Life is Heald: Ask not what the puppy can do for you, but what you can do for he who bought the puppy

Five or six years ago, with Christmas approaching, our boys let it be known, again, that they really wanted a puppy. This annual assault on our guilty conscious had become as much tradition as the tree and the turkey, but this year they were whining like, well, a puppy, about wanting a puppy.

After the wife and I did a conference call with the fat fella from the frozen north, we decided this could be the year that the Iceman cometh with a puppy. An elf in legal faxed us all the liability forms (necessary since the infamous pit bull incident of '98 in which Santa's visit resulted in more than just cookies and milk being eaten), and sales followed up with an order form several days later. I ordered a beagle and named her "Chowder."

The wife and I knew all along that it was only a matter of time before we got a dog. After all, it seemed almost un-American to have three young boys and no puppy. As a matter of little-known-fact, once upon a time, it was. During the heyday of McCarthyism in the 1950's, there was a checklist used for identifying communists. Right after item #236 (toolbox in individual's garage is known domicile to both a hammer and a sickle), item #237 warned of the "family with two or more male children of school age--no dog in household." (A sad case of collateral damage; the untold thousands blacklisted for hatin' on "Lassie.")

The other day, our family accountant (me) was looking for a way to save a few bucks, what with the day coming all too soon when those same three boys will all be in institutions simultaneously. (The wife says I have to say "institutions of higher learning," but I didn't think it was fair to pigeon-hole them like that.) While I'm at it, you know this is not my first reference to my personal financial tsunami lurking just offshore and yet, not the first donation has found its way to my mailbox. I'm just sayin', if you people really think I'm going to be able to hold the pickles and hold the lettuce and still write this column, I can only assume you are a medicated optimist and, jingle lyrics be damned, I will be upset. But I digress.

After looking at the situation through the American flag and getting the boys a puppy, I decided to look at the situation differently and see what was in it for me. Looking at it through the eyes of a Vietnamese sweat shop supervisor, I saw a deep and cheap, in-house labor pool that, with hard work and determination, might one day very well aspire to be an indentured servant. What might this labor force be used for? Read on.

A few years back, I suffered a torn ligament in my elbow pitching batting practice to a Little League team I coached. I had become delusional after listening to the Bruce Springsteen song "Glory Days" on the way to practice. In my altered state, I attempted to strike out as many of the little half-pints as I could, in the process forgetting the AARP guideline: when you're in your 40's, don't try and throw in the 80's. Not only did nary a single child go down swinging, but one of them was rude enough to enroll my fastball in the witness protection program and relocate it to the roof of a building on the other side of the fence. He was raised better than that and I should know because I raised him. He was still crowing about his home run when I drove off and left him in the parking lot. (Daddy guideline:Mock not the pitcher who doubles as your chauffeur.) When he called his mother to tell her about the home run, he wisely mentioned in passing that he needed a ride home.

Anywho….the elbow needed surgery, which meant, among other things, that I would need somebody to do our yard while I recuperated. The boys immediately offered to help, even little Hank Aaron, Jr., but knowing that they viewed the riding lawnmower as just a go-cart with cutlery, and not the 17-horsepower, field amputation-in-waiting that it was, I declined their offer. I hired a lawn service for the six weeks I would be debilitated. Six years later, "start doing yard again" has tenure atop my "to do" list. What can I say, I'm an addict. I got addicted to watching other people mow my grass. I know that now and I'm getting help. Baby steps. My name is Kevin Heald and I hate yard work.

The accountant told the boys that it made no sense ("sense," get it? Sense/cents? Accountant humor. It's an acquired taste) to keep paying somebody to do our yard when we had on-site labor and the equipment to do it ourselves. The accountant, by way of describing the whip as a carrot, then told the labor force that if they ever did the yard good enough to the point where the addict could fall off the wagon, the yard work might one day graduate from "chore" to "job." (For those readers without a dictionary handy, "chore" is what you have kids for, "job" is what they get when they want to get paid for their chores.) In other words, if they could keep the yard from looking like a Vietnamese jungle (all your best motivational books say to relate the workplace to the home), I might eventually be able to throw them a few bucks for their efforts.

The recovering addict moved to the edge of the wagon. He wasn't so much worried about falling off as he was willing to jump.

- - -

Come back next week to find out how General Heald and the troops fared when they invaded St. Augustine. The General cautioned that his troops were not prepared for the horrors of yard work, so victory in Yard War II is anything but certain. Kevin can be reached on the mower at LIFEisHEALD@yahoo.com.

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