'Let’s get physical, physical'

How I survived two summers of maintenance work with zero experience

brent-headshot
The Spectrum

Before my last two summers, the only manual labor I ever did was watching my dad build things as I smugly stood by him holding his tools.

Those were easier times when I could grab myself a kiwi Capri Sun and hold up boards or something, as my dad would make a deck or whatever task his teacher-on-a-summer-break self desired.

But there’s a big difference between giving minimal effort to a task that your father will pay you for even if you’re terrible at it –– sorry Dad –– and actually doing things. 

Last summer, I had to actually do things.

I needed a summer job fast and I knew my brother worked at our town golf course the previous summer. I decided to apply without knowing the difference between working maintenance and working at the clubhouse.

I joined the maintenance crew, where I was fully embraced as “Wings,” the college kid with hair sticking up out of the sides of his hat.

I was expecting to, at most, pick up eight golf balls a day and watch as the non-seasonal employees did actual work, but I was wrong. 

During my first week, my boss John decided I should start mowing lawns on a riding mower the size of a small continent. This would’ve been a fine idea had I known how to operate a motor vehicle.

My co-worker took me out and showed me what to mow, expecting me to do a halfway decent job. Well, I did a halfway decent job because about half the grass ended up being mowed. The end result looked more like that Joy Division t-shirt that every 30-year-old bearded man on earth owns. There was certainly a massive division in the grass’ height, but there was definitely no joy on anyone’s face when they saw it.

Still, John saw my potential. He still sent me out every day to mow lawns, expecting me to not get stuck in wet grass or unintentionally damage his equipment. Both of these things ended up happening regularly.

One day, John sent me out to mow the rough on the side of a fairway with some co-workers. I joined them and noticed everyone avoided a certain portion of the grass. Being my compassionate self, I knew those unattended blades of grass needed some love, so I drove right over the patch and ended up going full-on Titanic.

I asked my fellow employees to grab a workman and help tow me out, not expecting John to be the one to pull me out with a rope.

After lunch I told John, “It won’t happen again, boss” expecting him to give me a nod of approval like some cool ‘70s baseball movie where the player and coach have an unspoken connection. Instead, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t speak too soon.” 

Five minutes later I got stuck on the same hole. 

But as that summer wrapped up and I cleaned out my locker at the Colonie golf course, I decided that manual labor wasn’t half bad.

This past summer, I was ready to go back to the golf course and avoid sinkholes yet again. But, in an effort to avoid having my mom drive me every morning and a completely unrelated effort to wake up five minutes before work, I decided to work maintenance at my local park across the street.

I realized very quickly that weed whacking was my second least favorite thing to do, right behind trying to convince people that Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Emotion” is a pop masterpiece.

The task even earned me the nickname “Noodles,” as I was always vocal about how my arms felt while trimming all day.

One day, I was trimming along a fence on the south side of the park. I knew in order to get the weeds at their roots I had to trim along the bottom and hit the dirt, since there wasn’t any grass in the area anyway.

As I was doing this, a woman about 35 feet away from me began walking toward the fence and observing my trimming job. She looked really closely at the ground, as if she was looking for life’s greater purpose. 

She began walking toward me, which was a terrible idea as there was dirt flying everywhere and I was holding a deadly instrument that even I had minimal control over. I thought she just wanted to say hello so I waved and kept weed whacking, probably slapping her with several weeks’ worth of untamed lawn.

But instead of accepting my friendly wave, she stopped me in the middle of trimming and told me she was getting hit with dirt. She advised me to “look out” for those walking by and to stop for each one.

She then proceeded to walk closer to an operating weed whacker to tell me about the dangers of breathing in dirt –– a totally non-dangerous move on her part. 

Then, it hit me. No, not the grass or chunks of dirt flying through the air, but rather the idea that wherever you work there will always be obstacles. Whether it’s a park hater, a giant golf course puddle, my unfortunate inability to drive a motor vehicle or, even at The Spectrum, a fact that takes forever to check –– all jobs have setbacks.

So I nodded and let her go on her way, because the customer is always right, even at a park where they literally get to walk in for free and critique your every move.

Still, I somehow managed to get through both of these summer jobs learning a few lessons, and not dying in the process

So, yeah, when you sign up for a job, make sure you know what maintenance means. 

Brenton Blanchet is the managing editor and can be reached at Brenton.Blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter: @BrentBlanchSpec