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Zac Crain Discovers the Hidden Cost of Renting

An uninvited lawn guy adds unanticipated expense to leasing a new home.
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For reasons I won’t bore you with, I recently made the transition from homeowner to house renter. I’m a notoriously bad negotiator, so I was impressed with myself when I managed to convince my landlord to cut the deposit in half and knock off $100 from the rent. Probably too impressed.

Since I had secured victory on those two crucial points, I didn’t pay much attention to what my landlord said regarding the rest of the rental agreement. I wanted to dispense with the formalities and go back to high-fiving myself. The only thing I heard was something that sounded like another entry in the win column for me: yard maintenance was “taken care of.”

I assumed this meant someone would come by to mow the lawn and so on every few weeks and, furthermore, that said someone’s compensation would be withdrawn from an account belonging to a person who was not me. Should I have clarified this at the time? Of course. I probably should have also stopped singing the theme from Rocky in my head.

On my third day in the new house, there came a too-loud knock on the door. When I opened it, I found a blank-faced man in a sleeveless t-shirt. His mess of red hair was shaved on the sides, curly on top, and long in back, less a hairstyle than the aftermath of a barber giving up on the job halfway through. Over his shoulder, I saw a truck with a lawn mower and various other equipment in the back—my new lawn guy.

He asked if I was the new renter. I said I was. He asked my name. When I told him, he admitted he had trouble with names but would definitely remember mine, because he was a big fan of the guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Zakk Wylde. (He forgot my name by our next meeting.) Unprompted, he then told me he had bought one of Wylde’s signature-model guitars for $2,200 and took my polite nonanswer (“Wow.”) as a sign of interest. So he kept talking. And talking.

I still don’t know how I ended up agreeing to pay him $35 a week to cut my grass. I suppose the resulting conversation—interminable, and centered on the fluctuating value of Zakk Wylde guitars—was what wore me down. I hadn’t even bothered to argue, even though I was still under the impression that the yard was “taken care of.” I guess I figured it was worth that much to get rid of him for the day. I’d sort it all out later.

That was my second mistake, and it was much worse than the first. Because once he started, I couldn’t get rid of him. For the first few weeks, he showed up unannounced every weekend, always at the most inconvenient time. (Read: nap time.) I eventually talked him into mowing the grass every other weekend—though the conversation began with me trying to fire him, so you’d have to consider that another black mark on my negotiating track record.

So he kept coming back. It was bad enough that he did, at best, an exceedingly average job of maintaining the yard. It was shorter, sure, but generally messier, thanks to his over-reliance on the leaf blower. (The first week, he blew an entire yard full of leaves into my flower bed and the entire contents of my ashtray into my yard.) He missed spots with the weed whacker. He left grass clippings everywhere. Was I getting $35 worth of work? No.

Making the bargain even worse was the biweekly payment transaction. I rarely keep cash on me, and he steadfastly (and somewhat shadily) refused to accept a check. This means his work visit was always followed by a second to collect his fee. That was the real problem.

It was well after 9 pm the first time he came back to collect his money, again with a too-loud knock. I was in the process of putting my son to bed. When I opened the door, I noticed the yard guy was wearing baseball uniform pants. He wasn’t going to, or coming from, a practice or a game. He was just wearing baseball uniform pants. I’d never considered their potential as casual wear.

I handed over the money. I was turning to shut the door when he brought up the death of Ronnie James Dio, the former Black Sabbath singer who died from stomach cancer earlier this year. Even though my son was waiting impatiently behind me in his pajamas, I had to listen to the yard guy tell me about how hard he taken Dio’s death, and that at least he’d gotten to see one of the last shows by Dio’s most recent band, Heaven & Hell. This went on for some time. He seemed on the verge of tears. I wasn’t sure what to do.

So I told him I’d see him next week.

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