I spent the majority of the day working outside in the blistering heat, mowing, weeding, trimming, and to top it off, spreading four cubic yards of black dyed mulch. Not one but four different neighbors commented on my sanity for picking today to spread mulch. I really didn’t mind it, it beat sitting behind a computer all day. I tried imagining that it was five months ago and that I was really shoveling snow, but my mind (probably the advanced stages of heat stroke) kept wandering back to the summer of 1990. That summer I got my first real 40 hour a week job. I was 15 years old and I went to work on the grounds crew of a local country club. The grounds superintendent was a golf buddy of my dad and uncle and hooked my up with the job.
I had high hopes for my first real job. I imagined that I would spend the summer riding lawn mowers and getting a good tan and getting paid for it. I could see myself flying around on golf carts, driving the big tractors, and doing a “man’s work.” Plus I would get to hang out with a bunch of college guys, who made up the rest of the summer crew. I walked in the first day and was introduced to everyone. No one had a real name, it was a whole jolly club with jolly pirate nicknames. There was Baz, Zerb, Rimmer and Spike, and many others.
But my dreams quickly collapsed into it a pile of dust. The first thing I learned was that since I was only 15, I wasn’t allowed to operate any machines. The second thing was that I had only two functions, take care of the clay tennis courts and flowers. And my hopes of a cool nickname went down the toilet as my new boss introduced me as “This is Henry, The Flower Boy.”
Flower Boy wasn’t my only nickname that summer. I was also Rookie, Rook, FNG, Cindy (due to a mole on my chest - “Nice mole, who do you think you are, Cindy Crawford?”), Rickshaw (more on that in a bit), and a few others that brought into question my sexual preferences. This was nothing new, I was used to a bit of ridicule having been a nerd my entire life.
My boss then introduced me to the tools of my trade. My primary job and the real reason why I was hired was to take care of the country club’s clay tennis courts. They had to be perfect. The tennis pro funded my job and she was willing to squeeze every penny of her investment to make her courts immaculate. They had to be brushed, lined and watered three times a day. The watering was the worst. The courts had their own automated sprinkler system. By automated, I mean, the sprinklers had to be manually turned on and off, and every five minutes, you had to run around and clear a clog out of one of the heads or adjust its pattern to avoid puddling. So that meant I would get a stinky pond water shower three times a day. Pond water on a golf course is wonderful mixture of fish shit, duck shit, goose shit, algae, and the runoff of thousands of gallons of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. On a good day is smells and tastes horrible and in the hottest part of the summer when the water level in the ponds is the lowest, it smells like raw sewage.
Every other day and every day that they had tennis tournaments, the courts had to be rolled. Finally, I get to drive something. Unfortunately that something was a mini steam roller like this. Its top speed was in the neighborhood of 1 mile per hour. You sit right behind the engine and inhale exhaust fumes and listen to deafening engine noise. The most embarrassing part was having to drive it from the shop to the courts. Imagine rolling two hollow steal drums over 1,000 feet of gravel, on a golf course. I think every golfer wanted to have me drawn and quartered when I drove that thing.
My second responsibility was flowers, all 2,500 of them. I had to plant, water, feed, mulch, weed, and prune every flower bed on the entire course. My only means of transport was a two-wheeled garden cart, aka the Rickshaw.
I used this to haul hundreds of flats of flowers, hoses, fertilizer, and about 20 cubic yards of mulch that summer. I didn’t mind doing the flowers around the clubhouse, it was the 18 tee boxes did me in. My fellow grounds crew workers would conduct a series of “fly-bys” in various different golf carts and mowers, shouting epitaphs and pelting me with golf balls or water bottles as I made my way around the course. I think it was Nietzsche who said, “That which does not kill me, only makes my urge to kill someone stronger.”
Every once and a while, my boss or one of the crew would swing by where I was working and tell me about some new task to perform. I got to unload a tractor trailer full of 80 lb. fertilizer bags by hand, trim hedges, pick cigarette butts out of the white gravel path by the men’s locker room, etc. It didn’t matter what the job was, it was something different than looking at flowers all day long or choking on the dust of the clay courts. That first summer I don’t think I ever got to work with anyone else. I would just plod along at whatever task listening to a Walkman. We didn’t have any fancy MP3 players in those days, it was either radio or cassette tapes. I think I spent a large portion of every paycheck on AA and AAA batteries. After working 8 to 10 hours a day, I could still hear voices and music in my head even after I took off the headphones.
The highlight of that summer was the grounds crew picnic. It was on a Monday when the course was closed, my boss wheeled a grill, a couple picnic tables, and a keg out to the rough along the fifteenth fairway. We would eat, drink and play a little tackle football. I forgot to mention that most of the summer crew were either college football or lacrosse players, division II schools, but still guys a hell of a lot bigger than me. They all talked about smearing my face in the turf and breaking off various limbs. My boss joined in the smack talk too. I replied (probably the most words I had spoken the entire summer), “I am a lot younger and faster than you, you better watch out you don’t get hurt, Old Man.” I don’t know if subconsciously I really meant that or what, but on the opening kickoff, my boss caught the ball and I raced down the field full speed, made a clean tackle and dislocated his left shoulder. I simultaneously became a hero for the day and an ass for really injuring the boss.
I loved every minute of that summer, regardless of the abuse or the work I had to do. At the end of the summer, my boss asked if I wanted to stay on and work in the kitchen as a dishwasher. That winter, while working in the kitchen, I met the girl who would later become my wife. The following spring I went back to the grounds crew, still not a full fledged member of the crew, but I could at least drive a golf cart every now and then. I lost the name Flower Boy too. In the next five years of summer, winter and spring breaks from high school and college, I acquired quite a few new nicknames, learned how to suck the tits off the time clock, walk the dog and also had a few adventures. If I get into reminiscing again, I will tell you about what not to drive into a pond, searching for severed fingers (two separate occasions), midnight course parties, the outcome of Lawn Equipment Vs. Wildlife or how not to hide a tattoo.