There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you plant a sumac, you better like sumacs, because in ten minutes you’ll have fifty more.” Or something to that effect. This week at the Acrapolis, I approached the sumac invasion eagerly, at first. It was a change, a chance to avoid painting or planting and it was a project that would last a few days, so I wouldn’t feel as though I would have to ask all the time what I should be working on. After the first day and a half, though, the project grew old. By the end of the week, I decided I would never plant a sumac, unless my life depended on it.
One of the reasons I enjoyed working at the mansion at first was that it gave me a feeling of accomplishment. My job right before the mansion was a position as a desk clerk at Econo Lodge. It’s no understatement when I say there wasn’t enough to keep me busy for two hours in an average eight hour shift there. Working at the mansion gave me concrete tasks to finish, and sometimes I had sore muscles to prove that I worked hard, too. There is still an element to that, but I also find myself running out of topics for thought during the long hours of tasks such as taking out hundreds of sumac plants.
Around 9:45 the second day of hacking at sumacs and digging up their roots, I heard what at first sounded like a car in the distance braking too fast, squeaking on the asphalt. Then I quickly realized that it was in fact the sound of the family opera singer practicing in the mansion. She was good, but very loud. Distractions like that can get you pretty far when the only other things are your sore shoulders and the shovel or mattock your arms mechanically wield.
While my mind ran through various topics this week— what would I do if I could play the guitar like Joe Walsh? how many hours would I be working this week? what would it be like to be the stripper I was reading about in Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper? isn’t foreshadowing overused in stories?— I remembered a dream I had last year in the spring. At the time, I was still packing up all the things in the house. I had moved into the basement, and was packing hundreds of boxes of books and papers. In my dream, I was Harry Potter. Presumptuous I know, but it was just a dream. I had been demoted from the increased status I had earned from saving everyone and just generally being Harry Potter. Everyone else had gone off to bigger and better things, but I had become more like Filch, forgotten and looked down on. I didn’t have any magic anymore. I just went to work every day and packed up box after box of clothes. It was miserable. At the end of the dream, I had to leave work to go to school, and on my way I realized I was still in my work clothes, and my jeans had a rip in the bottom. I had no time to take a detour and stop somewhere to change, and I couldn’t go to school looking like that, so I looked both ways on the street and pulled down my jeans to change. Right then, a police car turned onto the street. The cop noticed me right away, and put on the lights and came over to arrest me. As you can see, the vast amount of stuff I had to pack was getting to me, along with a few other things. The sense of doom I felt, and the exaggeration of the amount of clothes I would have to pack in the dream, mirrored the reality of my day job. I felt like I might never finish packing up everything.
Physical labor has its benefits (a common comment upon hearing what I do for a living is, “At least you get a workout in at work.”), but it also leaves your mind with hours to wander. I spent a good amount of time this past week listening to music on my phone. I sing along part of the time, or find myself wondering things like, “Why crimson and clover?” That, in fact, was such a pressing question that I looked it up. According to Tommy James, he just woke up with the two words in his head. They were supposedly two of his favorite words. Once the question was answered, I went on to listen to “I Think We’re Alone Now.” I have also spent entire hours making up hypothetical situations and acting them out in my head, complete with dialogue and facial expressions.
Thankfully, on Thursday afternoon I finally reached the end of the sumacs. I dug out as many roots as I could, without completely uprooting all the soil for yards. It couldn’t have ended too soon; by Wednesday I had decided that digging up sumacs could be a form of torture. Particularly for a gardener. One could send him out into an infested area to do his best, but maybe stop him just short of finishing the job. Then put him in a room with a view of the grounds, so he is tortured by watching them all grow back. Intermittently send him back out to try his hardest, ultimately failing. Through rain and shine, quite literally, I had done my hardest to show those sumacs their place. Working at the mansion can often start to resemble a unique form of solitary confinement, and it is only once a project is finished that you can regain your sanity and put it aside.