Authors: Gary Paulsen
Zed went flying out of the auditorium, Rock hot on his heels. Before I could even think about following them to see what was going on, Joey rumbled over to hug me and squeezed so hard I felt some of my ribs move.
“Excuse me. Joey Pow?” A woman interrupted our celebration. She was holding a microphone. A guy carrying a television camera on his shoulder stood behind her. “I’m Sandra Santana, sports reporter from Action News 7. We’d like to interview you.”
“Hello. I am Joey Pow. I am beating all my opponents in four and a half seconds. It is because I wear the red trunks my sponsor says are good luck. This is my sponsor.”
“You?” Sandra Santana raised her eyebrows and turned the mike to me. A blinding light atop the camera flashed on. Between Grandma’s hair and the TV lights, I’d be seeing flashing swirly dots in front of my eyes for years.
“I’ll have to give serious thought to bringing a PR person on board,” Arnold said to me the next morning. “Someone to handle the media and coach you about what to say in public.”
That was probably a sound idea, since I couldn’t imagine giving another interview, the first one having been so unexpected and terrifying. My tongue was still stuck to the roof of my mouth. Which tasted like—well, never mind. It was bad.
I’d appeared as a feature on the ten o’clock news the night before, the little human-interest story
they do between the weather and sports. Sandra Santana had asked me all kinds of questions about why I had become a prizefighter’s sponsor and how I’d made the money in the first place and who was the genius stockbroker who’d made me rich.
The bright lights and her fast questions made me nervous and confused and I couldn’t remember what I’d said two seconds earlier. She forgot all about her interview with Joey, who didn’t seem to mind; he stood next to me, his arm around my shoulders, beaming. It was only a two-minute piece, but it felt like I stood there for an agonizingly long time, dripping sweat under lights hotter than a blowtorch.
Grandma and I woke up the next morning to a bunch of neighbors on the front lawn taking pictures of our house. I was especially proud that they got such good shots of Zed’s camper and his laundry, mostly made up of skidmarked underwear, which he had drying on the line he’d strung between his radio antenna and the garage light. Luckily, Zed slept through the excitement, so they didn’t get a picture of him in his tightie whities and bedhead.
And there were also a bunch of girls about my age who wanted my autograph. I like girls, but I
can’t talk to them. Not a word. Turns out you don’t have to talk when you sign autographs, and they smile and are nice to you anyway. Sweet.
By 9:47 that morning, Arnold had received numerous calls about me.
“The local university has invited you to lecture to their econ department, the newspaper wants to do a series on you and me and our working arrangement, several Internet teen sites have expressed interest in having you blog for them, and the big cable sports channel wants to fly you and Joey to New York to be on their round-table program Sunday morning.”
“I don’t know about any of that…. I mean, what to do …”
“Wait, there’s more.” He studied a fistful of messages.
Real good. I was so hoping there would be more. More was what I was lacking in my life. I needed more
around here. I started to get dizzy.
“We’ve also gotten an offer from a national lawn fertilizer company for you to endorse their new organic mix. Who knew all poop wasn’t organic—they have plastic cows? And a swimming pool company wants to pay you to use your picture on their
trucks because of the high-quality pool cleaning you’re known for. A licensing company wants to be the official supplier of Lawn Boy T-shirts, lunch boxes, thermoses, caps, water bottles, sunglasses, sunscreen, lawn bags, gardening tools and, for some reason, giant foam fingers.”
“Oh yeah, and can you run outside when we’re done talking here and sign autographs for those girls sitting on the curb waiting for you with their autograph books? They’ve been here since I woke up. I sent Kenny and Allen out to deal with them when they arrived this morning, but I think the girls are waiting for you.”
I peeked out Arnold’s window. This latest batch of girls were cute. Maybe even cuter than the girls in my front yard. Kenny was spinning his basketball on his forefinger as he talked to three or four of them. Allen and some curly-headed girl were sitting on the curb sharing a book. Good; Kenny and Allen would make it way easier to face all those girls.
I turned back to Arnold, who was still talking.
“We’ve also gotten a call from an entrepreneur
in Texas who wants to talk to you about the possibility of opening nationwide franchises.”
“What does that mean?”
“Like what you set up here with Pasqual. You lend your name to the company and they start up subdivisions of lawn care, shrub trimming, pool cleaning, sidewalk edging and garage cleaning services, from which you receive royalties and other fees.”
“Arnold. I don’t feel so well.”
“But this is groovy. Capitalism plus publicity equals monster commerce.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
“That’s a far-out, trippy thing.” He waved his whole body back and forth in place, like a round little willow tree bending in a gentle breeze. “It makes the world, like, move.”
The world wasn’t the only thing moving. My dizziness was getting worse, and not only was Arnold waving, but there were two—no, wait, three of him.
I knew that the only thing that would settle me down was to do a few lawns. As soon as Arnold turned to answer a question from Gib, I slipped out the kitchen door to the garage, crawled through the
side window and shinnied down the wall next to the overgrown lilac bush. I squatted in the branches and texted Pasqual: NEED TO WORK; GIVE ME AN ADDRESS.
As soon as I got his reply, 4024 BROADWAY, I commando-crawled through the bushes to the corner of the garage and, waiting until the coast was clear—the autograph girls were talking to Allen and Kenny, and I couldn’t be spotted by anyone in the house—I sprinted through Arnold’s backyard and cut through the Sautters’ side yard and came out on the street a block away.
I walk-trotted back to my own street, where, hiding behind Mrs. Steck’s sheets hanging on her clothesline next door, I made sure Zed was nowhere in sight. Then I jogged to the garage and my lawn mower. While sitting on the mower, I did some deep-breathing exercises we’d learned in gym class, until the panicky dread in my gut had subsided a little.
Then I shoved the throttle to turtle and headed off to work. I’d feel better after I’d done a yard or two.
The interview fallout picked up steam, and the next day Arnold insisted that I spend the day with him rather than working on lawns. He sent Kenny to take my place working with Pasqual and the guys. Gib and Frank went to full-time positions. Arnold made an offer on the building he thought I should buy to house our operations. And he hired a PR person named Kathy who answered and made and returned a lot of phone calls and then typed up itineraries for interviews and appearances.
Gib, Frank and Kathy set up shop in what had once been Arnold’s living room, using the dining
room table and dragging the kitchen table in too. Savannah and Lindy kept stopping by with papers to go over with Arnold and for me to give to my parents for signatures. Everyone had BlackBerrys pressed to their heads and there was a sea of cables underfoot for all the computers and printers and copiers they’d brought in.
It was … well, groovy. If, of course, your definition of groovy is sensory overload.
Arnold worked on the screened-in porch, sitting peacefully at his round picnic table drinking his sweet hippie tea and making money while he tap-tap-tapped on his keyboard. Allen was never far away, watching him, then tapping on
laptop. I looked over Allen’s shoulder and saw that he was creating pie charts and bar graphs and all sorts of other things that we used in math class last term and that didn’t make any sense to me but seemed to make Allen really happy.
Kathy had started a Web site for me and asked me write “copy” for it. Apparently, Web pages are nothing without “content.”
“Just write your story in your own words,” she said. “People want to get to know who you are.”
What she posted was nothing I had written. She
had a better sense of what made me me than I did. She made me sound smarter and not nearly as confused as I really was. Lately, I was feeling just this side of a drooling idiot.
Kathy took a bunch of pictures of me and sent Frank off to get shots of the work crews and Joey. She also took a couple of pictures of the girls waiting on the curb for me to sign autographs. “Content combined with visuals,” she explained, “makes for a captivating site.”
At one point she came running to find me and asked, “How do you feel about the possibility of reality TV? Camera crews will follow you around and you’ll be a prime-time series.”
“Oh.” She didn’t ask again.
A box arrived in the office in the afternoon: Team Lawn Boy T-shirts and uniform pants, and truck magnets for the crew to slap on their pickups. That was the best part of my day, driving around with Gib (not officially a chauffeur, but the go-to guy when I had to go to someplace) and handing the stuff out to all the guys.
I breathed deep every time we stopped at a job site, smelling the fresh-cut grass, and thought back
to how simple and pure my life had been when I mowed lawns as a summer job.
Was it just a month or so ago?
I was glad my parents were out of cell range. They don’t watch television, and I knew they wouldn’t bother with newspapers while they were up north. So they wouldn’t know that in the past forty-eight hours I had become what Kathy called a media sensation.
“You’re bigger,” she told me, “than sliced bread.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a good thing. Don’t worry.”
Arnold tried to talk to me the next morning about “establishing and implementing our official policies on hiring and firing, salary and wage structure, health and life insurance coverage, retirement, sick days, vacation, and incentive-based performance bonuses for employees.”
It was very exciting.
I was having a hard time focusing because I’d just spent the better part of a mind-numbing hour in the office/dining room with some of my employees
and, as I explained to Arnold a little peevishly, I didn’t feel like giving them anything.
“Why do you feel that way?” he asked.
“As best I understand things: Lindy has a crush on Frank, who is sweet on Savannah, who is mad at Gib for not handing in receipts promptly, and Gib resents Frank for overstepping his role as business manager. Oh, and Frank thinks Gib is a slacker, while Lindy is peeved at Savannah for her very existence, because, as Gib explained to me, if Savannah wasn’t around, Frank would appreciate all that Lindy has to offer. And Kenny doesn’t want to go out and work on lawns anymore because he’d rather sit around mooning after Savannah.”