While I think a lot of my work ethic traces back to my many ingrained neuroses, I give a lot of credit to what I experienced during the first job I ever held. The whole experience shocked my system into pretty much being able to handle anything, because everything thereafter seemed a lot easier. This is something I’ve been meaning to write about because even while it was happening I knew that it was excessive and bizarre, though I had no experience to compare it with at the time. For all I knew, this was what the working world was like. I was fifteen years old and practically a clean slate, helpless to be a sponge and absorb what was going on around me. I also wanted to make money and there weren’t exactly a lot of opportunities in the small countryside town where I lived.
The seasonal job was for a local landscaping company and nursery. Job title: I don’t know — laborer, maybe? Field hand? There was a cycle of activities our little crew performed. The owner of the landscaping company was a man who looked like an old apricot, forever wearing a pair of khakis with long white socks pulled up to his knees, perma-stubble all over his face. He was a very conservative sort and he constantly repeated that he hired high school students, unlike the other landscaping companies, who hired migrant workers. He was so incredibly proud of himself, as wholesome as a store-bought apple pie.
He is not worth as much attention as the spectacular specimen that’s his brother. Larry. Oh boy, Larry. He was my boss.
Larry was a very short man. He had a round beer belly that looked rock solid and underneath this were two skinny, scrawny legs. He looked like an apple stabbed onto two chopsticks. His eyes were round too, bulging out of his skull with the most intense stare I had seen yet in life. His head was shaved (he was, in fact, a skinhead), though we rarely ever saw this as he always wore a baseball cap. He moved around like a bowling ball bouncing from one side of the lane to the other. He did not smile.
He was also a Vietnam War veteran. This wasn’t something he talked about very often, though when he did bring it up, it usually involved him sleeping with Vietnamese prostitutes. The way the job duties were organized left us teenagers no other choice but to listen to Larry talk for eight hours every day (we would get an hour lunch, but we usually spent it talking about the crazy shit he was talking about).
Before I get into any of the stories he told, or the many things he would say, let me explain how this job unfolded on a daily basis.
All of us would arrive at 7:30am and we would file into a 15 foot truck. There were no real seats in this truck, so about seven of us would sit on the floor in the back. At 8:00am, Larry would drive the truck down the backroads to another landscaping company’s plot of land. We would all knock around in the back, flying up into the air whenever he hit a pothole. This resulted in a few bruises but that was nothing compared to the upcoming discomforts. The plots of land we drove to were isolated from all civilization. The giant truck would drive on some dirt road, lumbering through woods and around ravines until we reached an open field. These fields were always filled with some plant or another — I couldn’t tell you what they were. Rows and rows of bushes and no paved road in sight.
Our job during this time was to retrieve cuttings from these bushes. We had only an hour to do this and we were expected to work as fast as possible so we could bring back up to 10,000 cuttings (often we would retrieve as many as 30,000). We were all supplied with knives, some of which were rusty things, and told to count every little branch we collected. It seems like this would be difficult, but I could count myself up to 1500, 2000, 3000 cuttings in that hour. We would all spread out into these fields, the sun rising higher up into the sky and beating down on us. We’d be sweating and covered in dirt and mud from head to toe, but Larry never let us stop. He would tail us, yelling at us.
“What the fuck are you doing?! What the fuck number you got? That’s fucking it?! Get the fuck out there! Hurry the fuck up!”
After a while I became incredibly good at this. I was tiny and quick. I reached the point where Larry wouldn’t even yell at me, just glare at me with his buggy eyes and nod.
Once we reached our goal with the cutting count, we filled crates up with plants and stockpiled them into the truck. We drove back to the company’s warehouses and carried these crates into a giant warehouse room. I spent so much time in this room, I can still picture it. One side of it was just giant garage doors that were always open. Against the right wall we would pile the crates, and one of us teenagers would take a hose and spray all of the crates and cuttings down until they were dripping wet and half the room was a giant puddle.
In the very middle of the room was a long table that was shaped like a U. In the middle of this table sat Larry, in the crook of the U. The rest of us would sit around him, like we were all in some circle of recovery. Behind us was a rickety stand with a decades-old radio that we were NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH. I think someone tuned in the usual station once without Larry’s permission and we did not hear the end of it.
“THIS IS MY FUCKING RADIO! I AM THE BOSS OF THIS RADIO! NOBODY TOUCHES THIS RADIO UNLESS I TELL THEM TO!”
At least the radio was always on. And Larry’s taste in music wasn’t terrible — he played a Canadian rock station that always played Rush and Bif Naked. “Bif Naked. Who the fuck wants to see her naked?”
We would sit at this table for the rest of the day. It was like some demented Last Supper, where Larry/Jesus glared at all of us disciples while we picked up branches that were soaking wet and stripped them and cut the bottom so that they were ready to be planted in the greenhouses. Strip, cut. Strip, cut. Strip, cut. My lap would get drenched with water, and consequently, my underwear too. By the end of the day, I was soaked to the bone with dirt matted to my skin. I would wrap electrical tape around my fingers so that the plants didn’t irritate them. Some of the plants had thorns, that was always fun, though I never cut myself up as badly as some of the other kids did. Regardless, there was always blood, every single day.
Because we were all just sitting around for seven hours, stripping and cutting over and over again, we had very little else to do but talk. Larry, of course, was the boss of the conversation. We did not talk about anything that he didn’t want to talk about, and if we tried to, he would punish us by sending us out to the greenhouses to stick plants. Sometimes he sent two of us out there anyway, simply because somebody had to do it. God, that was fucking awful. It involved crouching down in a greenhouse, poking holes in dirt, sticking plants in the holes, and doing this 10, 000 times.
As horrible as that sounds, the worst part was the long nozzle that watered the plants that was on some mechanism that moved from one side of the greenhouse to the other. Whenever it came by you had to duck down even lower, basically doing child’s pose in the dirt. If you didn’t, you’d get bonked in the head. Also, you would get drenched in water and the water REEKED of sulfur. I don’t know enough about plants to say whether it was sulfur water or just smelled that way, but my god, I think being soaked in that stinky water is still one of the worst things I have ever experienced.
Back to the Last Supper. Quality time with Larry. The man just loved to talk. He was a horrible racist and that tended to be his topic of choice, but none of that is worth repeating or describing. As for the other topics, let’s see.
I suppose I should mention that Larry got it into his head that I was a witch.
I also know that the first instinct after reading that is to think the man was joking. Maybe he was, but he did not ever, not once, ever hint in any way that he was joking. He was very, very serious when he talked to me about this. I worked there for two years and he never relented with this theory nor cracked a smile about it. There was no good reason for him to really think this, except that every girl that worked there was tan with blonde hair and then there was me, ghostly pale with hair that was practically black at the time. This accusation arose only within my first few days working there. I saw him staring at me with his saucer eyes for a while.
“Why are you so fucking pale?” he asked.
There was no good answer to this, as I didn’t know and I still don’t know why my skin’s like a blank piece of paper.
“Is your hair black?” he continued, staring me down.
“No, it’s dark brown.”
He shook his head and stomped his foot like I had offended him. “Your hair is fucking BLACK. You’re a fucking witch, aren’t you?”
How do you answer this? I stuttered out a no. He glared, stopped talking, but continued to watch me out of the corner of his eye. He proceeded to refer to me as “witch” for the next two years. It was my name. I was The Witch. This was better than the nickname he gave another girl, whom he called Rocks — because she was as dumb as them.
There was a particular day when we came from the truck and settled down at the U table when Larry sat down on a nail. Somehow, the nail in his butt had something to do with my magic witchery. He yelled at me and sent me out to stick in the greenhouse alone. I was drenched in sulfur water because of my witch antics. If he was joking, his face never revealed it as he swore at me until I was out of the warehouse. He said he was onto me.
Every day, we were graced with his recounting of his previous evening. This usually involved movies he had watched, which were always strange and random. He reviewed the movie and provided a synopsis with an infuriated expression on his face, his black eyebrows crunched down into the bridge of his nose. One would think he hated a movie, then he would end his rant by confirming the movie had been excellent. One day, we all sat stripping leaves when Larry nodded at me and told me he saw a movie that I would like. It was about a witch who murdered people. He looked at me seriously, “It was a fucking good movie. You should see it. It’s your kind of thing.” I never watched this movie.
After watching the movie Hostel, he came in the next day and swore to us that it was real. This shit happened, and it happened all the time. One girl claimed she planned on backpacking through Europe and he told her she was going to be kidnapped, tortured, and killed for fun. She laughed at him and said she would send him a post card. He flew off the handle at this remark and told her to go stick in the greenhouse. “You fuckers can all go get killed in Europe! Backpacking. Fuck you!”
Some filler in between his grander monologues involved how much he hated his cat. But loved his cat. But hated the cat. It was clear he loved his pet but his way of expressing this involved threatening to kill it on a daily basis to a bunch of teenagers.
He would start off with, “My cat was fucking pissing me off last night. PISSING ME OFF.” He hated it when we didn’t reply (and when we did), so we would respond automatically: “What happened?”
“The fat bastard wouldn’t stop scratching at the door. I yelled at it to stop scratching, but the fat fuck wouldn’t stop. So I picked that fucker up and I PUNCHED HIM RIGHT IN THE FUCKING FACE.”
“You punched your cat?”
“YEAH, I PUNCHED HIM. THAT’S WHAT HE FUCKING GETS.” He mimed picking up an animal and punching it square in the nose. “My fist, right there in his FACE.”
We all thought this was absolutely hilarious (because he wasn’t actually punching the cat… I think). We started prompting him to tell these stories for our own amusement.
Strip, cut. Strip, cut. We would all smile and make eye contact. “Hey, Larry, how’s your cat?”
“That fucker, that fucker, let me tell YOU!” If he didn’t talk about beating up the cat, we would need to prompt him further. “So what did you do about it?”
When it comes to his more genuine stories, there’s one that stands out in particular. He once told us all to shut the fuck up because he was going to tell us a serious story that was true as hell, and if anyone said anything while he told it they would be sticking until 4:00pm.
The story was about when he was a soldier in Vietnam. His face was serious and he stared at all of us in turn. The evening was quiet, he said, the sky was getting dark, and everyone was laying out in the camp. They had nothing to do but stare into the jungle. Then someone said they saw something. Something was moving in the trees. Several things were moving in the trees. They were getting closer, creeping closer. The soldier started shouting, and everyone panicked, believing that they were being attacked. Larry could see the shadows too, figures moving in the trees, and he grabbed his gun and got up with everyone else. Chaos erupted. A shot was fired, then everyone was shooting. Every soldier was shooting frantically, blindly, into the trees. The sound of gunfire filled Larry’s ears, but then he could hear:
“STOP SHOOTING! STOP SHOOTING!”
The major ran around frantically, completely losing his head, screaming at the soldiers to put down their guns.
Larry paused, his bulbous eyes staring at each one of us individually. One of us prompted him to continue.
“Shut the fuck up!” He then continued.
The figures in the trees, they were monkeys. The soldiers had just wiped out a whole troop — of monkeys. Left and right, monkey corpses dropped out of the trees. The major kept screaming his throat raw about how they had wasted bullets for no reason. Now, I am not 100% that this story is true in any way. If this is a scene in some movie, please let me know, so I can figure out how truthful Larry actually was. This is a man who thought Hostel was real, so you just never know.
He also had an interesting belief when it comes to the origin of the human race. He was infuriated that we didn’t back his theory. Absolutely livid. We would walk off to lunch laughing until we cried, laying out on the grass in front of the owner’s house howling about Larry’s grand theory.
Larry believed that human beings had descended from aliens. He said when humans were still practically monkeys, aliens arrived on Earth and fucked the cave women, thus creating humans. So basically:
The man hated minorities, believed Hostel recounted real events, thought I was a witch, swore at us and berated us for eight hours straight every day, punched his cat in between watching B movies, and believed with all his heart that humans were part alien. On top of being graced with all of this, I would be soaked with sulfur water and caked in dirt, sand underneath my fingernails, my fingers sticky with the residue of electrical tape. Though there were difficulties in the other jobs I’ve held over the years — I’ve been screamed at, bitten, had my hair pulled, worked longer hours, gone without a break — this first job still takes the cake as being so incredibly physically uncomfortable and just plain bewildering. After experiencing Larry and the sulfur water at age fifteen, everything else I just accepted as part of life. These things just happen, right?
After thinking about the kook this much, I searched Larry on the internet to see what he’s been up to. Besides verifying that he’s still alive and that he actually was a Vietnam War vet, the only other thing I found was on a strange website that discussed the “true secret of happiness.” On this site is an article that discusses Larry, though I don’t know why he is provided as an example. The article starts:
“Scientists estimate that 90 to 110 billion human beings have lived on this planet. Of all these many people, one of the luckiest of all may have been Larry.”
The rest of the article talks about how everyone today is so lucky and blessed because we have television and other luxuries. The article states that Larry is so lucky because he has all of these things, and God has given them to him. There’s a picture of a television with a caption that says my old boss can enjoy TV shows and indoor plumbing.
Yes, Larry is very lucky indeed. He has a television to watch his movies, but no, it’s not because of God. It’s actually because of our alien ancestors.
Thank you, aliens.