John the mulch man.

Who knew that having a transient shelter next to our low-rise office building in downtown Edmonton could be so fucking useful ?i

Seriously, after the years of dumpster fires, dumpster diving, dumpster dumping, and general dumpster dramaz, not to mention the daytime bum fights, low-class yelling matches, and loitering about our property, seeing our next door neighbours as anything other than a perverse pestilence – one constructed by the ownerii of that neighbouring lot as an attempt to force us to sell – seemed a tall tale. But then BURNCO – a local landscape centre – dropped off 11.4 cubic yards of red cedar mulch on our front garden yesterday morning and there was no one to distribute it.

Unprepared as I was for the fact that BURNCO wasn’t also going to distribute the mulch uniformly on the 2`000 sq ft garden in exchange for the $188.00 “Shipping & Handling” charge they’d been paid, I hopped into Saddamiii and popped over to Home Depot, bought a “medium-duty” wheelbarrow, cooked it back to the office, assembled the red mono-wheeled mulch conveyor and immediately started shovelling mulch like my life depended on it, eager to get this impromptu job done so that I could return to my previously scheduled shitshow in advance of the upcoming road trip.iv

Barely any sooner did I start shovelling than a grey-haired mulleted man – maybe early 50’s, 5’7″, and of the modest build common in the homeless – approached me, politely took off his baseball cap and placed it between his weathered hands, and from behind surprisingly straight teethv and with singular coherence and aptitude, asked me if he might be of some assistance in what was clearly a out-sized task for a single man in a single afternoon. This was at least as unexpected as the mulch drop-off, but maybe it was just going to be an improv kind of day.

Sizing him up, his positive attitude and very reasonably kept appearance were far from offensive, not to mention the fact that I was myself between a rock and a hard deadline and wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. So I started probing him about his experience with landscaping just to get him talking a bit about anything at all as I calculated the odds of him running off with my shovels, rakes, and new wheelbarrow the moment I turned my back. Fluent and affable, the fellow seemed altogether more eager and more socially aware than a large proportion of Dwayne’s Homevi residents I usually see in the area, who are visibly drugged and/or obviously disabled beyond being in any way useful to society, so I figured why the hell not ? Call it a temporary worker placement program, call it a mitzvah, call it giving back to the community, or even call it opportunistic delegation, but don’t call it late for dinner. Without John “the mulch man” I’d still be shovelling right now!

So we negotiated an exceedingly reasonable price of $30 flat based on approximately 10 man-hours of relaxed-pace labour,vii and shaking on the deal, I worked alongside him for maybe an hour before leaving for a lunch meeting. When I returned almost three hours later, two of his friends were also working away with him – all of them happily chatting to each other while wheelbarrowing, shovelling, and spreadingviii the mulch – and they were already 80% done! Not eagre to increase my financial commitment for the work completed but clearly seeing that the additional hands had sped up John’s schedule, I was a bit relieved when one of the other workers thanked me for the job before we could even discuss the fact that I wasn’t going to pay him, and mostly putting to rest my theory that John had divvied up his share of the pie.

John and I took a rare opportunity for low-skilled manual labour in a world awash with robots, and like Tom Sawyer, managed to make it look like we were enjoying ourselves enough to attract pro bono assistance. It was pretty sweet. I’m now racking my brain to come up with other uses for our neighbours.

John might be down, but he need not be out.

___ ___ ___

  1. I manage the family-owned building, keeping the 120-odd architects, lawyers, accountants, and carpenters inside as happy as clams, which usually just involves fixing leaks and broken lights, and ensuring a steady supply of fresh baked cookies from our in-house chef, but in a 30`000 sq ft, 60-year-old low-rise commercial building with huge south-facing windows and no air conditioning, it’s not always easy to beat the heat!
  2. Only after that said same owner (who claims to own 7`000 rental apartments and over 1.5 mn sq ft of commercial and retail space) had his frankly generous offer for our building declined about five years ago did Dwayne’s Home move in next door. Coincidence ? Given that this guy owned the properties to the south and east of us until just recently, when he sold the one to the south (Dwayne’s is to the east), it seemed that our property was the only thing standing in the way of his control of a corner of downtown real estate eminently suitable for razing and high-rising. But perhaps it’s now time to readdress that theory.
  3. Jay needed a new radiator this week. Why ? Because high mileage cars need craaazy love yo, and besides, nothing lasts forever, not when something is well used. Not hard drives, not computer monitors, not control arm bushings, and certainly not radiators. Thankfully, Japanese cars aren’t burdened by the scores of additional bullshit, usually of the electrical/software variety, that owners of newer German cars tolerate, like oh I dunno, notchy steering or assasination attempts!!1 
  4. Given the sheer volume of shit I was cramming into this week before next week’s road trip, and given furthermore that Friday is the bottom of every hill of shit, the day was an absolute blur ; as has most of the last month or so been, for that matter. Good Lordy what times these are.
  5. Teeth are a very clear mark of social status. Even though this fellow had dentures, his adult teeth lost to years of vagabondry, the appliance fit well enough, indicating that it was at least his own (yes, using someone else’s false teeth is common practise in the lower classes).
  6. Dwayne’s Home is a 140-bed, full room and board, supportive housing community for Edmonton’s homeless. Calling it “charming” would be too charitable, but it’s really no better or worse than the underbelly of every other North American downtown. There are always pockets of yesterday’s trash tucked in between the gleaming skyscrapers of tomorrow.
  7. Take that minimum wage!
  8. It w0rx!!1

5 thoughts on “John the mulch man.

  1. BingoBoingo says:

    Aha, ask him how he gets along with his sponsor.

  2. […] like all action, is expensive – too expensive for you, in fact – so the weaker but not totally destitut men made the most of their meagre resources, as is their prerogative, and enforced order the only way […]

  3. […] shit), idem. Not that the overwhelming majority of them couldn’t work either – not like they and their communities wouldn’t be better off if they did – but with state-implemented […]

  4. […] much like John the mulch man, the former resident of our downtown neighbour who since last spring found the sponsor’s […]

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