Monthly Archives: February 2015

Kenchan

I don’t even know if that’s how it’s spelled.

I once alluded to the fact that I had the worst lawn mowing job in the history of the world.  A little backstory.

If you live in Florida, chances are, at some point in your career development, you work as a lawn guy (or girl).  As an adult, my yard gets mowed from early March until late November, with an occasional touch up before Christmas and again in February.

During the rainy season it’s way worse.  I could mow my yard on Sunday, and, by Thursday, you could lose a 3 year old out there.

So I’m working at the Christian bookstore 4 days a week, and my dad is like “hey, you should put in an application over at Coscia & Sons mowing for the other days”

Being a good son, I did exactly what my dad suggested.  Much to my chagrin, I was hired. And I was immediately placed on a team with Kenchan.

I have no idea whatsoever how Kenchan spelled his name.  I do know that I’ve got it nailed phonetically.

Kenchan was a little Vietnamese man.  Based solely on my memory, he was about 4′ 11″ and he spoke 2-3 languages, none of them well and none of them English.

He called me “Trason” which, looking back, may have been the coolest nickname I’ve ever had* – only it was less “treySON” a la the Karate Kid type nickname, and more “TRAHson” like he was mis-pronouncing “trash”

*There was a period of time, in the 10th grade, where I tried to get people to start calling me “Silk” as a nickname, because I was so smooth.  It didn’t stick, mostly because I was a 6’3″ bundle of disjointed elbows and knees who always looked like he was in a bull fight with gravity.  But it didn’t stop me from trying.

Kenchan had the strongest work ethic I’ve ever encountered in an individual.  Dude literally never stopped.  He would be in the shop by 6 in the morning, have all the mower blades sharpened, the weedeaters loaded with string, gas tanks full, all while I was still trying to get the sleep out of my eyes.

Coscia and Sons mowing seemed to have “teams” that mowed, and they descended in an order based on a number of criteria, skill, professionalism, quality of work, and proximity to the owner’s sons being chief among them.  Kenchan being from Ho Chi Minh and his lack of a native tongue placed us as roughly the 8th team out of 6 spots.  Meanwhile, my best friend Tony is on crew number 2, with son number 2.  They frequently would drive by a job site, say something like “looks good to me” and proceed to the movies.  Or they’d park in the shade on a 50 acre lot and take naps.  They were hard to pin down.

One of the things about working with Kenchan was that we only took lunch breaks, or any breaks, at one particular client, on one particular day.  It was an industrial park in Avon Park.  Normally, I learned, if you didn’t have your lunch with you on the mower, Kenchan wouldn’t stop.  All day.  From daylight until dark, 12+ hours in the July Florida heat, we would be mowing or pushing or whacking.  After my first day, I was certain I was being hazed.

So we’re in Avon Park, and, much to my joy, Kenchan waves me down and through a series of signs and signals and noises, indicates he wants to stop and eat lunch.  I almost mowed over his foot in shock.

So I get out my ice chest and sandwiches and Mountain Dew, and we sit down next to this retention pond looking thing.  And I notice Kenchan sits on his water cooler, but doesn’t seem to have any food.  And he’s wrapping what looks like fishing line around his hand.

So help me, this crazy little guy catches a pleco, one of those sucker fish from an aquarium, right out of that pond in Avon Park on a line wrapped around his hand.  And, I can see this as plain as if it were this morning, he pulls out his knife, cuts on that sucker for a minute, and EATS IT!?!?!?!?!?

Ya’ll, I have seen some things in my life.  Crazy things.  But that little Vietnamese dude eating plecos out of a retention pond, RAW, in the 104 degree Florida heat may always hold the top spot.

He repeated the process 6-8 times, got up, fired up his mower, and went back to cutting grass.

I was dumbfounded.  I mean – I mowed the rest of the afternoon in a kind of daze.  What had just happened?  Had that really just happened?  Is Kenchan going to die of food poisoning out here riding his Toro around Avon Park?

It was dusky when we loaded up the van to head home that evening.  Mowers secured on the trailer, tired and covered in dirt and dust and grass.

“Trason – you . . . (he makes a motion like steering a car)”

“Sure Kenchan, I’ll drive”

It was an hour back to the shop.  I talked to Kenchan like I would anyone else.  I had no clue if he understood me or not.

“Kenchan . . . man, I just can not believe you ate those fish for lunch.  Like, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.  I mean, they were still wriggling when you swallowed them, and you ate a bunch of them, and you went right back to work . . . how is that even possible?”

A couple of moments of silence went by.  He looked at me, grinned his snaggle toothed smile from ear to ear . . . and in perfect English, he said:

“Taste like chicken, that how!”

38 lessons for 38 years . . .

38 Things I’ve learned as I passed 38 late last year:

  1. Never make the first or third out at third base.
  2. Girls LOVE getting flowers.  No matter what they say.  “Don’t waste money on flowers” is the “do I look fat in this” of gifts . . .
  3. Dogs are important.  Pet them.  Spend time with them.  Their only true fault is they don’t live very long.
  4. No matter if it’s week 42, and she’s wearing an “it’s a girl” t-shirt, and an OB is following her around, do not, under any circumstances, ask if she’s pregnant . . .
  5. Make time to write.  Or run.  Or read.  Or whatever makes you tick.
  6. Sometime, within the next 18 years, your kids won’t be here every day.  So turn the TV off and spend time with them.  Read to them.  Build a fort or bake a cake or ride a bike.
  7. Intentionally add value to people.  Every day.  Got that from John Maxwell.  Should tattoo it to my forearm.
  8. Choose trust over suspicion.  It’ll get everyone further.
  9. Try to watch as many sunsets or sunrises as you can.
  10. Be nice.  It’s honestly easier.  Ask people, as often as you can, “Can I do anything for you?” . . . mean it . . .
  11. The person on the other end of the line is someone’s husband/mother/daughter/brother.  They got up this morning, just like you did.  It’s not their fault that Dell outsourced support to India.  Yelling at them won’t make Dell rethink it.  It won’t make you feel better.
  12. Listen to “All I Want for Christmas” in July.  Or September.  Bonus points if you crank it up with the kids and belt it at the top of your lungs.  Double bonus points if you roll the windows down and belt it out as your middle-schooler walks into the school.
  13. When you roll your eyes, and you’re on the phone, people can hear it in your voice.
  14. Catching the fish again is better than eating the fish.
  15. Never tap a white tiger on the nose with a microphone.
  16. Clarification on number 11.  It may actually feel better while you’re doing it, but you won’t after you hang up.
  17. Remember who you are.  Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
  18. “the Art of Possibility” is one of the best books of all time.  Pick it up again from time to time.
  19. ALWAYS thank veteran’s for their service.  And hold the door open for the person behind you.
  20. Don’t shoot the ducks after they’ve landed.  It’s not sporting.
  21. They will remember that you made time for them, took them hunting, took them fishing, rode bikes; the time you were PRESENT.  Yeah, that’s kinda the same as number 6, but it bears repeating, don’t you think?
  22. Take care of your back
  23. If you feel it in your gut, you should probably follow that feeling.
  24. Red Sox, Ohio St. and Gator fans are the WORST.  Try to avoid mixing with these fanbases, and, under all circumstances, don’t date them . . . .
  25. Dressing nice and dressing inexpensively are not mutually exclusive.
  26. The Cubs don’t win in the end.  Ever.
  27. Close doesn’t count.  Wait – that’s not entirely true – sometimes close does count.
  28. Black and white is a hard way to live; gray is way easier
  29. Do NOT judge others.  You cannot possibly know all of the factors surrounding their situation.
  30. At 30, your body stops being resilient to cheeseburgers for breakfast.
  31. It’s impossible to listen to the opening of “Sweet Home Alabama” and not feel happy or sing along with the chorus.
  32. Kiss your wife. Every.  Day.  It’s easy, and fun.  Make it required.
  33. Snook always bite better on an outgoing tide.
  34. Make time for grandparents.  They can be gone very quickly . . .
  35. Don’t be resistant to change.  Change is your opportunity to change, too
  36. Spend money on good shoes and a good coat
  37. Watch “White Christmas” with your family at least once a year.
  38. Say “I love you” – but think about the fact that you mean it, don’t just tag it onto the end of phone calls and visits.

on Yeti Coolers . . .

In the history of the world, only 3 things have been Roto-moulded. All 3 are insanely cool.

Apollo 11. You think Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the moon in some sissy-ass metal contraption? Think again. Marked top-secret, NASA plans actually show that Apollo 11 was bear proof as well as awesome.

The Bat suit. Boom. Thought Apollo 11 was cool? Think again. Bruce Wayne was cruising around with a jet engine strapped to his car, a butler, and crushing chicks like Catwoman. Think that’s because of his schmuck sidekick, Robin? No. His secret? Roto-moulded pecs.

Yeti coolers. Hits just keep coming.  That’s why fisherman love Roto-moulded coolers.

Roto-moulding: conquering other planets, Michelle Pfeiffer, and keeping your beer cold.

Since 1963.

Accounting for Fishermen

“Babe – we could leave at 6 am Saturday morning; we’ll be home by 3, 3:30.  All it’ll cost is gas to and from the boat ramp . . . maybe $40, and that’s high . . . ”

What follows is a map to get you to the point where your Saturday adventures really only cost you $40.  Think of this as a helpful guide.  Please note that numbers are approximate, to be used only for reference . . .

To go fishing, you really need a boat.  Not just any boat, either mind you.  I mean, you only get to go so often, so, when you do, it makes sense for it to be on a vessel that you enjoy.  Think names like Maverick/Hell’s Bay/Pathfinder.  Let’s say you can find a really nice one, used, for $20k

Now – no self respecting angler is going to roll out his new boat with a bunch of pickle poles from the bargain bin at K-mart, am I right?  No sir – you’ll need the latest Shimano creation with 84 ball bearings and liquid filled nitrogen drag washers.  Of course, it’ll need to be spooled with a space age polymer line that is used to hold the doors closed on the shuttle, and mounted on a rod made with a special carbonite/kryptonite/kevlar blend, and invisible guides.  This combo will run you about $500.

But wait – you can’t just have one combo – what if some googan fishing partner steps on it or drops it overboard.  Safest bet is to have 3 or 4, exactly the same, just in case.  Plus, that allows you to have them rigged differently – top water, live bait, soft plastic . . . your arsenal is ready . . . $1500 (call it 2k, and add in the original combo, too)

Wait a second – you only get to fish, maybe, what, two weekends a month?  What if a tarpon crashes the party?  Are you supposed to miss out on the fish of a lifetime because you limited your combos to only those targeting inshore species?  That, boys, is what we’ll call a “rookie move” – go ahead and get a couple of combos, both larger and smaller than the ones above.  Keep them top of the line, though.  $2k

What are you going to catch these fish with?  Mirrolures?  Zara Spooks? Live Targets? Gulps?  Honestly, you need 10-12 of everything – hard baits, topwaters, divers, soft baits, suspenders, plastic shrimp, plastic fish, plastic eels, plastic crabs, plastic octopi – plus, and this is key, you need at least a duplicate of every one.  Lord knows that if a snook breaks off your only bone colored spook, you can’t very well leave the water and go buy another one.  Gotta have a spare.  $500

Plus you need a tackle bag to keep these things in – $100

I shudder a little, when I think what happens when that tarpon leaps, you fight him for 20 minutes or so, then he throws the hook.  You were going to release him anyway, but you didn’t get the picture.  Enter the GoPro, complete with all the mounts.  That’s an easy $750.  You should also look into a drone, because those pictures will definitely trump your buddy’s.  $3k

Also, you should get a water proof submersible case for your phone.  $80

Have any of you thought “but wait – fishing isn’t fishing without beer?”  Not to worry – pick up a Yeti (must be tan) – Yeti’s are space age engineered bear proof roto-moulded boxes of magic that will keep a 6 pack of Ultra cold for up to 7 years without any ice.  $300 +$30 for beer

Throw a few sandwiches in the Yeti ($30) and you’re good to go for the day.  But what if the fishing is really hard.  Sometimes, it’s best to get off the water for a little while, regroup, strategize, and figure out the rest of the day.  This should be done in a dive bar/restaurant over a frosty beverage and grouper sandwich.  Also a slice of Key Lime Pie.  You can do the same thing if you’re slaying the fish, as a celebration of your awesomeness.  $50

Push Pole – $400.  Power Poles (dual – duh) – $2500.  Remote controlled trolling motor with GPS and Xbox attachment – $1500.  New batteries that weigh less than a ham sandwich – $800.  Fly rods – $75,000*.  Fish finder (even though you’re in 5 inches of water) – $800.  GPS (even though you can see the Skyway bridge) – $800.  Non ethanol fuel for the boat – $160.  Bait (not that you’d ever use bait, but just in case) $40.

*Attention wives – most fly rods didn’t actually cost $75k – nope – I bought all of mine at a garage sale to benefit homeless puppies.  I think I got them out the door for $40 bucks or so.  Amazing deal, right?

Which leaves us, I think, with the tow vehicle.  Lord knows you can’t roll up to the ramp with this rig behind the Windstar – you need a man’s truck.  Preferably one with mud tires and black rims.  Nothing too egregious, we’ll keep it under – $40k.

Hmmmm . . . $40k plus $40 plus $160 plus $800 plus $800 plus $75k . . . let’s see, carry the 2, carry the 3 . . .

So, since all the above money is accounted for, all the trip really costs is $40 or so.

Right?

Make sure to tune in soon – we’ll teach you how to duck hunt 3 times a week, all season, for a grand total of $75.00, including ammo and decoys.

Lawnmower stories . . .

My sister, who is awesome, said I should tell you guys about the time I set the lawnmower on fire.

That right there, folks, is called a tease.  Because what ensues are my greatest lawnmowing stories.  Enjoy.


Once, my dad bought a riding lawnmower,  It was a John Deere.  I was probably 14 or so.Kumquat tree

My mom had a kumquat tree that grew in the field between our house and the Swart’s.  That field has seen a lot of things over the years.

The tree was adult height, maybe 6 feet tall or so.  She loved it.  It was loaded in fruit.

Anyway – I’m mowing along, minding my own business, when the kumquat tree is gone.  Leaves and kumquats littered the field.  Also the mower made a loud noise.


The same thing happened to our gardenia bushes.  Yes.  Bushes, plural.  I mowed down three of them, each the size of a 5th grader, planted along the back of the house.  Each time I’d run over one, I was like “crap, now what do I do” and before I could solve the problem, I hit another one.  This chain was broken, ironically, by a chain link fence I ran into.  I hooked (ironically) a chain to the lawnmower and my truck to extract it.


Also, I did the same thing to our lamp post.  And maybe a dogwood tree.


I once forgot to change the oil, or check the oil, in the mower for, you know, a couple of years.  It caught on fire.  Pretty aggressively. While I was turning around in the cul-de-sac.  My mom was screaming at me, yelling for me to stop.  I waved back.  I thought she was just happy I was mowing the yard. Until I got really hot.  Then I stopped.  My shirt had caught on fire from the flames leaping off the engine.  Yes.


That also happened to the John Deere.  The fire catching part, not the part about my shirt or my mom.  Flames were creeping out of the little shifter thing where you raised and lowered the blade.  I shut it off and put the fire out with a water hose.  Then I finished mowing.  Crisis averted.


Once, I went through a phase of mowing in different patterns.  My history teacher at school had told me that, by mowing in different patterns, the grass would grow better.  So I tried all different sorts of patterns – diagonals, and straights and boxes and circles, and some weird herringbone thing.  It started raining during that one, so I left and went home.  The old lady from church had a perfect swastika in her yard.  It was unfortunate.


As a 30 year old adult, I pressed the clutch instead of the brake and dropped the front two tires into our pond.  Only the mowing deck, catching on a root, kept me from sinking it.


While in high school, I worked for a very large mowing company.  I was partnered up with a guy named Kenchan, who was nuts, but that’s a different story entirely.  Anyhow, one day, I hit the water main with a Toro and knocked out the water to the Pepperidge farms bakery in Lakeland.  I also flooded their parking lot.  The bad part was I really had to pee, but couldn’t, because they didn’t have any water.  I grabbed a complementary bag of goldfish, left and went to the 7-11 and then went home.  300 workers in hair nets and white aprons stood around in the parking lot wondering what had happened.


I think that’s everything.  The chamber is empty.  I now pay a guy to mow my yard.  It’s better for everyone.

Creative mowing

I suppose a blog is nothing, if not a place to share stories.  I like that idea.

This post should be subtitled “The time my mom should have beat me but didn’t but still almost killed me because of what I did to our yard”

September 28th, 1991.  I was 3 months shy of my 15th birthday.

How can I be sure that was the day?  Oh.  I’m sure.  See, Florida State was playing Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Amp Lee was the FSU running back, and he was silky smooth all day long.  State won, by like 20 points.  It was an epic moment for my football youth fandom.

Some of the details of the day are a bit foggy, but some I remember like it was yesterday.  Because, the day wasn’t really about FSU/Michigan so much as it was about Night of Joy.

Night of Joy.  If you were a teenager in the Central Florida area, this was one of the greatest nights of your life.  For those of you outside the Central Florida region, NoJ is a Christian music festival held at Disney World.  The park would stay open until midnight or 1 am.  Kids that had never been to church in their life would suddenly appear at youth group the week before, and then be on the van for the ride over.  As a hormone filled 14 year old (almost 15) boy, this event was met with wonder at the fact that the hot cheerleader who never seemed to notice you at school was now sitting behind you on the church bus.

I just want to also take a moment and interject here that, in full disclosure, as a devout Southern Baptist raised teenager, I knew that sex and kissing would both send me to hell.  But I also knew that I could be forgiven for my sins, and that honestly, how could I help it if she came onto me during the Haunted Mansion ride, and I could just re-pray the sinner’s prayer come Sunday morning and we’d be all good.  Needless to say, I had it all figured out.

3:23 – our youth pastor always always ALWAYS picked odd times like that for us to leave.  I don’t remember for sure that it was 3:23.  I am certain that it was an odd time, like 3:23, or 4:17.  He felt like we would remember those times better.  I believed him.

Anyway – I’m rambling.  The story goes something like this:

I had won a free ticket to NoJ through some kind of game at youth group.  FSU/Michigan was, to my recollection, a noon kickoff, which meant it’d be over by 3:15 or so, 10 minutes to the church, 45 minutes to Disney, and 30 minutes later I’d be in 7 minutes in heaven with Miss Junior Cheerleader.

And, as I remember it, my dad waltzed in around 11 (again, these times are from memory, so they may be off by a minute or two), and announced that, unless the yard was mowed, I was not going to Night of Joy.

Yeah right.  There’s no way Steve and Joy (as my parents are called by people who aren’t their offspring) are going to keep me from going.  I’d won a free ticket.

So I settled in and watched FSU/Michigan.  It was a turf game, wherein Bobby Bowden would claim that the Noles would go in, beat an opponent on their field, and bring back a block of the turf to some sort of cemetery for sod in Tallahassee.  I remember learning about turf games on ESPN right before kickoff.

This is incredibly nerdy, but I remember Terrell Buckley intercepted an Elvis Grbac pass and returned it for a touchdown.  I’m savant-like that way.  I also remember a trick play where Casey Weldon passed out to a backup quarterback named Charlie Ward, who passed it back to Weldon for a big gain.

The game was INTENSE.  Like.  If I hadn’t been home, I might have VCR’d it, ’cause it was huge.

So the game ends, and I go get dressed to hit up the church.  And my parents drop the hammer.

“You’re not going to Night of Joy until the yard is mowed”

Did anyone else’s mom have that tone, that “damn right I’m serious boy” tone?  This was that.  I knew that arguing was pointless.  I trudged outside and cranked the lawnmower.

Someone should remind me to do a post about lawnmower theatrics, because how I survived my teenage years with my lawnmower experiences is a definite thing.

My parents lived on an acre lot, about 2/3rds of which was mowable.  So I started plugging along.  With a push mower.

The days were getting shorter, and the sunlight was almost perfect.  I could see my jerk best friend Tony sidling up to blondie on 20,000 Leagues under the Sea while I was toiling in the Florida heat, where a fall evening is still 82 degrees.

By the time I reached the field between our house and the neighbor’s, I had made up my mind – this was not fair!  I’d had to forgo my free (earned!) ticket!  Tony was getting the girl!  My parents were slave drivers!

And that’s when it hit me – what could I do to protest?  How could I show them that I would mow their stupid yard, but not without lodging a complaint.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy with a push mower.  I had to stop at the end of every row and raise and lower the wheels with precision.  It probably took me an extra hour.  But it was.  SO.  WORTH.  IT.

Because, while my friends were busy scoring at Night of Joy (in all honesty, no one ever scored at any youth event – we just all thought we would), I was having my Sistine Chapel moment.

There, on the gently sloping field between our house and the Swart’s, I had carved the perfect Disney Channel logo, complete with Mickey Mouse ears, alternating stripes, and the words “Mickey Mouse” above and below it.

To this day, I’m fairly certain the only reasons Steve and Joy didn’t kill me were: a) the yard was mowed, and b) they were laughing too hard . . .