By on April 10, 2007

I awoke Wednesday with a start to a blaring cell phone alarm playing Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.” But at 5:30 a.m. I am not feeling very sexy.

After shutting off the alarm and dozing off a few times I realize that it’s already 5:50 and I am going to be late for my first day on the job. Do I really have to do this today?

My boyfriend of four years, Andrew Turczak, is a strapping 22-year old senior at Quinnipiac University. He is a burly, brown-eyed guy with curly brown hair who despite his responsible nature has the heart of a child. As an entry-level masters physician’s assistant major and the president of the Physician’s Assistant Club, he has a lot on his plate. On top of it all, he has also been running his own landscaping and home improvement business with his best friend, Joe Sousa, since he was 16.

It is called “Manhandlers LLC.” And at a towering six-foot-two, there is no denying that Andy is built for just about any landscaping or odd job there is.

The boys named their company in 1999 because it had a “ring” to it. Now, after winning first prize at the East Coast Student Entrepreneurial Awards from Farleigh Dickenson University in 2005, they have since doubled their business and are one of the most well-known landscaping companies in the Housatonic valley area.

Though I get the humor, I’m slightly miffed by the name. Who says that a woman can’t do a “man’s” work? I mean, after all, how hard could it be to cut a few lawns, trim a few shrubs?

I drag myself out of bed and pull on a pair of old jeans, sneakers and a hunter green t-shirt bearing the company’s logo. I throw my curly, unwashed hair up into a ponytail and grab a pair of big, black sunglasses. Maybe today I am bringing some sexy a man’s job.

When I walk outside of my apartment complex, he’s already rearing and ready to go. Brian Stevenson, one of his workers, good friends and fraternity brothers is waiting in the car. Brian is a stark contrast to Andy, tall and thin with a mop of blond curly hair and a sharp wit. Brian and Andy went to high school together in Shelton and now attend the same college.

“Let’s go!” Andy says with boyish impatience. “Time to Manhandle.”

Twenty-five minutes later we pull up to Andy’s house to pick up some equipment and his beat-up white Dodge so we can get started on the day’s assignments: three grass cuts, some weed whacking, and a little sweeping and raking; a typical fall Wednesday for the pair.

After loading two old mowers, a few half-empty gas cans, some mangled bungee cords, two weed whackers and a giant push broom, we’re on our way to the first job. I sit sandwiched between the two inside the cab of the truck with a mix of empty and full Gatorades and Poland Spring bottles rolling around underfoot. Brian selects one, gives it a sniff and twists it open.

“Eh, water doesn’t go bad,” he says and takes a sip.

“I love how we have this down to a science,” Andy says. “Let’s just hope we can get to Steve’s with both mowers still working.”

Last week both of the company’s push mowers broke down, cheating them out of a day’s work. A precious day, as it is the only one the boys work while
they are away at school. Most of the work was completed full-time throughout the summer with the help of Andy’s partner and about 10 other college-age boys. During September and October, however, they continue to take work on Wednesdays.

“We should just take a day off from school and make a load of money,” Andy says.

Though I’m squished between the two, a foreign addition to their usual routine, it doesn’t take long for them to warm up to me. After only a few minutes, they are already cracking jokes and including me in their easy conversation.

The first house, a medium-sized property with awkward hills right on the water, wasn’t too intimidating. The boys started working right away, nearly forgetting my presence until I reminded them that I am the one who is supposed to be doing the work today.

With a noticeable eye roll, Andy demonstrates how to cut the lawn in long, straight lines. I follow his lead but he says “nope, see you’re missing it.” I don’t see. But I keep going anyway until he says, “OK, I can finish the rest!”

This yard is notorious for one thing only. “There is a ton of dog poop everywhere,” Andy says. “These people are never home.” I look down and see that a souvenir from the first yard is now affixed to my shoe. Lovely.

Next on the list is weed whacking. Andy shows me how to hold the contraption and how to turn it to “full choke” and “half choke.” He explains that these tools need a gas-oil mix rather than pure gas. I only half listen since I’m still trying to figure out how to hold the thing without it vibrating right out of my hands and into the grass.

After showing me how to point it close to the ground, but not too close, and to run right along the stone wall, I think I’m doing pretty well. Andy agrees. “Good job,” he says. And it doesn’t even sound like he’s lying.

“Your hands smell like gasoline already,” he says. “Nice.” Is this a turn-on?

Now I have to sweep up the mess I made from weed whacking with the broom. I follow the wall carefully sweeping the bits of grass and weed to the side. He huffs a little. “Nothing crazy, Dane. Just a quick sweep.” Now I’m doing too good of a job. Maybe this Manhandling thing isn’t so bad.

“Why are you doing this again?” Brian asks, reminding me that I am, in fact, still out of my element.

“It’s 7:40 a.m.,” Andy says. “This is taking a little longer today.” Alright, just keep rubbing it in.

They chat about one of their favorite jobs. “One lady gives us soda and water and sometimes Tootsie Pops and candy,” Brian says. The next stop, however, is their most dreaded and most difficult.

It’s all hill and a known mower-flipper. “It’s like a 75 degree slope,” Andy says tilting a big, flattened hand up and to the side for demonstration.

“The worst part is,” Brian adds, “is what a cheap price we gave him: $45.”

When we pull up the long driveway, both boys whip out pairs of filthy black cleats from their high school soccer days. They use them to keep traction on the steep hillside.

When I inquire as to where I can help, Andy responds, “We’re not even letting you touch this hill.” Brian agrees. “We’ve had near-death experiences.”

“You could clean out those bottles and stuff from the cab, though,” Andy adds with a smirk. Good thing I didn’t get my nails done this week.

They look like artists sculpting the shape of the lawn and it’s still only 8:42 a.m. by the time they finish drenched in sweat and covered in chopped blades of grass. “Well, it’s a good workout, you’ve got to give it that,” Andy says. “If only we had this hill when we used to have soccer practice.”

The sky is gray and the early morning air is chilly and crisp. It is reminiscent of cold fall days and playing outside as a child. “Take a look at the view,” Brian says. I’m taken aback by a stunning picture of the Housatonic River. No wonder they like doing this so much.

We pile back into the truck and they switch on the radio to their station of choice: STAR 99.9 FM. The truck is no frills with a simple sound system and a broken passenger side door that must be opened by rolling down the manual windows and pulling the handle from the outside.

They shoot the breeze about nothing in particular: school, work, the weather; until talk about internships and future work plans makes them fall quiet and slightly somber. They don’t like to think about doing anything other than Manhandling as a summer job.

The silence is short-lived, however, when Andy suddenly jerks the volume knob on the radio. “Wait, Shhhh,” he says. “What song is that?”

The Backstreet Boys’ “As Long As You Love Me” blares from the radio and both boys start belting out the tune. I soon find myself singing along.

“This is the best part!” Brian exclaims as one of the band’s soloists sings, “Oooh ooh oohh.”

“My cousins and I made a music video to this song once,” Andy says, and the boys break down in hysterics.

The final job is an easy one. A quick cut and trim and we’re done for the day already at 9:30 a.m. I stretch my muscles, which have already started to get sore.

We make a pit stop at the boys’ favorite lunch spot, Center Deli, where I treat myself and them to bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches and coffee. Funny how that worked out: I work for them without pay and I’m buying them breakfast.

“So, how did I do?” I ask.

“You did pretty good, but I wouldn’t let you cut my lawn,” Andy says. Brian spits out a little of his sandwich. “You could get the hang of it with practice, though.”

Mission accomplished.


About Dana Owen