Cheapskates or Chiselers?

When I was a teenager and not old enough to drive, there weren’t many jobs open, first because even back then very few were hiring fourteen year olds, and, second, the places that might hire youngsters were a goodly distance away, and there was no public transportation. At that time, my parents lived in an area that could easily be called ex-urban, rather than suburban. Across the street was a forty acre farm, run by a retired fellow who’d made a lot of money selling pipe to the oil industry, and he had a small herd of cows. What he did with them, I never could figure out.

But there were junior and mid-level executives moving into the area, and I asked my father if I could use the lawn equipment to mow other people’s lawns. He said yes – with two conditions. First, my younger brother had to be part of the deal, and we had to pay for oil and gas… and for any repairs necessitated by our carelessness or incompetence. It wasn’t ideal, but, as the only gig in the area, it was better than the alternatives.

We actually did a pretty good job, but I hated it. First, it was Colorado, and Colorado summers were hot. Second, I had hay fever and had a runny nose most of the time. Third, my brother turned out to be lousy at trimming, and the trimming is what makes a lawn look bad or good. And remember, this was long before string-trimmers and the like, and I often had hand cramps by the end of the day. Now, in terms of today’s services, we weren’t straining. We did one or two lawns every weekday. Did I mention that most of them were an acre in size? And yes, our father held us to paying for the maintenance and the time my brother ripped out a sprinkler head in a customer’s lawn.

But so far as I was concerned, when I got my driver’s license and my senior lifeguard badge, I left the lawn business. For me, the one true luxury was when I finally made enough money to hire a lawn service without stinting anything else in the budget.

We’ve had a very good lawn service here for ten years, and I was always careful to pay the monthly bill as soon as it came in. Those guys were worth every dollar to me.

Except, this spring, when they started mowing, I got an invoice for the first mowing, requesting either a credit card for continuing service or to pay for the mowing before the next mowing was due. At first, I wondered if it had anything to do with coronavirus economic slowdown, but I sent off a polite email asking about the change in billing policies.

The owner answered promptly, saying that I’d always paid on time, but that a lot of people hadn’t, and that at the end of the lawn care season in early November of the previous year, over $5,000 in services were unpaid… and were never paid. So they had to switch to almost a pay-as-you-go service.

I know what hard work lawn care is. I’ve never forgotten. And while it’s easier now with self-propelled mowers and string trimmers, it’s still no piece of cake, especially where certain parts of our lawn have close to a thirty degree slope.

So I find not paying lawn care people particularly reprehensible [not that I don’t find cheating people out of income they’ve earned through hard work reprehensible in all fields]. And whether these deadbeats are cheapskates or chiselers, they ought to spend a summer doing lawn care. But then, most of them couldn’t hack it. Two years was more than enough for me, and I was essentially only doing it half-time.

3 thoughts on “Cheapskates or Chiselers?”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    For some reason (actually, for many reasons), a sizable portion of the US population looks down on those who work manual labor jobs. I’ve never understood that. I worked as both a waiter and a janitor to make my way through college. I feel the same way about tips for waiters and people who look down on housekeeping staff.

    And why does the owner of the lawn care service not use bill collectors or small claims court?

    1. He doesn’t use bill collectors or small claims court because(I’m only guessing from living here 26 years), it would be “culturally infeasible” and even more financially ruinous.

      1. Wine Guy says:

        Somehow, I forgot that you live in Utah and white privilege there means at least as much as it used to even in the South.

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