The heat index was 107 degrees. That’s hot, even for August in the Carolinas. Alton the tree guy was cutting branches from the live oaks, and he looked ready for a break when I brought out some ice water.
He sat on the bumper of his truck and took a long slug before wiping the sweat off his face.
So I asked him, was he looking forward to hurricane season and some extra tree work afterward. He took another long drink before saying anything.
“Tell you what happens. There’s a hurricane here and before the wind dies down–these guys show up from Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana with their rigs.
“And they start hitting all the neighborhoods like this. I give you a quote for, say, two fifty, and this guy’s right behind me saying ‘I’ll clear them trees for a hunnerd.’
“This guy’s talking at you and talking at you and there’s a bunch of guys setting in the back of his truck drinking cheap beer and eating pork rinds. Just setting there waiting.
“Then while he’s cutting your trees and you think you’re saving a buck, his guys are clearing out your garage, your truck, your toolbox. You don’t even know it ’til they done gone and you never see ’em or your tools again.
“I don’t say nothing when they come in. Them guys’d shut me down in a day if I talked, and it wouldn’t be pretty how they do it.
“I just hope the folks what used me last year and the year before remember me and don’t go with them other guys.
“I been here forever, and I ain’t going nowhere. I’ll be here tomorrow. But them guys? They be gone just as fast they clean you out. Nah, I don’t like the hurricane business none.”
He spat on the ground and started in on the BP oil spill. It was the middle of August and the well had been spewing oil since April.
“Now that BP thing coulda been fixed in five, mebbe six days.” He talked fast–and with a lot of hand motions–about how you’d drill into a whosis and tap off the whatsis and it seemed to make sense.
Who knows? The guy had two big trucks, a cherry picker, three different sized front-end loaders, and tools spread out all down the street. He was a genius at maneuvering around branches and dropping limbs to the ground without breaking a sweat or the neighbor’s fence. He might have been blowing more than hot air.
Still, here’s when he really started talking sense: “You gotta make it about the money, y’know? Make it worth it to someone to fix the thing. Then someone’d figure out right quick how to plug the damn well.
“Tell ya, you got a tree up on top of, I don’t care where–the Empire State Building–and you wanna pay.” He pointed to his son Dale. “Him and me’ll figure out a way to get up there and cut the damn tree.”
He held out his hand and rubbed his thumb across his fingertips.
“Make it about the money.
“We got a problem with beavers up at our farms and so the guy from the county comes out and asks me do I got any idea how to get rid of them beavers. I tell him, put a bounty on ’em.
“Put a bounty on ’em–ten, fifteen, twenty dollars a head–don’t matter how much. Dale here and ten of his buddies’ll be out there in a minute, and them beavers’ll be gone by morning.
“It’ll sound like World War II out there for a while, but by dawn next day them beavers’ll be gone. I guarantee it.”
He hitched up his pants and got back to work.
This story was first published by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, then in Interlude. It was a 2011 Best of the Net nominee.