Thanks to the overwhelming response to last week's story, you lucky people are being treated to another slice of literary excellence.
I wrote this story shortly after my first lay-off, back in the early years of the new century.
American Dream Job
Here’s a little story if you’re interested. It offers no great moral impact or earth shattering revelations. It’s just a little tale about how a lost man found his way. That man, by the way, was me.
About 2 years ago just when I getting ready to slide, ever so undignified, into 40, I suddenly found myself out of a job. After 14 years with the same company I was kicked to the curb like so much recycling. “Thanks for your time. We appreciate your efforts but we’ve decided to change direction. Best of luck to you.”
Immediately thereafter began the well-meaning annotations of family and friends: “It was meant to be. The right job for you is out there. It will happen for you one day. If you don’t get this job then it wasn’t meant to be.”
Bullshit, all of it. Right job my ass. There is no such thing. Not when your fate is subjected to the bone rolls and tarot card readings of some Corporate America middle manager. When any day you may suddenly find yourself being escorted to the parking lot holding a cardboard box full of family snapshots, a potted plant and the loose change from your drawer as security locks the doors behind you.
Those first few months I spent a lot of time at home. I got back in touch with my inner-Merry Maid and reacquainted myself with that hose-laden contraption known as the vacuum cleaner, and her second cousin the Swiffer Sweeper. Between spit-shining the chrome accent pieces in the bathroom and hunting down dust bunnies, I surfed the web and caught up on my movie watching.
And so it was that one darkening February afternoon Netflix delivered American Beauty, the academy award winner from 2000 starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning. You remember; Spacey won for best actor and Benning lost out to that horse-faced Hillary Swank?
Anyway, Spacey plays a 40-something schlub that gets canned from his job after years of devoted service. Sound like anyone we know? The difference is that Spacey welcomes his new situation, and begins to discover that his whole life is one big pile of dog shit. And thus he begins a quest to rid himself of the shackles that he’s allowed himself to wear for the past twenty years. I was absolutely captivated. And just as Ricky Fitts becomes Lester Burnham’s personal hero, so Lester became mine. I took a vow right there in the BarcaLounger ® that as God as my witness my next job was going to have the least amount of stress and responsibility possible.
Days later, I was still mulling over my future career path while walking Schmoopie, my wife’s half-breed Schnauzer/Shitzu. One of the tasks that fell to me upon joining the ranks of America’s lay-abouts was to accompany Schmoopie on her daily walk ‘n shit. I didn’t really mind all that much. It gave me a chance to get off the couch and join the living, if only the other unemployed losers and the retired folks out tending their lawns and gardenia bushes. On our final lap around the block Schmoopie starts going into her “I’ve gotta shit,” prance. Schmoopie, never having been much concerned with territory, didn’t seem bothered by the numerous other piles on the lawn in front of Mr. Fliegalman’s place and seemed content to add her own as opposed to staking her claim elsewhere. So we stop and she drops it next to the lawn jockey, the same little figurine that caused such uproar in the neighborhood a few years back when the young black couple across the street took offense to its sullen brown face staring at them whenever they tried to enjoy the view from their bay window. Fliegalman fought tooth and nail about the rights of Red-Blooded-American’s being able to “decorate any damn way they see fit,” and who are these young upstarts, new to the neighborhood where he was born and raised, to tell him what he can and cannot put in his goddamn yard. In the end the young couple decided to take the high road and let it drop, along with any further pretense of good neighborliness.
Schmoopie had just about finished decorating the jockey’s shoe with ass candy when old Fliegalman came storming out his front door waving his arms and hollering something about the desecration of art. It took me a second to realize that he was talking about the lawn jockey as my teevee-addled brain began down a path with Art Carney and Jackie Gleason. Of course I was all apologies, sucking up to the old guy and whipping out my plastic bag and rubber glove, proceeding to liberate the jockeys black boot from its excrement incarceration. Fliegalman stood over me supervising my work, making sure the artistic and monetary value of his lawn jockey had not been compromised. Grunting, he waved an arm to encompass the rest of his yard.
“God damn dogs. Look at my lawn; can’t walk two feet without having to dodge another pile of shit, and with my back it takes me an hour some days to clean it all up. And I still end up running over some of it with the lawn mower.”
I was just finishing my bootblack duties and was about to take off the rubber glove when Fliegalman said, “Say, how’d you like to make yourself a quick $10?”
“Doing what?” I asked
“Cleaning up the rest of the shit on my lawn.”
I surveyed his yard which was about a 20x30 slope of Kentucky bluegrass surrounded by scrubby juniper bushes, the kind we used to lose baseballs in when we were kids. Seemed every house had a clump of sticky, stinky juniper bushes and every scratch game was delayed at some point while we crawled through the bushes looking for a wayward foul ball. From where I stood I could see about a half dozen piles of shit, some as large as a softball. The idea of getting up close and personal with a dozen or more piles of dog shit was not immediately appealing, but the more I thought about it I figured ten bucks was ten bucks, so I agreed and exactly ten minutes later I had a plastic Safeway bag full of dog shit and one very soiled rubber glove, and a crisp ten-dollar bill in my shirt pocket.
As Schmoopie and I completed the last leg of our walk I thought about the job I’d just completed, the first paying job I’d had in almost six months. Hardly the ideal job but it suddenly occurred to me that for what I’d made and how long I’d worked I was technically making $60 an hour to clean up dog shit. Less than I was making in Corporate America but without all the bullshit (or dog shit) that went with it. I was outside, working alone in the fresh air. No boss, no computer, no reports or performance evaluations. Yes it had its obvious downsides but overall I felt sure that Lester Burnham would approve. “Dog shit cleaner upper”; could there be a job with less stress and responsibility?
And the first thing Monday morning Karl’s Kanine Klean-Up and Yard Beautification was in business. Flyers proclaiming Fliegalman a reference and “satisfied customer” in hand, I hit the streets to let the neighborhood know that, whether or not they even knew they had ‘em, their dog-shit troubles were over.
The first house I approached belonged to Ms. Chapinski or Ms. C, as the neighborhood knew her. She was an old feminist from way back. Years ago her husband kicked, leaving her a fortune, and Ms. C found herself a coveted piece of ass right around the time the feminist craze was gaining speed. As such, she did not feel she “needed” a man to complete her, and while plenty of would-be suitors had come and gone, Ms. C remained unwavering in her vow of sisterhood. Years later, having been abandoned by her feminist brethren in favor of homes and husbands, she found herself a spinster, albeit a wealthy one. I knocked and stood on the porch, flyer in hand.
“Good morning Ms. C.”
“Good morning Karl. What brings you around so early on a Monday morning?”
She gave me a quick once over and looked on the verge of shutting her door. Perhaps it was my baseball cap with the plastic dog shit on the brim. Or maybe the sight of a man holding what was obviously an old golf club with a dustpan duct-taped to the club head and a sack full of plastic shopping bags slung over his shoulder. Who’s to say, but sensing my window of opportunity was rapidly closing I launched into my sales pitch.
“Please forgive the get-up, Ms. C, but I think you’ll understand in a minute. Tell me, how are the twins doing?”
The twins were Bonnie & Clyde, Ms. C’s St. Bernard’s that she’d raised from puppyhood. They’d been her constant companions since the first of the Bush boys took office.
“They’re fine Karl, just fine,” she said immediately warming to the topic. “Why do you ask?”
“Well I’ll try to put this as delicately as possible Ms. C. Bonnie and Clyde are rather large animals with large appetites. As such, one could assume that they leave rather large, shall we say deposits, around your yard. Am I correct in my assumption?”
“If you’re asking whether or not they shit a lot Karl, yes that is a reasonable assumption. In fact there are days when my yard looks like a shit minefield and that cocksucking, Vietnamese gardener of mine refuses to clean it up, but he has no problem scattering it around my yard with his lawn mower. The other day I found a crabgrass encrusted turd floating in my birdbath.”
“Yes I could see how that would be…unsettling. Which is why I’m here, Ms C,” I said handing her my flyer. “I think I can help you.”
Long story short, at ten bucks a week Ms. C was an easy sale and I put her down for a Friday morning clean up just prior to her gardener’s weekly visit. With a little bounce in my step I headed for the next house.
By day’s end I’d signed up 28 new clients, including the retirement home downtown that allows its residents to own dogs. Their records report 18 resident dog owners and they accepted a deal for the price of 15 dogs. Still that’s $150.00 a-week in my pocket for about a half an hour’s work. And the best part is that all the dogs are limited to one small grassy area. So there I was after one day and I’d already lined up almost $600 a week in work at more than $70 per hour. Not bad for a guy that picks up dog shit for a living.
Today I am known as the Dog Shit King of Bowling Green, Ohio, with 8 operations throughout Wood County and looking to expand into Sandusky before the year is out. You may have seen me starring in my own commercials on late night television. I’m not ashamed to say that I write all of the catchy little tag lines that we use. Some of my favorites: “No dog to small, no log too big.” and “If they leave it, we’ll heave It.”.
Sometimes, late at night, I’ll lie in the dark and think about how all this began; a tiny smile crawling across my face, knowing in my heart that Lester would be proud of me.