Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Nelsons of Nozzy

Installment 3
By Suzie Q.

1. Tom

What in the flipping heck was going on with Dad these days? He looked...doubtful. Not slow like usual; normally Dad never thought very fast, but he definitely knew what he thought. Even when he was wrong: Son, I'm telling you, the Statue of Liberty isn't there any more. Seriously. Tom hadn't had the heart to tell him: Dad, that was Planet of the Apes. For the last week Dad'd had the constant air of a man trying to remember where he left his keys. Doubtful all the way down to the bottom. His eyes kept wandering skyward and staying there. He'd stopped holding forth to Tom and his mom on "the blacks," and the importance of hard work, and the scourge of income tax. Twice Dad had looked him meaningfully in the eyes and said "Son" in his General Authority voice, but then after staring at Tom for a while he ended up commenting on how nice the weather'd been. What the heck, Dad? Mom seemed confused by this turn too, though she didn't seem very worried.
At Sunday School last week, Tom heard a story he'd been repeating to himself ever since, every time he had a quiet moment.

"The Five-Dollar Job."
Jim, who was just about you guys' age, was trying to make some money one summer. There was a school trip to Disneyland scheduled for the next spring, and no way could his parents afford that on their own. So Jim was mowing lawns and doing odd jobs for some older people in town. He took loads of garbage to the dump, and trimmed trees, and cleaned out rain gutters. He did a good job, and people appreciated his good work, so before long he had a pretty big bunch of customers.
Most of Jim's customers were nice enough, but there was this one grouchy old man he hated to work for. Mr. Henrie. Mr. Henrie had run the town's little post office for as long as anyone could remember. Maybe that was the problem--the boring details of that work had just sucked all the joy right out of him and replaced it with pickiness, and irritability, and suspicion. No matter how carefully Jim mowed the lawn--both across and up and down, turning it into a giant checkerboard--Mr. Henrie always reacted the same way. He'd come outside, and give Jim a nasty look like Jim was trying to put one over on him. Then he'd walk all the way around the borders of his property, bending over to get a good close look at Jim's edging. He'd always find a spot or two Jim had supposedly missed, and he pointed them out with what looked like angry satisfaction. Like, "Gotcha!" Jim would touch up those spots, then ask for his pay. Mr. Henrie would ask, every time, how much they'd agreed on. Maybe he hoped that one of these times Jim would ask for less, or just forget completely. "Three dollars, please, Mr. Henrie," Jim would sigh. "That's a lot of money, you know. I could live for a month on three dollars when I was your age." "Yes, Mr. Henrie." "I just expect some really good work for three dollars." "Yes, Mr. Henrie."
Jim finally had enough of that little game. He determined that he was not going to have that conversation ever again. Jim decided that he was going to do such an overwhelmingly fantastic job on Mr. Henrie's lawn that even that bitter old man couldn't find fault with it. It would be perfect. It would be better than perfect. It would blow his mind.
So the following Saturday, Jim set his alarm for 4:30 a.m. He shoveled in a quick breakfast and rode his bike over to Mr. Henrie's house long before the sun came up. With a flashlight in one hand and a pair of hand shears in the other, Jim pruned the big thorny hedges, all fifty yards of them, all around the yard, before most people in town were eating their breakfast. At the stroke of 8, he pulled the lawnmower's starter cord. He went around the yard four times, up and down, side to side, and then both again in the opposite direction. He took off his shoes to feel for anthills and low spots, then carefully evened them all out. He took his plastic school ruler out of his pocket and measured the grass to make sure it was as equally trimmed as it looked. He bagged all the grass and leaves, then took them out to the dump rather than leave them for the garbagemen. He did everything he could think of to make that lawn: perfect.
The sun went down about 8 o'clock; Jim finally stopped working at 9. He guzzled a whole quart of water, then knocked on Mr. Henrie's door. Jim thought he'd seen Mr. Henrie watching through the blinds a few times during the day, but still, the old guy acted surprised to see him, and asked him what he wanted. "I'd like my pay, please, Mr. Henrie."
"How much is that again, young man?"
"Five dollars, please."
"FIVE DOLLARS! But I pay you three, don't I?"
"Yes, Mr. Henrie, normally you do. But today I did a five-dollar job."
And he had. Mr. Henrie couldn't help but agree, and he wrote out a check, and handed it to Jim, with a look of newfound respect. "Excellent job, young man," he beamed. "Couldn't be better!"

Now that was a story. That was a philosophy for life. Work so dang hard that people had no choice but to be impressed. The rewards and the reputation would follow then just like s, d, f, and g follow a on the left-hand home row on the typewriter.