Last week I got a call from the woman whose garden I’d worked on last month, when I was there last as I was leaving she asked if I could do some indoor handyman work as well, hang some pictures and such. I said I would and gave her my number.
When Elly called, that’s her name, Elly; she said:
“Xavier, can you come to hang those pictures? And I also have a few more piles of leaves out back I need you to pick up.”
Elly and her husband are elderly, probably late 80’s and pretty infirm. She uses two canes to get around. I’ve only seen the husband sitting on the couch, so I couldn’t tell you how he gets around. I’m glad to be of help to nice people who need it, so I said sure thing, I’ll be up on Sunday, 11am.
I packed my Milwaukee mini drill and driver and assorted bits and set off for east 88th Street.
When I got there Elly greeted me warmly and took me out back.
“Xavier, Larry got a new hose, so if you could do whatever you were going to do before, please do that, and pick up those piles of leaves, and if you don’t mind could you plant a few plants for me?”
Planting! I was going to do some actual planting, and become a complete gardener.
“Of course I’ll plant the plants for you, no problem.”
But first, there was the question of hooking up the power washer that I’d only used once over a month ago, and then it was after Larry, who contracted me for this job had set it up. It’s his power washer and had been sitting in Elly’s backyard since then.
Larry had gotten a very nice grey hose with a quick release connection, and I didn’t know that with this connection you don’t need to turn off the water. So I went down to the basement in search of the valve, the one that sprayed water everywhere the last time we turned it on because of a hole in the hose. The boiler room where the valve was located was locked, and that prompted a call to Larry, who has the key. Elly doesn’t.
The last time I was there Elly showed me a cork bulletin board she wanted me to hang for her husband. I had taken out my glasses to read the instructions and left them there, and after a few phone calls my friend Janet, Larry’s wife emailed me to say she’d retrieved my glasses and I could come for them at any time. I thought about asking Larry about my glasses but I’m seeing them socially next week so we just dealt with the water situation when Larry came downstairs.
I have to mention that when I tried the quick release connection I couldn’t get it off, so it was good that Larry was here. He showed me how to do it, and how to get the power washer started. I’d forgotten in the few short weeks since the last time.
So I was all set up to power wash approximately 400 square feet of moss covered concrete, flagstone, brick, and AstroTurf.
I started with the planting, there were several plants in their little plastic holders and Elly had set them about where she wanted them planted. I got the spade and started digging up little holes for the plants, neatly inserting each one and patting down the earth around them. I didn’t talk to the plants, the lovely Danusia does that, so these plants would have to do with my magic touch.
I got the plants in the ground, then I packed all of the dead leaves and branches into two large garbage bags, and was ready to power wash.
When I had done Larry’s backyard, in another building a few blocks away, it was all concrete save for the back part which is dirt and has all of the plants and trees on it. I splashed water all over my shoes and myself but mostly it was just water.
Elly’s garden was covered with years of moss growth, an inch thick in some places. And under the green moss is rich black loam, which when mixed with a powerful spray of water becomes little droplets of black. My legs were spattered with little black dots of dirt, and my limited-edition made for The Gap Converse sneakers were soaked and dirt-encrusted.
I should have worn flip-flops, god knows I have enough pairs of them; but I wore my gardening sneakers, as I’ve come to see my limited edition Cons, and was going to go home squishing.
It started out good; I went along the concrete borders of the garden plot, watching as the moss peeled away like paint. I used to use a power washer to peel away paint from radiators, now I was peeling away moss from concrete. The problem is, the moss does not magically disappear. It turns into mud, and it splatters everywhere, but mostly on me.
It got really tough when I reached the concrete near the house; the concrete here was very old and rough and had plenty of nooks and crannies for the moss to take root.
Look at this picture; the black spots are mold roots dug in deep.
I had to stop frequently to sweep the mounds of moss gunk out of the puddles of water (something else that doesn’t magically disappear) and get them into garbage bags. With all the water going in the bags along with the moss, they were going to be heavy.
It seemed never-ending, sweep up moss here, and more moss appears there.
There is a two-foot by ten-foot section in front of the house right before the Astro Turf begins that’s made from three flagstone pieces and bordered with red bricks. As I started to wash the moss off of the brick I realized that the only thing holding it all together was the moss. And the moss was deeply rooted in the highly porous brick. More spattering and squish.
I finally got to the back of the yard, turning green concrete back to it’s original beige color. Moss and mildew gone! I swept up all the wet moss I could, and again with the broom coaxed as much water as I could into the earth and the two drains I found set into the concrete. I took all of the garbage bags out to the garbage space in front of the building, switched from the power washer back to the garden sprayer head on the hose (lots less pressure) and washed as much black as I could off the pathways and Astro Turf. Then I sat down on the steps leading up to the house to see what I could do about my dirt encrusted legs and kicks. Elly had given me a couple of towels, and they came in handy now.
I took off the kicks, gave them a spray with the hose, and wiped them down as well as I could. I did the same to my legs, and wiped my feet dry before stepping into my squishy sneakers. It wasn’t too bad. I was ready to hang the pictures, it was now 3pm and I’d been at it since 11. I was tired but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to put a few screws in a wall.
Elly had other ideas, though.
“My god, I’m tired just watching you work! Let me pay you for the yard work, and let’s hang pictures some other time, OK?”
“Sure, no problem,” I said, pocketing my cash. I’m always willing to lend a helping hand.