Saturday, October 22, 2011
What happened to the Yard Boy by Niles Reddick
That twelve-year-old yard boy is alive and well, except I’ve got about thirty five more years on me than when I pushed that red rusted mower around town cutting grass for elderly people. I hated mowing grass, the work, but I enjoyed seeing the result and loved the smell of freshly cut grass. I did a good job, too, except when I wasn’t paying attention. One bow-legged neighbor came off her porch waiving her wooden cane at me and screaming, “Lyles, you’re skinning the grass!” I couldn’t hear her for the roar of the motor, except when the roar subsided because the lawn mower was choking on her thick grass, leaving a circular pattern next to her azalea row, but she said it again and again until I did. “I’m sorry,” I said. I didn’t like her calling me Lyles when my name was Niles and I wasn’t sorry either, but it’s the way my mama and daddy taught me, the way the school teachers told us to be, the way the preacher shouted we should be unless we wanted hell. I didn’t want hell. I wanted that old woman’s five dollars, I wanted to grow up, and I wanted to get the hell out of that town. Thirty-five years later, I live twenty miles from there and I love to drive through there, though that house is now a parking lot, and it ultimately didn’t matter if I skinned her grass or not.
Next, I was a custodian and hated that, too, but today I still love the smell of Pine-sol and pour it in all three toilets in the house, so the house will smell good when I come home from work or a trip. Then, I bused tables, washed dishes, and tried to cook in a restaurant. I got “deselected” (new terminology in the corporate world) from cooking. I moved on to hotel clerk and even worked for the U.S. Air Force as a civilian while I was in college. When I graduated, I still didn’t know what to do, so I went on to graduate school.
While I worked on my Master’s degree in Psychology and even after I finished it, I tried to be a counselor. I didn’t much want to listen to people’s problems, really, but I did want to try to understand how they came to be so crazy: Why would you burn down your own house when it wasn’t insured? Why would you hallucinate? Why would you have sex with animals? I often thought someone should just tell them straighten up, quit all the nonsense. When I told one fellow who had tried to saw his heart out that he should have probably come up with another method to kill himself like a shot gun, he told me I was crazy, that I was a counselor and shouldn’t say that. I realized I probably ought to try something else.
So I went back to school for yet another degree and finally landed a teaching job. I really enjoyed teaching and still do. I could tell stories in class and write when I wasn’t in class. At some point, someone talked me into trying an administrative job and it paid a lot more, so I took it and have been a college administrator and teacher now for around twenty years. You’d think it would be stressful and boring, and it is sometimes. Some days I feel like sawing my own damned heart out, but the stories I hear are worth it: one student asked if he could fax a check to pay tuition (the bank would deposit a fax, don’t you think?); one student wanted to have a grade changed because he just didn’t like the F (well, now, don’t we all wish we could just twitch our nose and make the bad go away? This entitlement attitude, by the way, will become a major social problem soon enough. How about me telling Harper Collins, “I just feel my book should be published because I just know it will be a best seller”? Think that might work?); one student got a F on a paper because the work he turned in was not his (he’d bought the paper and paid good money for it, so it wasn’t dishonest).
These are just drops in the bucket and why I believe higher education is an oxymoron, but it’s all great fodder for fiction, and I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I think I’ll just keep this day job. I don’t think I could go back, but I do love where I’ve been and have no regrets. My all time favorite singer and philosopher Dolly Parton recently told the concert audience in Valdosta, Georgia that she was going to try to keep on singing and performing until she just dropped dead. I think I will keep on working and writing until I drop dead, too.