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!”