Early this summer my lawn mower decided to retire itself to the scrap yard, but I found myself with a lawn growing out of control, none-the-less.
Jimmy and Timmy from across the street conveniently – for all involved – showed up with a single lawnmower between them, knocking on my door. I greeted the ten year olds with my usual kindness.
“Hi guys, what’s up?”
“Uh, Mr Jeff, Hi, uhm, can we mow your lawn?”
I was elated on several fronts. First, its one less thing I have to screw with on my day off. Second, the capitalist pig in me was heartened by the effort of these two young boys to use their sweat and free time to earn a little money. Who knows? This could be the dawn of a new landscaping business for them, free trade in the neighborhood, all parties benefiting.
“Timing is perfect, guys,” I responded. What would I owe you for your services?”
“Um, we, we charge $10 per man hour for our services,” came the response.
Wow, ambitious rates, but if they work quickly, the two of them can have this thing done in a half hour. I will say it did seem odd to me that they only had one lawn mower. And the two of them working on my tiny lawn seems to be throwing too many bodies at the job. But, I made the assumption that they would have it done in less than a half hour, leaving me paying $10 out of my beer fund (.5 manhours *2 = 1 man hour, or $10, irrespective of body count, for those of you who attended the University of Miami) for a job that needed to be done. Despite my concerns, I told the boys to let it rip.
What followed was painful to witness. I watched out of the back window as the two milked the job like it was a dairy cow. Timmy pushed the mower for about fifteen minutes while Jimmy watched. A five minute break for both of them, then Timmy pushes for another five minutes… then Jimmy, then break for lunch, then back to Timmy…. You can imagine my incredulity.
Three hours later, Timmy and Jimmy finished. The finished product was acceptable, yes. But the cost? What should have taken a half an hour and cost me $10 ended up costing $60. Married men the world over know when you pay the bills and your wife agrees to give you a spending stipend after the bills are paid, you treasure the hell out of that money. A huge chunk of my weekend spending money was thrown down the drain. Lesson learned. Those are good boys, love them to death, but I’m not making that mistake again.
A month later, they knock on my door, again.
“Alright, fellas, yeah, I need this done, again. And I’m glad to have you guys do it, but I am only paying on flat fee, $10 for the both of you to split between you. You can take as long as you like, but that’s what I’m paying.”
The boys were horrified.
“But, Mr Jeff, Death Battle 3 for PlayStation costs $100. We’d have to mow your lawn for the rest of the summer, every week to earn $100 at that rate. Can’t you pay more?”“Sorry, guys, that’s my rate. Go for it if that works for you, otherwise I’m going to look elsewhere or just do it myself.”
Imagine, if you can, two young boys running across the street with a lawnmower in tow, back home, grumbling as they go. I was disappointed, I need the lawn cut and want them to do it, but, I need my money to be spent wisely. I’m a generous guy, but come on, $60 bucks?
Within the hour, the boys mother, Eunionetta, who goes by Eunia, shows up at the door.
“Jeff,” she starts off, “you’re being selfish with the boys. They need the money, you have it, you should pay it.”
“Eunia, I think the world of your boys and want them to do the work, but I can’t afford $60. Its especially painful to watch how inefficiently they work on an hourly wage, handing me the bill. If they want to cut my grass, great, but I’m paying what it takes to do the job, one guy, a half an hour and I’ll even throw in an extra five for the effort, $10 total.”
“Fine, Jeff, be that way. My boys will not cut your lawn, then. I always knew you were selfish. By the way, tell your wife those shrubs are hideous.”
I was perplexed by this treatment. I decided to *ahem* consult my wife. I didn’t tell her about the zinger from the neighbor about the shrubs, just the entire substance of the conversation about the boys and our lawn.
“Eunia needs to understand that our lawn is our lawn, it exists for the appearance of our house,” she reasoned. “The benefit to the boys is that they can maintain it for us at a reasonable price and everyone wins. Our lawn does not exist to create jobs and salaries for Timmy and Jimmy. Nor do they have some sort of entitlement to your money. And it doesn’t make you selfish. You’re the one that has to bear the brunt financially of their ineffiency. So your request that they work efficiently and take a reasonable salary doesn’t make you heartless.”
I agreed. I stood my ground.
A couple hours later, another knock on my door. It was Charlie, from down the block.
“Mr Jeff,” Charlie offered, “I see your lawn still needs some attention. I’ll cut the whole thing for $10.”
“Deal, Charlie, thanks!”
But something happened. Timmy and Jimmy showed up out of nowhere as Charlie was getting started. Eunia stood behind them, arms folded.
“Scab!” was the charge. They harassed Charlie the whole time he was nervously mowing the lawn. Charlie finished, but was horrified to the point that I didn’t see him on my block for the rest of the summer.
Timmy and Jimmy continued to cut my lawn, and it still cost too much money. It was still painful to watch as they did it as inefficiently as the first time. Timmy and Jimmy quickly had enough money to buy Death Battle 3. And Eunia seemed happy every time they came back home with fistfuls of my cash in small bills.
Everyone seemed happy. Except me. Since then, some personal things have popped up and I no longer had the disposable cash to pay them. I finally made the long term savings decision to buy my own mower, and do it myself.
I’m told, by Eunia, that I’m heartless for doing it myself.
I just can’t win, can I?