By Lynn Ashby 23 May 2011
THE FRONT YARD – He’s out there now, working on my lawn, but how times have changed. Several years ago there was a knock at my door and a seedy looking guy holding a rusty rake smiled at me. “I yam Duc Huang. Do yawns cheap. Do your yawn, pease?” At least that’s what I think he said, but I got the key word, “cheap.” I needed a change in gardening, as my current lawn keeper was a surly, sweaty and sloppy drunkard, who kept the yard looking like leftovers from the Dresden raid. Besides, I didn’t like doing my own lawn, anyway.
“Yes, you can do my yawn…uh…lawn, for twenty bucks.” And so our arrangement began, as once a week, summer or winter, Duc Huang would come do my lawn. Often he brought his wife, Minnie Lou, and two sons, LeRoy and Chauncey, who wore rather rumpled Astros T-shirts. They’d drive up in this rickety pickup truck with rusty fenders and smoking exhaust pipe. It had a bumper sticker: “Power to the People!”
Then one day I noticed his truck had a paint job and new hubcaps, and a “Clinton in ’96” bumper sticker. Eventually he got a second-hand leaf blower that continually broke down. “Now charge twenty-five bucks. Five more,” he told me one afternoon. “Price of gas go up.” I forked over the extra five, knowing that McSleaze, the hedge fund manager across the street, was paying his lawn guy thirty.
Over the years, Huang got a better used truck (sporting a “Gore in ‘00” bumper sticker) and newer lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Minnie Lou stopped helping. “She got own nail place,” Huang explained. “Work seven days week, 23 hours. No time to rake. Boys help her after school and overnight jobs at Dally Queen.”
It was in 2006 when Huang drove up in a brand-new pickup truck, towing a new trailer filled with top-flight equipment, and he had another helper, his cousin, Mandrake. “He just get here from Ho Chi Minh City. He was mayor. Now he help me, because the lawn biz is boom.” In 2008, his crew showed up in a minivan with “Huang & Co. We Do Yawns” on the door with his phone number. One day I saw that Huang seemed very depressed as he swept out the stables. “What happened? Are you being deported?”
He sighed, “Family very embarrassed. Second son, Chauncey, miss one question on SAT test. He now must sleep in garage.” A week later I looked out and Huang was whistling as he skimmed the moat. I asked why. “Chauncey not wrong, and proved test answer was wrong. He now under contract with SAT as consultant.” Huang said LeRoy was taking ESL courses at the community college. “ESL? English as a second language?” I asked.
“Second? No, seventh.”
Immigration reform had been all the talk lately, so I thought I’d check with Huang. “It need reform, and quick, as I tell Senate Committee on Immigration last week. Now days they let in anyone. All raff-riff.”
“But, when you first arrived,” I explained, “you weren’t exactly country club material.”
“True, as I explained to club membership committee last night. Being chairman, I rejected all applications from minorities, union members, Democrats and liberal media. And I turned down McSleaze across the street. He keeps forget Christmas bonus. One must maintain certain level of propriety.”
Chauncey and LeRoy were no longer helping out with the yard work. Huang explained that Chauncey’s job as ticket-taker as the Astros game and his post-doctorial studies at Baylor med didn’t leave him much time for edging the sidewalks. The other son, LeRoy, was at Yale.
“I hope he’s making good grades. I hear it’s a tough school,” I said.
“That’s what his students tell him.”
A year ago Huang’s driver came by with Mister Huang in the back seat (I noticed the limo had a “W forever!” bumper sticker). His crew’s truck with “huang.com.net.org” on the door had its own taco truck in tow. When he got out, he was wearing an Armani three-piece suit and a Rolex the size of a bull rider’s belt buckle. He showed me the picture of his villa in Monaco. I asked him about his wife, Minnie Lou, adding: “I remember her in her peasant cone hat, clipping the weeds in the south garden. What’s she doing?”
“Minnie Lou in Manhattan shopping a new hat at Saks after she rings opening bell on exchange.”
“I thought you said she was in the nail business.”
“Yes nails, bolts, nuts, screws. Then she went into construction materials, electrical wiring, real estate. One thing led to another. Last week she bought out Trump.”
“And your cousin, Mandrake, the mayor?”
“Not mayor. Major, in South Vietnamese Army. He now general in U.S. army. Nominated to be staff chief of joints.”
In April Mister Huang sent an e-mail from his yacht off Majorca asking if the steeplechase hedges were too tall for my horses to clear. When next I saw him I asked about his new employee in charge of potting soil, McFlywheel. Huang said something about derivatives and probation.
Last week, as Huang was sweeping the tennis court around midnight, he told me he liked to keep a hand in the business. Same with Minnie Lou, who still worked every day and all night because it kept the stockholders happy. LeRoy was still at Yale, although after his family made a small donation to his club, it’s now called the Skull & Yawns. “What about Chauncey?” I asked. “Still tearing tickets at the Astros games?”
“Yes. A family rule: work hard, keep eye on things. Even if you are — how you say — uh, team owner?”
Ashby mows at firstname.lastname@example.org