Guys who work outside are like modern day Thoreau's. We are more observant of the weather than any meterologist, and we see the change of the seasons before the rest of the people. When you're outside for 50 something hours a week for years, you become like ole' Henry, listening intently to the sounds of the woods, waiting to hear the cracking of the ice on Walden Pond that tells us that the long winter is ending.
With that, of course, comes new jerkoffs. They stream in from all over as soon as the add is placed in the paper, that fateful, "Help Wanted, Yardman" that gets plastered all over Northern New Jersey at this time of year. They are looking for jobs doing anything, working anywhere, and very often the garden center is in their list of shit jobs that they'd love to do.
There are two types of people that are employed at garden centers: the full timers that have led a fucked up life and ended up needing to pay the bills by any means, and the part timers who do it either for extra money or just because they're bored. Me, I'm the second type, who works there mostly because I've been doing it for so long that one more year won't kill me; I've got a degree, and will eventually move on (although whether that is sooner or later remains to be seen.) The characters I meet through that shithole are ones that one of a kind, though, and their fucked up lives are more interesting than anything I could pull out of my own head.
He walked up to me the other day as I was driving the forklift, locked in a wrestling match with frozen pallets of topsoil. He has flaming red hair, pale skin, and a forearm decorated with a black celtic cross; when he came here the first time four years ago, he was a dumb, scrawny 18-year-old who called himself white trash, and had a taste for illegal drugs. He would pull up in a beat up old Saturn with a half wrecked bumper, blaring Kid Rock from the windows and smoking Newports. I had liked him immediately.
He worked for a long while, and was good at the bullshit that the job entails. When I think back to when he was there, I have to climb a ladder of faces as to who was there at the time, what they looked like, where they were in relation to others who worked there... it's likely climbing a mental ladder backwards in time to figure out who he knew and who he didn't.
After a spell, he'd decided to go into the Army. I think I tried to talk him out of it, as I always do with dumb kids who want to sign up, but it didn't work (as it never does with dumb kids itching to sign up). He had seemed kind of directionless in his life anyway, so I most likely thought that the Army might be good for him and give him somewhere to go, maybe a career or something.
"You guys hiring?" he asked.
"Yea man. We're picking up some now and they haven't got anybody here besides me... you looking for a job?"
"How was the Army? You done already?"
"It was alright. I was in there three years, that's all I signed up for, so I'm done."
He's thicker than he used to be, no longer the boney kid that left here. He's a little more composed, a little less goofy. Age and the Army work wonders for some.
"I'm surprised they let you out... they're in a bad way for guys, aren't they?"
"Yea. They threw all kinds of shit at me, offered me 30 grand to take another tour. I told them, "Fuck that." I was in Afghanistan... I wanted out."
He's younger than me by a couple years, but it struck me as I looked at him that this fucker is a "veteran" already. When I hear the word "veteran", I think of the eighty-year-olds with withered forearms who wear blue hats with a picture of a battleship on them and ask you to hump a bag of 5-10-5 out to their cars for them... I don't think of this guy. I don't look at any of my buddies who are getting back from Iraq or Afghanistan as "war veterans". It is strange for me to realize how much they've been through already compared to me, even though some of them are younger. The term "veteran" is something that I'm going to have get used to as my generation gets older. It is funny how things change when you get older.
It occured to me, also, that he had not heard about Ryer. This was one of the guys that said that me and Ryer were like older brothers to him, and yet I never had a chance to tell him about what had happened. There's no need to quote what I said here- it's the same fucking thing I've had to tell everyone for the last two years. He blinked and looked down, surprised.
Seeing this guy brought back a flood of memories about the way things used to be- reminiscient of a time and place in my life that I will never get back. But in the last few months I've been taking the advice of Ryer's old girl, and trying to let go... and when that coincides with other decent things happening, the days have brightened a bit. It is ironic that this fella comes back at this time. I am looking forward to hearing the things he has to say now... both of our lives are far different than they were the last time we met, and there are many days that lie ahead of backbreaking work under the sun.