Writing Challenge: Working is optional

“You really didn’t have to do that,” said the seventy some odd-year old neighbor to the college kid who showed up every once in a while from up the street. His Dad told the kid he might want to go on down and take care of what needed to be done, water the plants, shovel snow,  just do what looked like needed to be done, you know this and that . He said it in a way that it would definitely be worth his wild. Besides, it wasn’t really a request. The kid’s Dad was a former Marine, as was the guy from up the street, though the old guy didn’t ask for the kid’s help, he recognized that the kid was being put up to the task. The Jarhead said,   “What is the going rate?”  The kid simply shrugged and said, “No worries.” The old guy figured that the kid’s Mom or Dad put him up to it. He was right. The kid never let on that his dad had suggested going on down to see what the guy in the corner house was up to.  If the kid took a closer look, he’d a seen what this old Jarhead had been up to for that past seventy years or so; all sorts of medals for Meritorious Service. This didn’t seem to peak the kid’s interest, right off, but it certainly did plant a seed and gave him a little to think about.

Every other day the kid would show up sometime after track or lacrosse. And each day the old guy was out doing something different on his lawn and the kid got more and more curious. Charles wondered what could be going on over there. Next time, the old Jarhead asked if the kid could reach a rake or something that had somehow gotten stuck up on the roof. It was pretty easy for the kid who was around 6’8,” but the Jarhead had always been way too proud to ask. You see, the rake had been up there for a few years. It was more of an “ice breaker” of sorts. “How much do I owe?” asked the Jarhead. ”noth…”, and before the kid could complete his sentence the Jarhead said, “I didn’t ask you over to shoot the breeze! Gonna do what you came for?” The Marine had seen a lot of men buckle right here. The old Marine pressed a five into the kid’s hand and said, “Thanks”. The important thing was that the kid did his job; he did what he was asked, no yelping. You see, most kids these days thought of why they can’t or won’t do a job. Negativity. Negativity is the first thing on many peoples’ minds today. But since the kid grew up in a Jarhead household there was no question there was some real discipline there. The old man was discipline personified. Meritorious Service for discipline beyond the call of duty was like walking in god’s shoes. The old guy had a lot to give and Charles just had to recognize it.

Snow fell early in these parts of New England, and according to the Farmer’s Almanac it would be hitting soon and hitting hard this year. When the kid came around to shovel a path for the Jarhead the old guy; not to be outdone by a kid, put on some gloves and a hat and started shoveling the front path. This kinda through the kid off  his guard, the old guy jumping out to help with the shoveling. Charlie said to him: “Get inside, please!” “My Mom will kill me if she sees you helping…” At that, the Marine said, “I couldn’t care less,” but he stopped and put his shovel in the garage.  It was obvious he didn’t mean for the kid to get in trouble.

This innate discipline was very much understood. This was something most kids didn’t show much of and the old guy wanted to encourage it, so he didn’t chastise him, this time.  Fortunately for the old guy, an old “business” partner (more like a card buddy) came around to steal him from his labors. The Marine’s buddy whispered to him, “an old coot like yourself and college youth are very different so don’t push it.”  The truth of the matter is the old guy, who trains daily, probably could whip “the greenhorn” in damn near anything. The kid, Charlie, wanted to shovel as much snow, but he really wasn’t up to the challenge that day. It was right after school and the kid was still in his school uniform. Just the same, it was practically a joke to see who could shovel the most snow in the shortest amount of time: the 6’8” athlete or the Marine Vet. (Despite the fact that the Vet. was who he was and was in excellent shape for someone his age).  In a tuckered whisper the Jarhead said to his buddy, “they sure don’t build kids like they used to,” referring to the kid.

This stubbornness was what their friendship was founded on. But Charlie really wanted to be careful not to abuse the old man’s gratitude because it was too valuable; by the same token, the old guy appreciated the kid coming around, not many folks did, these days.  The old guy couldn’t help but notice how the kid especially admired the car parked in the garaged. After a couple of times, the Jarhead (because, once a marine always a marine) asked if the kid had his license, knowing the answer. The old guy asked if the kid had his license. The kid answered, “No…but.” One day the old guy asked if the kid would be kind enough as to pick up some milk or some butter, or some such stuff.  “I’ll go too, you can drive.” The kid beamed and said, “Sure.” The Jarhead said, “And a six pack for me, a six of Bud. Wait, don’t you have to be 21 these days, eh?” Charlie instantly called the grocery store, my friend, he said, “he works part time at a shop down the street and I am gonna see if he is there now. Standewsky joked, “I wished I’d known, I am running low on gin, too.” Charlie picked up his cell phone and said, “John, can I stop by for a six of Bud? Thanks.” The Vet said, “Oh, and some Root beer or Dr. Pepper. After this spin, us old folks love our Jeopardy, its Nectar,” said the Jarhead. “In a couple and with that Charlie took a seat. A few minutes later the two were off for the grocers. Half an hour later they came rolling back, safe and sound. “Anything else,?” asked the kid, “Yea, you can wipe that shit eaten grin off your face.” Charlie got out and parked the car in the garage. The old guy took his bags into the face”. Charlie just finished up and rang the bell. The old guy said, “Lock up and stick the keys in the hall.” Charlie walked out back, locked the garage doors and put the keys in the hall. There was a five and note that read, “Charlie, TAKE IT.”

When Charlie went around the next week there was nothing really to do. He came back a couple of days later and Ed, Mr. Standewsky, told Charlie “If you’ll let me pay you, I got a job for you.” Charlie thought about it, “Okay, what is it,” he asked. “The trim” he said. “The lawn. It isn’t a real big one but it is looking sorta shaggy, almost an embarrassment. What can you do?” With that he jumped in his car and peeled off down the road. His driving was a little reckless if you ask me, probably just carefree. Then, I went back to the trim. I hadn’t realized it until after I finished the job but Mr. Standewsky had left a pitcher of iced tea on the back porch. Next to it, a note saying, “Help yourself to the Root beer in the fridge”. Sorta thoughtful.

Standewsky was a man of few words. His card buddies, who at least looked like former marines too, also seemed to say nearly nothing. Mr. Standewskey was probably pretty much the same. Together, they all looked like a truckload of ink had fallen on top of them: tattoos from head to toe. By the looks of them, these tough old birds looked like a bunch of ex Jarheads, all of whom would be delighted to jump out of any kind a bird (HELO) anytime, anywhere, day or night. Though his kids, grand kids, and great grand kids would probably strongly object to his recklessness, Standewsky was certain he’d have the last say on this one. On second notice, there was a “Harley”parked in the garage.

A day or so later I went back, almost forgetting I’d done his yard, trim, and terrace.” Again I went in by way of the garage. He had some pictures out, one with a little girl, a boy, and a woman.” Somehow, I knew he had been married, sometime. Since he had a bunch of kids keeping out of the skies, I supposed that these three had been his family or at least part of them. I looked at some of the books on some of the shelves, and this guy must have been pretty much up there.  He returned to the den, saw me admiring some of the photos and said, “Those were some of the later years, pointing to pictures of various presidents. “I was a little old for combat,” they said, “So, I was stuck on Air Force 1 crap and could only dream of another carrier tour.  It was fun while it lasted. The real fun was…well, most of it. But this ride isn’t over yet,” he said   “Not until the fat lady’s’ been porked.” But, I think I remember saying that just before this tattoo,” he said as he pointed to his shoulder. those same words when I got out of the Corps. and you see how that promise fell a little short.”

This quiet, old guy, not that I wanted him to stop talking, really had more than a mouthful to say. “But there is a mouthful and then there is a mouthfull. In fact, I was wondering how I could get him to spill his guts, tell at least half of his story without clamming up. For now, I had to go see how he liked the lawn. As soon as I said “Mr. Standewsky.” he instantly reprimanded me, in a good natured way and said, “Just ‘cause I’m dumb enough to jump out of a perfectly fine bird (meaning helicopter), doesn’t mean …well…it doesn’t mean a dammed thing. But, it sure as hell doesn’t mean you should be dumb enough to call me Standewsky. Call me ‘Ed.’ He said, “if I catch you calling me Standewsky you’ll have to get down and give me 20. The Jarhead in him came out in an instant. Can you even count to 20?”

“The yard,” he said, ‘it looks pretty good. The terrace and trim are good, too,” he gave me a 50 and said, There is a wash down by your friend’s Root beer shop. I gotta keep my car spic and span, part a being a Jarhead.  Before Charlie could argue about the 50, he said “Some milk, too?”

Charlie sat back in Standewsky’s Lincoln and headed towards the car wash/gas station/liquor store/convenience store. He wondered, why this guy had decided to take the time to take him under his wing. It was sure pretty nice, but way out of the norm. This Jarhead was someone who could hardly be classified as “normal.”

Of course he didn’t need to do the tasks, but it was sort of important for each to “acknowledge” that the tasks had been done.

The kid felt it was important for a couple of reasons. One, he wanted the older man to see that he wasn’t afraid of helping out. More importantly, he wanted his dad to recognize it. He often looked for ways he could meet with his dad’s approval even though he just didn’t seem to “measure up,” as the old guy put it more than once.

The kid wasn’t looking for any kind of payment but his father told him “The going rate” for the tasks was more than likely way out of what the older guy would ever pay anyhow. When the kid came in shaking off the snow and kicking off snow onto the porch the kids dad merely said, “Damn, now I’ll have to shovel that snow out of the street.” All what snow?” I replied? “Oh, you must mean the snow that is melting as we speak?” I guess he just couldn’t quite understand that I didn’t want to see him getting out on the ice to shovel a walk only to wind up in some hospital bed. Selfish kindness, I guess. Gee, I will have to remember to get them, my parents, a decent snow shovel between now and next year. I really can’t believe that they have lived in New England all these years without a decent snow shovel.

knocking of Besides, a little neighborly gesture toward the kid’s dad’s neighbor might come in handy. Down the street a ways, meanwhile; another kid was flicking his cigarette ashes into the wind and seeing if there was a trail of ants he could crush. The two kids went to the same High School, played on the same teams and at times had even won the hearts of a couple of cheer leaders, even if it was for just a while. A year or so later, however; one kid just seemed to fall off the radar while the other went onto a local community college. For one reason or another, the whole town learned more about this kid’s business than it had the right to. You see, the kid’s mom and dad, and even his little sister, were sort of pleased that he had gotten into a pretty decent college. The kid’s brief acquaintance with the Jarhead had a lot to his being accepted to the school of his choice. The Marine was more than well known in some pretty high circles.  As soon as the kid started off, he was taken in by the area officer Guard Unit  Charles didn’t even really recognize that program was different. He didn’t have time to consider it and by the time he did understand he didn’t want to pull out. Being a Guard officer was nothing to be looked down on, even though he had a long way to go.

The Jarhead had also contacted Charles’ local Guard Unit on his behalf and the kid was put on the fast track to being accepted into Marine Officer Program. Not bad for a kid who was shoveling driveways a couple of years earlier. A little discipline, a little consideration and thoughtfulness might take you a long ways. Besides, you might even like it.


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