Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tale of a Snow Shovel, or Why I Am Clearly A Stupid Pushover

From time to time, we get a knock on our door, and it's some guy, offering to do some kind of work for money. Sometimes, these things work out great, like the guy this summer who painted our slightly rusting and chipping wrought-iron fence and stoop, a job I had all the tools for (paint, brushes, etc.) but not so much the inclination.

And then there's Mike. He first came by around August, offering to weed the sidewalk and the front of the house, and whatever I chose to pay him would go to "the church." Whatever, I didn't buy that, but I did pay him $10 to pull weeds. I found out later that my neighbor did the same thing. (We often use each other as a gage for what to pay these guys when they're offering to do something we've meant to do, but haven't gotten to).

The weeds get pulled. A couple of months later, Mike shows back up again offering to rake all the leaves on the sidewalk and in our tiny front yard for "whatever I feel it's worth." I offer $5. He reminds me that I paid him $10 to weed. I offer $8 (because, really, I overpaid for the weeding). We agree. He goes to work on the leaves, and also apparently talks our neighbor into the same thing. He come back a day or two later," You see? I been working on your leaves. Tell you what. I'll give you the same deal that I gave your neighbor. He's paying me $20 for the whole month to clear the leaves. You be able to tell I been here, because all the leaves will be gone. I just need a trash bag."

I agree. Because I am a sucker. Here's what it is: this guy is actually asking for work. He wants to do something for me in exchange for money. He's not just asking for money. At least the guy is trying. I won't just give money to people anymore. I donate money to soup kitchens, I'll give them food, but no money to individuals.

So, I pay Mike $20 for the month of October. True to his word, the leaves are cleared. About the last week of October, he comes back to see if I want to "renew" for November. He also tells me that he got a leaf blower and that he needs $8 to buy gas for it, and if I don't have the $20, I can give him $8, and he will take it off my $20 for the month. I say I'm not sure if I have any money on me, but I will look. I shut the door, and Mike goes to work clearing the leaves. I can't decide what to do. I look in my wallet. I have $7. I open the door, and give it to Mike. I am a sucker.

He comes back later in November, on an awful, cold rainy night. He asks if I can pay the rest of the money for November, and also he need bus fare, and I can deduct that from the $20 for December. I ask him where he needs to go, and he tells me he needs to take the Metro and then the bus, and tells me the stops. He has kind of a thin-looking jacket on. I give him the $13 that I owe him for November, plus $3 for Metro and bus fare, plus a $10 fare card that's just been sitting around. For one of my old jobs, I got transit benefits where I paid pre-tax out of my paycheck, and I got stacks of farecards that I never used, because I quit the job. It was one of those farecards that I gave to Mike.

The leaves do get picked up. The yard probably does look neater than usual. I wish that he hadn't assumed I would "renew" for December. I really want to get out of this. The leaves are almost gone; they've hung around longer than normal because of the warm weather. But there won't be any leaves much longer, and Seth is adamant about shoveling the snow when there is some. After December, I'm going to have to break it to Mike that I won't be renewing. I will use Seth as the "bad cop" - "well, my husband, he normally does these things, and he really wants to do them, and he doesn't want me paying someone else anymore...." (enter me, as 1950's housewife with no control over the finances, a "yes-woman" to my bacon-bringin' husband).

In early December, I get home later than usual. I walk in the door, and Seth announces,"Your groundskeeper was here. He said you owed him $17 for December, and that he needed $5 in bus fare. I gave him $5." I sigh.

A week later, it snows. As usual, all of DC is in total pandemonium over an inch or two of snow. Seth has stayed home with a cold, and it will be up to me to shovel the stoop and walk later. I hear the front gate clang, hear something on the steps, and a few minutes later, there is a knock at the door. Of course, it is Mike. He has a pitiful-looking plastic broom in his hand, and he's whacking the snow off of our steps. A young woman in jeans and a short, puffy coat stands shivering on the sidewalk, apparently waiting for Mike to finish.

"You see I been cleaning up all those leaves. And I shovel your walk too! I come back tomorrow to get any more snow. Can you pay me the $12 that you owe me?" I tell him I'll be just a minute. Seth says, "I didn't know his rates included shoveling." Sigh. "I didn't either.
Seth queries me about what I owe. I confirm that it's right, and that December is the last month I will be paying Mike. I go to get my wallet, and I think that it's actually kind of fortuitous that Mike came tonight to shovel, since Seth is sick, and in no condition to do his favorite chore. I think about how heavy and sticky the snow is, and how little of it Mike is actually getting off of the steps with that sorry old broom. I open the front door.

"Here's the $12. Do you want to use our shovel? Just for right now, I mean. Just to shovel our walk." Mike says sure, and I trot down to the basement to get the shovel.

Now, this isn't any old shovel. It's ERGONOMIC. We dug through the piles of shovels in the basement of Frager's, our local hardware store for this shovel. Seth is gadgety, and he also has back issues, so this curvy-handled beauty appealed to him on many levels. Seth is attached to this shovel.

I open the front door again, hand over the shovel. Mike says,"Thanks. I'll bring your shovel right back." We hear the scraping of metal on metal, and then it stops. I open the front door. Mike and our shovel are gone. Huh. I thought I was clear that it was to be used JUST NOW and JUST FOR OUR WALK. Maybe he's going to use it around the corner on someone else's walk and bring it back. I wait. I think, it's just a shovel. Be Buddhist. Don't be attached to material things. Worst case, it doesn't get returned, and I will go get a new one.

I go so far as to tape a note to the door at 11pm that stays on the door all the next day: "MIKE - Please put the shovel under the porch. Thanks." Because I really, truly, sincerely, naively believe he is going to bring it back.

The next day. No shovel. A few more days. No shovel. A week. No shovel. Two weeks. No shovel. I am an idiot. Seth is a bit annoyed at my liberties with his shovel. I don't blame him. I go to get him another one. When I check at Frager's they don't have the ergonomic ones. Hopefully it won't snow. I look on Amazon, and price a few. On the bright side, maybe I got rid of Mike, finally. He'd have to have a lot of nerve to come back after STEALING OUR SHOVEL. I mean, THE MAN STOLE OUR STUPID ERGONOMIC SNOW SHOVEL. He already had me suckered out of $20 a month - why ruin such a good gig by stealing a $30 shovel? The mind boggles.

Sometime around Christmas, I go by Frager's. They have the ergonomic snow shovels again. I buy one for $21.

2008 arrives. Woohoo, the new year! We're sitting cozily at home one night, probably drinking some wine, watching a movie. And THERE COMES A KNOCK AT THE DOOR. There is one person, only one, who knocks on our door at this time of night on a weeknight. Seth and I look at each other. I know what a stupid pushover I am. I make a pathetic face at Seth, and flee to hide in the kitchen. Seth opens the front door.

Mike: "Hi!...."
Seth says,"Hey man, where's my shovel?" in a remarkably-Lebowski-like voice.
Mike: "Oh, it's right around the corner! I'll go get it!"
Seth: "You know you weren't supposed to just take it, that we gave it to you to use on our walk."
Mike: "Oh yeah, I know that!"
Seth:"So, where's the shovel been, then/"
Mike: "Oh, it's been with me. It's right around the corner. I'll go get it."

Mike leaves, the door shuts. We haven't seen him since.

Final tally:
Goodwill towards humankind- 0
Minor league neighborhood shysters - one kidnapped snow shovel

1 comment:

Steven said...

Lawyers have souls? Who knew.

(pushover is not always bad. As long as it is compartmentalized to humanitarian things.)