This is the story of Dexter and his Midnight Juniper Service. Dexter is not, of course, the real name of the person in the story. His real name is Ryan. I’m just using Dexter to help prevent any embarrassment.
I went through a very rough patch in my life in the ’80s. I’d just faced two consecutive major failures. (Unintentional ones, I mean. I was quite used to failure when I’d decided I just didn’t give a shit and didn’t bother working.) This was a really new experience for me and left me psychically scarred. Compounding this was some (largely self-inflicted) alienation from my family. I fell deep into what I later figured was probably depression and correspondingly deep into welfare dependency.
After a year and a half of this I’d decided that enough was enough. It was time to climb out of the pit of despair I’d dug for myself. Of course, along the way, there were a few times when the walls of the pit collapsed in on me. This story is about one of the earlier collapses.
See, I’d hooked up with College Pro Painters for some income. I wasn’t a college student, but I was of the right age and I hung out with college students. This particular franchise was working over the winter (long after most franchises had closed due to lack of employee prospects) and was doing indoor painting work. I was hired because there was nobody else to hire; everybody else in the target demographic was hard at work at their studies and prepping for exams.
When summer came, the usual outdoor work started to get assigned. One job stood out over that summer: the German Ogre’s house. The German Ogre, one of the purest examples of nouveau riche I’ve ever encountered in my life, was both German and a complete (skinflint) ogre. (How do I know so certainly he was German? I spoke to him in German. He was more comfortable with it.) He would only pay for the cheapest possible outing: no scraping, no sanding, no prep, no cleaning—only slapping paint on his house, his garages, his garden wall, etc. Of course once work started he would insist we scrape, sand, prep, clean, etc. in direct contravention of the contract he signed. We took to having the contract out on top of our equipment so every time he came over to shout at us for doing things wrong we’d pull out the paper and point to his initials next to each line saying which services he’d explicitly said he didn’t want.
(The German Ogre’s wife was even worse.)
This alone is not really a reason to be afraid of him and to call him an ogre, of course. Asshole, yes. Ogre, no. Except for the fact that he was a really scary guy. I say this as a guy that others consider to be really scary, mind you! We had a pretty abiding suspicion that he was criminally connected and perhaps outright criminal himself. (His business cards read “contractor”. Nothing more.)
His house was huge. So huge, in fact, that we had two teams on the site: one working the main house exterior and the other working the garages (yes, multiple) and fencing. I was in the latter. Most of the time the two teams worked separately, but every so often we’d find ourselves working within conversational distance and we’d start shooting the shit and generally turning our increasingly dreadful working days into something that didn’t quite approximate a Dantean vision of Hell.
Needless to say it was in one of these sessions that The Disaster™ happened.
Dexter (whose real name is Ryan, recall, although I’m not using his real name to spare his feelings) was up on the roof of the house slapping paint on the gutters. And of course Marieke and I, the team working the periphery, were razzing him about how he was going to fall off and loudly taking bets on how many bones he’d smash when he hit the ground. (
Ryan Dexter had a bit of a fear of heights, see.) Dexter thought this was getting out of hand and swung around to hang his legs over the edge of the roof so he could shout at us without looking completely idiotic.
And that’s when it happened. The Disaster™. Dexter knocked the can of white paint off of the roof and launched a stream of paint unerringly aimed at the German Ogre’s prized juniper bushes. We knew they were prized, you understand, because the German Ogre had taken pains several times (daily!) to tell us how much he loved those juniper bushes.
I’m pretty sure he would not have liked them in white. Which they now were.
Panic set in and both teams zoomed over to the site of The Disaster™ to see what could be done. (Hint: nothing.) In desperation we tried to remove the paint with turpentine which proved to be as idiotic a thing to do as it sounds. The scale-like leaves were turning brown before our very eyes. This was as bad as it could get.
Visions of the German Ogre’s “business associates” disappearing us in our heads, we came up with a scheme to hide the damage: we put all our equipment next to the bushes and then covered it (and the bushes) with a tarp, explaining to the German Ogre’s wife when she asked that we heard it might rain overnight and we didn’t want our equipment to get wet. We still didn’t know what we’d do, but we’d at least put off the shit storm for a night.
I didn’t sleep well that night. I was strongly demotivated from going to work as well. Marieke and I could legitimately claim that we weren’t working on that bit, but I wasn’t especially eager to see Dexter die; nor was I looking forward to the wild gesticulation and the incoherent ranting. I eventually picked Marieke up and we headed in for work.
Imagine, if you will, my utter shock when we arrived and found … juniper bushes. Healthy ones. Looking, if anything, better than they had before. Dexter was standing there looking really fatigued, but with an enormous shit-eating grin spread over his face. We couldn’t pester him for details on the job site, of course, not when the German Ogre (or his even worse wife) might overhear it. At lunch time, however, we drove off site with Dexter (it verged on a kidnapping) and got him to spill.
Dexter had been a busy little boy that night. Upon leaving for the day he’d scoped out the neighbourhood and found a house with juniper bushes that were dead ringers for the killed ones a few streets away. (Truth be told, to me they all look about the same.) He then snuck back into the neighbourhood at midnight and “liberated” two juniper bushes, carting them over to the job site. He dug up the dead junipers and transplanted the live ones. The dead junipers were subsequently taken safely away and disposed of (burnt). Neither the German Ogre nor his wife ever realized a thing. We’d gotten away with it!
Hysterical laughter poured out of all of us as relief flooded in to replace the sick feeling of dread. I think it was Marieke who dreamed up the “business”:
Ryan’s Dexter’s Midnight Juniper Service. We all riffed over the advertising.
“Juniper not living up to your expectations? Something gone wrong? Don’t worry or frown, just call Dexter’s Midnight Juniper Service! We’ll take a look at your troublesome shrubbery and fix it overnight like magic! It’ll look like new once we’re through! You won’t even recognize it!
(We also provide security services to protect you from the recent bizarre rash of juniper thefts!)”