“Work Like a Mexican”: A Chronicle of My Life as a Landscaper

120 lbs. bodybuilder Jeff Merrion tries his hand at manual labor and discovers that physical exertion is hard, his employer is a racist, mold is gross, and that an imaginary Conor Oberst is laughing at him.

I am currently taking a semester off from school, and to make the most of it, I decided to take anything life had to offer me. So far, life has offered me work at a coffee shop and dozens of books to read. Last week, however, life gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse: low-paying manual labor working in the oversized suburban yard of my friend’s father.

He called me and offered me a reasonable pay, so I took him up on his offer. A local real estate mogul of sorts, Mr. Carlsbad is a busy man. He told me that he “is up to [his] knees in good deals by 8 a.m.” and that I should show up then.

It was snowing the morning I was supposed to begin work. My employer, Mr. Carlsbad, called to tell me that snow would not deter me from beginning my work. I arrived promptly at 8 a.m., where Mr. Carlsbad discussed with me the terms of my employment, which are as follows.

  1. “Work like a Mexican that I would be paying $8.00 an hour to. Those Mexicans, they work like the dickens all day. Then they go home and get drunk. But they still show up on time the next day and work just as hard. Then they use that money to go get drunk again. Those Mexicans.”
  2. “I got a lot of real brain surgeons working for me. They dig a hole, then the next day forget that they started to dig a hole. Don’t do that.”

While Mr. Carlsbad introduced me to the intricacies of my work, we made small talk about his son (our only mutual acquaintance) and college. I told him that I was getting my degree in religious studies. He then proceeded to give me a brief outline of his theory on religious studies: “’Bout a million years or so ago, some Neanderthal was at a lake and saw his own reflection, and it scared the crap out of him, so he invented God. There. Let’s move some woodchips.” I told him that his assessment was more or less correct and that he should have majored in religious studies.

I should insert here that while I have worked my share of demeaning service jobs, I have never worked any job that could be considered physically demanding. In fact, my level of physical fitness is appalling for a male who should be at his apogee. I weigh 120 pounds, my resting heart rate is 93, and haven’t gotten regular exercise since I quit inline hockey in the 10th grade.

My job for the day was to use a pitchfork to shovel woodchips out of a six-foot tall pile, into a wheelbarrow, and then spread the woodchips about the lawn. Mr. Carlsbad gave me two pieces of advice about my job, which are as follows:

  1. “That pile there is pretty moldy. You’ll want to be upwind of it when you start shoveling it.”
  2. “Really though, there is a lot of mold in that pile. The tree died in the yard across the street a while back, and I paid a guy $100 to chip it up for me. Paid him too much, too, because it took him about two seconds.”

Mr. Carlsbad wasn’t joking about the mold content of the woodchip pile. Luckily for me, the steady, soaking rain/snow mix and 40-degree temperatures kept the spores from dispersing too widely when I went at the pile with my pitchfork.

At first, the work was entirely enjoyable. Mr. Carlsbad had been kind enough to give me a poncho, so I wasn’t cold. I worked at a steady clip, singing to myself and admiring the progress I was making.

My euphoria was short-lived, however. About one hour into working, it started to pour and for some reason, I got one line from a Bright Eyes song stuck in my head, repeating itself incessantly. I felt like Conor Oberst was mocking me, watching me pick up forkfuls of moldy woodchips and strew them about a rich man’s lawn.

As the day dragged on, I noticed pains appearing all over my body, namely in places with muscles used for lifting. Since most of the “lifting” group of muscles have atrophied, I had to use muscles not normally associated with lifting. These physical pains only added to my general malaise.

I decided to call it a day at 1 p.m., after about five hours of work. This was mostly because I had reached a part of the pile that was especially moldy, and was a bit scared that it would come to life and talk to me.

Mr. Carlsbad told me to send him a bill for my labor, which I did. He will be getting a bill from JeffCorp Corporations, Incorporated shortly. He also told me that work would begin on Saturday at “the butt-crack of dawn,” which we determined to be 7 a.m.

So come Saturday, you will see me again, pitchfork in hand, SARS mask on face, tears in eyes, shoveling and hearing about the indomitable work ethic of Mexicans.

While he excels in most other areas, Jeff Merrion’s spatial logic falls within the lower third percentile of United States citizens. He is a Religious Studies major and, as such, has a long life of administrative assistantship awaiting him. To potential employers: Jeff makes a mean cup of coffee.