I knew this was coming.
What it was, was that as soon as David, my dimbulb gardener, perceived that I had engaged professionals to overhaul the front porch — the biggest expense I’ve ever incurred in my life, other than my last car and the house itself — I could see his aura turning a thundery shade of greyish maroon. (I don’t actually see auras, but if I could I would bet money that would be the color.) Once in a weak moment I foolishly waylaid David, who has over the last decade built up a small local specialty in the repair of rotting veranda floors, and asked him if he thought he could do anything to make my old porch safer. After half an hour of listening to him talk about nearly everything but an actual work plan and ballpark cost — he likes to say “tongue and groove,” which kind of bothers me — I found something I had to do and decided that my past decisions to confine David to lawn mowing and tomato planting were wise ones.
I detected, however, that he was eyeing the progress of my complete porch demolition and replacement from under beetling brows. And not at all surprisingly, he found some rotted wood on my back porch that he suggested he should replace.
The back porch was clobbered by a member of the Oak of Damocles back in ’07. I keep finding creaks, leaks and gaps; the insurance company stiffed me. During tighter-budget days, David lobbied me to let him dig out and replace the caulking for upward of three hundred bucks, which I thought was a bit drastic; in any event I didn’t have it and told him I would just have to pass on the offer. It’s been leaking serenely ever since, and one of the boards on the door side is really pretty badly gone.
In a softhearted moment I told him to give me a date when he could do the work. Typically, he then ceased to communicate about it for two months.
Just as the professional builders were about to wrap up out front, I asked the foreman if he would take a look. Would he tackle a job like that? How much, roughly? How extensive a repair would be a good idea?
“Don’t touch this,” he said.
This had become my gut too. The porch is finished with old metal cladding, some of which came off when the tree hit, and never really went back on right; I can just picture what it would look like after David pulled a whole side of it away and then tried to replace it. This is a guy whose work style should be somehow represented by a heroic abstract in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden with a plaque reading “Hemigluteal Apotheosis.” All I needed was a seasoned professional to tell me “We could start this, but I can’t even begin to guess what we’d have to do before we could call it finished. Just wait till you’re ready to rebuild the whole thing, it will hold up.”
So naturally David immediately called to leave a work date on voice mail. Oh, and if I wanted that flower bed that I had mentioned, his helper would do that and a day’s worth of anything else I wanted around the yard, and that would be an extra two hundred and ten, and…
My aura turned a thundery greyish maroon. David has been sloping around here for fifteen years, leaving odd bits of lumber and gardener junk under that damaged back porch where I told him he could store his lawn mower and tools, stashing tomato cages in my shrubbery, talking me to death anytime I’ve been unlucky enough to cross his path, fucking up virtually any yardwork other than straightforward mowing, and generally being a gormless redneck charity case. It comes off him in waves that everyone else has it easier than he does, and it’s unfair he had to pay child support when his ex’s folks were raisin’ the kid, and everything is turr’ble ‘spensive. Having him try to shake me down for a two-hundred-dollar flower bed after all this time pushed my up-yours button. If it were not for pesticide-free tomatoes and capsicums and lettuce and cucumbers and basil and onions and beets…
I called his machine (sigh). No, we would not be doing the porch job. I did want a dead arbor vitae taken out (it went tits-up around August) and that flower bed dug, a day’s work for one person or a half day for two, how about it?
With impeccable timing, he called back when I was unshowered from my workout and had twelve minutes to be ready to greet a client, and he was sorry I didn’t want that porch job done, and if I’d listened to him about the caulking this woontna happened, and he was qualified to do this (I doubt he knows what it means to be licensed or insured), he could give me ref’rences, and… after three attempts to tell him I did not have time for this right now, I had to hang up on him in mid-harangue.
He’s been mooching in here long enough to water the tomatoes and slinking off again. I left him a cheery note asking if he was prepared to do the jobs I did want. No response. I wonder how long he intends to skulk around the premises this way.
I could tell him to take his mower and lumber and jumble of plastic containers and take a fucking hike. Fact is, my under-porch stash space, from which he sallies forth to mow a roster of nearby lawns, is a linchpin of his business strategy, since he lives in a cramped apartment and doesn’t drive — some old string of DUIs I suspect, maybe a vehicular manslaughter conviction, from before the LARD took away the desire to drink PRAAYYYSE JEESUS. It would probably put a severe crimp in his livelihood, and that three years before he ages up to where he can draw Social Security — if he even understands that. I tell him he ought to apply for Obamacare — being computer-illiterate, he’d have to sign up by phone and the website problems wouldn’t affect him in the least. He says “But if I get insurance I can’t go to the free clinic.” I sometimes suspect half his customers employ him because they feel sorry for him, or at least for his long-suffering wife. The two of them eat out of that garden behind my house, from which I probably skim less than ten per cent of the produce; they have another patch in the community strip down the hill, but half your crop is half your crop.
I could cut him loose. It’s a poser. Am I my brother’s keeper? Especially when my brother is an ignorant doofus with a grievance? If there’s anything I despise in this world, it’s stupidity, especially mulish, resentful stupidity. David believes in a comic-book Jeebus who sends unbelievers to a lake of fire. Hell, I go to bed most nights hoping that when I wake up, all such people will be gone from the earth (leaving Texas habitable and South Georgia civilized).
I bought one of the first grocery tomatoes of the winter season, a cosmetically perfect red globe that had the flavor and texture of Play-Doh. I ate it right after the last of David’s to ripen — a scarred, dwarfed multicolored oblate, squelching with ripe acid juice, fuller of dusty flowery aromas than an upland meadow.
Our best instincts are entwined with our deepest greeds. I really don’t know where this will end up.