Mowing the Grass to Make Some Lettuce


The boy has been looking for some off-the-books employment to supplement his income of Christmas cash and birthday money and change from that twenty I gave him to go buy milk last month. He’s investigated such career paths as taking online surveys, writing online reviews, and entering online contests. So far, he has not earned even enough to pay for one month of internet. This morning he announced that he will be entering the lucrative world of plasma donation.

“Why don’t you just get a job?” I ask, like a naïve idiot.

“You mean, like, a job job?” he says. “Sure, I would do that if we were in Seattle, where the minimum wage is $15.”

“That doesn’t take effect until 2017,” I say. “Besides, it’s kind of traditional for teenagers to have low wage jobs because you have a pretty low overhead. All your living expenses are paid for. It’s kind of the same reason they pay prison inmates thirteen cents an hour when they have prison jobs.”

“Well, the plasma thing sounds like easy money.”

“Have you looked into the details? You can’t donate plasma online, you know. You have to drive out to the facility, and be willing to sit there in a recliner for several hours while they drain your precious bodily fluids.”

“What? No, they just take some blood, and take out the plasma, and put it back in you. It’s no big deal.”

“What do they do with all that plasma, you think?”

“I don’t know. Make TVs?”

“Actually, it’s the liquid component of your blood. Your body can replace it pretty easily, but it can’t be manufactured artificially. The use it to administer treatments to people. You know, ‘I need two units of plasma! Stat!’ It’s worthwhile, but it’s pretty time consuming.”

He shrugs, probably picturing all the hours he’d have to spend away from his computer. “I don’t know. I don’t really like needles anyway. Hey, maybe I could donate sperm.”

I shake my head, envisioning a world where a guy wants to get paid every time he rubs one out. “Yeah, you’d be making money hand over fist. You know how I made a ton of cash before I was even 16?”

He touches a knuckle to his chin, thinking. “Hmm. This was before eBay. Shock treatment test subject?”

“I mowed lawns.”

Yeah, if it's snowing, I'm going to have to charge more.

Yeah, if it’s snowing, I’m going to have to charge more.

Indeed, by age fourteen I had built a yard mowing empire. I was the Titan of turfgrass. The Heisenberg of herbaceous landscaping. I made enough dough to buy my own riding mower to supplement the family push mower, and I had two kids working under me doing more than a dozen yards a week. As a military brat living in base housing, I had a built-in supply of customers. The trade off, however, was a client list filled with lantern-jawed officers who wanted their lawns as squared away as the squadrons of soldiers they commanded. Every yard I mowed was a green crewcut, as flawless and uniformly striped as the Fenway Park outfield. If my work didn’t pass inspection, I’d hear about it later. Through my dad.

“You really bought your own mower?” Rusty asks. “How much?”

“Three hundred bucks. Five horsepower Murray. It was yellow. Back then, that was probably thirty lawns’ worth of pay. But that’s how I spent most of my summer, just mowing yards. I always had cash. I’d drive the mower down the street to the houses, towing the push mower behind me. Did all the trimming with manual shears, too.”

Rusty pushes up his lower lip, giving me a nod of grudging admiration. “You were pretty ambitious, dad. Were you saving up for a Studebaker or something?”

“Very funny. Close, though. I was saving up for a Datsun. I saved enough for the downpayment on a Datsun pickup. My old man loaned me the balance and let me pay him off over time. He was pretty cool about it.”

“Sounds kind of dangerous, though, a fourteen year old kid on a riding mower. You ever get injured?”

“Yeah, I had it flip over on me one time. I was trying to mow this incline, where I should have used the push mower. But I got lazy, just wanted to finish the lawn and go home and play Pong or something. I pointed the mower straight uphill and it flipped over backward. I jumped out of the way.”

“Damn, dad! Were you hurt?”

“Well, my foot got pinned under the blade housing and it sliced off a couple toes.”

Rusty’s eyes grow wide. “What? Are you serious? But…I never noticed you were missing any toes.”

I cross my arms and raise my eyebrows, hoping my cautionary tale is finding its mark. “Yeah, well, I was lucky. There happened to be a toe truck parked only two blocks away.”


   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

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