When I was twelve or so, Dad told me to get off my derrière and earn some money. So, I started pushing the lawn mower around the neighborhood. Thankfully, since we had a corner lot, he’d bought one of those new fangled self-propelled machines. It made it easier, but no less tedious, to mow that forty thousand acre yard in the hot Tampa summer. And that doesn’t include all the orange and grapefruit and guava trees I had to maneuver the Green Behemoth around.
Now, this was before people started mowing yards for a living, and before other people became willing to fork out 40 bucks to have someone mow their 1100 square feet of Saint Augustine grass before the chinch bugs discovered fine dining. For a small lot, say the kind where you could reach from your kitchen window into your neighbor’s kitchen window and help them with the dishes, I charged two bucks. For a larger yard, the kind where the trampoline and the kiddie pool were the yard, I charged two fifty. (Don’t you wish I were still mowing yards?) On those rare occasions where the Lady of the Manor asked me to rake the clippings, and after I picked my tantrum throwing self up off the ground, I didn’t charge any extra. I don’t know why I didn’t charge extra. Too polite maybe. Or afraid of being browbeaten. Except for the lady at the other end of my street on the corner. I don’t remember her name, and I don’t have a clear image of her in my mind (it’s becoming clearer now…), but I do remember her bringing me iced sugar with a little tea in it while I sweated my buns off in her yard. I also remember she was pretty and – I swear (sorry Mrs. Porter) – she walked around outside in a, I don’t want to call it a negligee or nightgown, but something airy. It may have been my imagination. Maybe. But she was nice and I was shy, so it made for…and she was at least twice my age.
That summer, I was jealous of Warren Wester, who lived on 25th Street a few houses down from the Wilsons, because his mom, Fran, mentioned proudly that Warren had bought his own school clothes with the money he made mowing people’s lawns. All I ever seemed to buy with my lawn mowing money was gasoline, Archie comic books, Zagnut candy bars, and RC Cola. Our rivalry didn’t get any easier (not that Warren even knew I existed) when I became a lowly busboy at the (Dow Sherwood’s) Village Inn Pancake House on 30th and 113th. Warren was a cook! He threw perfectly cooked food onto previously dirty dishes I had cleared from debris-strewn tables only moments before (washed, of course, by Russell Labbe, the dishwasher, who also made more money than me). To make matters worse, I had to walk among the tables smelling that delicious food (German pancakes ❤ ❤ ❤ ) that Mr. Superior-in-every-way Wester had cooked mere seconds before.
I had my revenge though, when I was asked to fill in for a hostess who called in sick. Working the front desk: that was only one step below the guy who got to use the long pole with the suction end to change the sign out on the street. Yep. The Big Time. It was a busy Sunday and the after-church crowd was ravenous. I ran home and put on my suit and ran back and began the arduous task of seating people so the waitresses received an equal amount of people to serve. It never dawned on me that my dark green Easter suit, probably not worn in two years, may have fit a little snug. I'm sure the sleeves extended to my elbows, and the pants at least three inches below my knees. I'm sure those people at the table by the front door weren't laughing at me. I'm pretty sure I joined the Navy the next day.