over it and moved on. After all, she wasn’t just my boss anymore. We were friends.

A few years after I graduated college, I called Karen to tell her I was coming up to VT for a visit. I didn’t have a car and I was taking the bus. In classic form, she told me she’d leave a truck for me downtown with the keys on the tire. I tried to object but she wouldn’t hear of it. When I got to town, of course the truck was waiting for me. I had wheels for the weekend. That’s just how she rolls.

Now that the weather has improved, I’ve begun dusting off my own landscaping tools and oiling up the rusty skills. Not much has changed except that I’m more likely to weed with my shirt on. And I can’t help but think of Karen every time I either plant something nice, or break another rake.

Hey Karen, I know you are out there somewhere in the world working hard and enjoying life. If you happen to be in the neighborhood some time, I hope you swing by the casa on Gawaine Road. Just give me the head’s up so I make sure the lawn looks good before you come. Here’s a toast to you with an “ice” beer, and hoping this finds you well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Huffinpuff

Before THE WIFE and I procreated, she had the reputation of easily logging in ten to twelve hours of sleep any night given the opportunity. Obviously, that dynamic has changed dramatically since February of 2009, and even before then for that matter, considering the preceding nine months of vacillating body temperatures and various extremities kicking and scratching from within the uterine confines.

As for me, I can’t deny that the occasional weekend morning sleep-in past 10 was quite enjoyable. Two kids later, though, my internal alarm generally alerts around 5:30 a.m. whether the clock radio is set or not and whether it’s Wednesday or Sunday morning. It’s some kind of cruel curse.

Fortunately, Greta and Gus take after their mom (knocking on many surfaces of wood around me) in the sleep department and crush it with day naps and uninterrupted night sleep. Currently, Greta logs in one afternoon nap every day from 2 to 5 and then she’s down at 8 until between 7 and 7:30 the next morning. Sometimes, Gigi will even pull an 8 to 8 such as last night. That’s some serious Rip Van Winkling.

G-man is a bit less predictable at least during the day. He goes down between zero and three times per day for naps that average between 30 minutes and two hours. At night, Gus is usually out by 8:30 and up between 7 and 7:30.

Irregahdless, THE WIFE and I realize we’re fortunate that both kids are pretty good sleepers and we generally can’t complain.

Keeping that in mind, there are occasions when one or both of the peanuts wake up in the middle of the night for a myriad of reasons. Every once in a while, it’s a diaper situation. But mostly, it’s totally random.

A few weeks ago, for example, Greta was crying. Each of us responded at different intervals. Both times, Greta said a butterfly woke her up. We calmed her down and she fell back asleep. Peace however was not yet restored in the master bedroom where a middle-of-the-night, loud whisper debate occurred as to whether a bat had been flying around in Greta’s room or not. (You can probably guess who thought a bat might actually be in there and who disagreed.)

This week, G-man woke up for no apparent reason at like two in the morning on a Wednesday. I was in a wonderfully deep and sober sleep totally oblivious to his crying but fortunately THE WIFE heard Gus and rescued him from the crib. She brought him into bed with us, which might not be surprising except that it’s a rule she’ll bend maybe as often as Jillian Michaels eats a quarter pounder with cheese.

From somewhere around the 5th sub-floor of Inception, my mind jolted my body to real life as a small finger poked multiple times into my eyeball. When my lid lifted, I saw my little G-man smiling back at me mischievously. I smiled back at him exhaling heavy hot sleep breath into his face. He politely did not notice as he lifted his legs at a ninety degree angle and pulled at his own toes, as if bragging of his flexibility.

To be clear, these occasional sleep interruptions don’t bother me at all. It’s part of the parental package. I get it. You just find that extra gear in the heat of the moment and deal. It’s the same impulse that fuels a Clark Griswald to continue driving in the middle of the night while everyone else is passed out in the family truckster.

Now segue to the distinctly different dynamic of spousal bed-sharing. I’ve heard many a nightmare story of wives enduring husbands who aspire in their sleep to chop down Sequoias and Redwoods with rusty axes. These boys try to suck all the air and furniture out of the room through their nostrils and mouths followed afterwards by some bizarre exhalation of gurgling and/or whistling noises escaping back through the mouth and nose. In defense of these wives, I’ve unfortunately experienced many a drunken weekend away with these boys who sound like a symphony of log czars chainsawing their through an Amazonian forest.

In sharp contrast, I sleep more like a mime or a ninja - virtually silent (barring the occasional fart) with the exception of whatever sound the sheets make as they rise and fall with my inhalations and exhalations. To enhance sleeping conditions even more, I’ve slept with a fan, humidifier, or other pleasant white noise-maker almost every night since I was about 14 years old.

Admittedly, there are two, very infrequent exceptions to the example of my asleep-in-space-like patterns. One, if my allergies are bothering me and/or I have a cold, there may be a snore or two during the night if I’ve turned onto my back. Two, if perhaps I’ve had one or two more drinks than I should have consumed, a snoring incident may occur. Those isolated instances result in what THE WIFE eagerly calls the “disgusting, open-mouthed snore.”

About two weeks ago, I experienced the rare double whammy: I had a cold and one too many beverages before bed. I vaguely recall being elbowed in the vicinity of my thoracic spine about two or three times as I slept otherwise peacefully that night – until of course, the dreaded huffinpuff came out.

The huffinpuff is a technique created and patented by THE WIFE that she employs when she is annoyed that I’m sleeping and she’s awake. Ironically, the huffinpuff is its own loud and distracting sound of exhaling in a distinctly, complaining manner often accompanied by pillow punching and thrashing around in the bed so the vibrations jolt me out of my position. The huffinpuff has about a 99% success rate of ruining whatever peaceful sleep I may have been previously experiencing.

Naturally, THE WIFE huffinpuffed me awake during the hybrid allergy-drunk snore I exhibited last week on a Saturday morning. After I couldn’t fall back asleep, I went into the kids’ playroom, wrapped a holey afghan around me, and surfed the web until the family finally woke up.

The huffinpuff situation would be fine, except that every once in a rare while, the kids and I will still be asleep when THE WIFE wakes up. Due to her particular sensitivity to any noise at all, one may think she’d considerately exit the bed and go downstairs to be quiet. But no. Instead, she pulls the Blackberry into bed and starts Facebooking/Googling/e-mailing away. Clickety-click-click-click. Clickety-click-clack-clack. Then, quiet for like ten seconds. Then, clickety-click-click-click.

It’s an ever-so slight noise but it’s so effective in ruining for me what was a previously peaceful late morning snooze. When I hear this noise, I want to smash her phone with a baseball bat into a thousand pieces. The double standard drives me nuts.

But yet, what do I do? Absolutely nothing. I’m too cowardly to complain. Plus, I’m on my third glass of vino tonight and a second bottle could be opened before bed tonight. Perhaps I'll have my revenge after all...