Friday, November 14, 2008


Once I had a job working in a restaurant. I can't say it was much of a job since I was only a lunch hour bus boy. It didn’t take more than a couple of weeks before I got fired because I wasn’t about to bust my tail carrying soiled dishes and dirty forks and knives in giant plastic containers. You can’t be lazy in that kind of work before some volatile cook yells at you and then tells the day manager, who doesn’t respect much a native born doing work that he thinks is suitable for a scared illegal.

So that’s what the day manager does. Mr. Dylan fires me and says he thinks white teenagers are lazy cusses. Of course it doesn’t occur to him that he’s white and was once a teenager. But then again he was almost fifty and a day manager in some greasy spoon with old heavy waitress in short dresses that don’t flatter their figures. So I guess that makes him lazy too.

That all happened last year. In the twelve months since, I’ve gone from sixteen to seventeen, and I got a lot of maturity happening. Like I got grown up enough to drop out of school in May and get me a good summer job cutting grass in a cemetery. I’ve stuck this out for a couple of months now, never missing a day. In the fall I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll shovel snow or go up north and become a lumber jack or railroad man, or maybe I’ll learn to drive a truck, even though you got to go to school to learn that, so I guess that doesn’t appeal to me much.

In the mean time I got myself enough money to afford a room in a flop house where I stayed before I moved out. I didn’t socialize much with people there. In fact I didn’t talk much to anyone, except to the owner who lived on the bottom floor next to the kitchen. She was pretty kind most times, making me breakfast more than once. Although she could be real strict like when people come home drunk or use cuss words. She is an immigrant from Poland, who kept telling me her husband died in some war.

Like I said she is just about the only person I talked to in the house, since the other guys there were a lot older and some got real problems, like I would say being lonely and sad and maybe drinking too much or being in trouble with the law. The cops took one guy a way for some crime that he did in the Big City. According to Mrs. Gadinsky he killed a man. All I know is he went away real quiet.

Death doesn’t scare me much. I’m used to it, and not just from cutting lawns in a cemetery. My parents died in a car crash when I was fourteen. Except for living with an alcoholic Uncle who used to hit me, I been pretty much on my own, this suited me just fine. Who needs people anyway? If you’re going to the north and becoming a lumberjack or railroad man, you don’t want any commitments or nothing getting in your way.

So I guess if you don’t mind death, then a cemetery is a good place to work. The grass cutting can be hard, pushing around a shaky mower for eight hours. I remember on the first day the sun was burning real hot and I must a got heat stroke, because I felt faint and staggered into the shack at the end of the shift. I drank lots of water and felt better, but still felt like I was hung over, even though I never really drink much liquor.

The guys here are okay, even though I don’t talk to them much. I just say hello to Mr. Rawlins and go off all day to my section and cut grass around tombstones. I’ve been told I’m real good at cutting the tall grass that grows along the base where the tombstones meet the ground. See I don’t use any kind of special weed cutter. I get on my hands and knees and pull. All of the other workers think I’m crazy, even the illegals. So I guess they don’t want to talk to me much either, because who wants to talk to a crazy man.

What I do is work real hard, something I learned to do since my bus boy days. I get the grass cut faster than anyone else. Then I get on my knees and spend the last few hours of the day pulling at the tall grass and weeds. I guess I got an eye for detail. Maybe the people that come here to visit the deceased appreciate it.

My parents, they’re buried in section 14 under a tall tree. I think it’s a maple, or maybe an oak. I don’t know so much about trees. Nobody knows that I got folks here. Doesn’t mean anything to me that there here. My thinking is, once you’re gone you’re gone, so there’s no point in crying over something that you can’t get back, like spilt milk. That’s why I never visit their tombstone and do that crying stuff. I guess I don’t want to be like Mrs. Gadinsky thinking about dead people my whole life.

You get used to funerals working in this place. At first I felt guilty when someone died and got to be buried, but now it doesn’t mean a thing to me. Lawnmowers can’t be running with all their noise, so you got to turn them off and just wait until everyone gets back in their cars and drives off. If it is a hot day, or my arms feel tired, it is even a relief to see a procession come by because it means break time. I wonder what all those sad people would think if they knew we were happy to see the procession come by because it means we don’t have to work.

One time I felt sad, that’s when Mr. Dylan the restaurant owner died premature from a heart attack. He was just fifty or something. All the workers came. The waitresses honored him by dressing a lot better with none of them wearing clothes too tight. It was kind of ironic. There was Mr. Dylan always complaining about illegals, saying they was lazy. But if not for a couple of Mexican guys he might not a been buried.

There was this thick tree root growing in the deep in the ground where his casket was supposed to be put. Well you’ve never seen guys working harder than Javier and Miquel. They were working for a good hour or two with axes breaking down that root. Sweat was pouring off their backs. I wonder what Mr. Dylan would have thought knowing that a couple of illegals saved his last day above the earth. I learned once this is called irony, when you believe one thing and then another thing happens.

One of my teachers who I kind of like comes up to visit me once in a while to talk to me. His name is Mr. Colford. He is old too, maybe about Mr. Dylan’s age, but a lot healthier, and he doesn’t get mad so much. Unfortunately, he has this idea that I should be doing something that I don’t want too, like going back to school. He keeps telling me I got talent as an artist. He says I’m a good colorist, with a good eye for composition. Then he starts talking about this guy named Chagall and his goat paintings. One day he brings me a book with his paintings. I suppose I have talent as good as his. My old teacher knows this because one day he brings an old classmate of his who is a curator from some famous museum in New York. The guy was dressed real fancy. He was saying I got to do something with my art, that I’m a prodigy or some word I’m not sure of.

I just say I want to get out of town. I tell them that painting comes easy so it doesn’t mean much to me. Working all day pulling grass is hard work so it gives me more satisfaction. Well the curator guy looked real disappointed and said I was young. He gave me his card and told me to call if I’m ever in Manhattan. I lied and said sure, I’d look him up, but I knew I wasn’t going to any big city. I wanted to get out of here and go up to the North Country and be a lumber jack, maybe try my hands at mining.

Something I didn’t tell no one, that I left Ms. Gadinsky’s house. I took all my belongings, including my sleeping bag and moved into the woods on the edge of the cemetery plots. Down in section 14 there is road that leads to a break in the woods. That’s where all the oldest tombstones can be found. The tombstones go back a couple a hundred years. Well at the end of the patch of graveyard they got some thick woods that no one goes into. That’s where I put my belongings.

At night I sleep there and nobody knows, not even the Rawlins brothers. It all works out for the better, because I’m getting real obsessed about this place, trying to keep things all in order. I can put in extra hours pulling at the weeds, and taking hedge clippers around the bushes. Sometimes I take a flashlight with me and work under the stars. It makes me feel peaceful working for the dead.

Funny that I always stay away from the tombstones of the people I knew once, like my dead folks or Mr. Dylan. I wonder what that Chagall guy would think about that. I liked his goat pictures. Maybe when he was young he wanted to be a miner or lumberjack.

Mrs. Gadinsky said she was sorry to see me leave the house, but like I said I have this compulsion. I’ve got to make my body tough, and that doesn’t happen by sleeping in a comfortable bed and having scrambled eggs for breakfast. No I got to be on a small diet and work until my muscles get filled with a burning ache, that way I build up the body.

Mr. Colford came by one hot day and brought some paint brushes and paper and said just in case I had the urge I could paint. He showed me once again that Chagall painting with the goat. That night I took the brushes and painted a goat that wasn’t so cheerful. Thing is, it started to rain and ruined the paper. Lucky I got a little pup tent that keeps me dry.

I think I’ll give up on this art thing. Once I’m up in the North Country working in a mine or cutting down trees, all this art stuff should leave my head. Maybe there will be a lot less tragedy and sadness. Just yesterday they came to bury Mrs.Gadinsky.

It seems as if one of the men in her house got drunk and went crazy and stabbed her a few times until she died. Most of the people who lived in her rooming house at one time or another came to the funeral. Must have been the longest procession of the year. Maybe a hundred people came. Nobody was dressed in fancy clothes, but everyone looked real sad. I guess I was just about the only one who didn’t follow her in that line. I watched from behind one of the tombstones with the mower tilted on its side so no one could see.

That night I couldn’t sleep, because I was thinking about all the death. There was a star I kept looking at and wondered if there was a better planet that went around it. I decided I wanted to be a miner more than a lumberjack. I figure when you are down in the earth it has got to be more peaceful. Less people to give you a hard time.

It’s been close to two months since I left school and worked at the cemetery. The money I’ve saved is pretty good, almost $1,000. That’s enough to get me a good pair of working boots and a hard hat. I’m sure I’ll need that up north. Maybe I’ll even buy me a pair of thick socks. The mines up there must be real cold. Tomorrow I’ll buy myself a train ticket and then go. I’m little bit excited because I’ve never been on a train. It should be real exciting to see the countryside. I expect I might even see my first mountain.

Poor Mr. Colford will probably miss me. I guess he’ll even be surprised since I never told him or anyone else about my plans. Maybe I’ll send him a note saying what I’m doing even though I don’t write all that good. I guess I’ll even include a little painting of a goat with paint he left behind. He’d like that. Now that Mrs. Gadinsky’s dead he’s just about the only one in this town I kind of like.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know I’ll be happier being a miner. I’m hoping anyway. Like I said, art comes easy, work doesn’t, and so why not do something that makes you stronger. It’s better pleasing yourself than anyone else. If I want to work underground where it’s dark, then that’s what I’ll do.

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