Ahmed was being paid to blow leaves from the stretch of sidewalk in front of The Nugget, a large supermarket in town. In the fall, the shop’s manager hired him to do his job four times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. What the manager didn’t know was that Ahmed, who worked in the early morning two hours before the Nugget manager arrived to open, was aiming his leafblower at the boutique art gallery and the upscale second hand clothing store across the street. Nor did he know that these shops had collectively hired Ahmed to vacate the leaves he had blown in front of their shops on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. He had a similar racket running all over town.
In Mogadishu, the thirty-six-year-old man with a neat line of a mustache and thinning black hair, had owned a rather successful cafe, but his money only went so far, and upon immigrating to America with his family of three, he found that the modest sum he had left wasn’t enough to start up a shop in his new home of Davis, California.
But Ahmed discovered that there was work to be found, one just had to know where to look. His wife’s cousin had mentioned something about going downtown to shops to see if anyone was hiring behind the counter or in the kitchen. Ahmed tried for a few days, and one day while eating a slice of pizza he met a man who worked as a leafblower worker. Ahmed thought the idea absurd. He couldn’t believe that Californians paid people to clear out the leaves in front of their businesses. Why didn’t they simply pick up a rake and clear the debris themselves. Wouldn’t that be more cost effective?
Ahmed fast learned that Americans had other people to do everything for them. When he ran his coffee shop in Somalia, he had to wear a variety of hats. He was the electrician, the plumber, and the carpenter, among other things. When the toilet water stopped flushing in the bathroom, he spent the better part of two days tending to it. During that time, his cousin Egal ran the shop.
Not only did they hire many different people, but Americans didn’t like to concern themselves with the details of these assignments. They told you what needed fixing, and you gave them an estimate and then you did the work. You didn’t get into the particulars of the issues, like say, someone flushing a tampon down the toilet. They didn’t want to know.
So when the supermarket store manager saw that the leaves were gone from her doorway come Monday when he got into work (courtesy of Ahmed), that was good enough for him. He didn’t care where the detritus went to, didn’t know that it was all piled up in front of the art gallery. The gallery owner, a middle-aged lady in her sixties who liked to wear a different hat everyday didn’t know any better. She didn’t get in until noon because noone was buying art before then during the week. And anyway she knew that by the next day the leaves would be cleared as promised. This gallery owner also didn’t know that the man who took care of her leaves was merely blowing them back across the street in front of the market. She only knew that the leaves would be gone for a day and then the next day they would return. Again, the leafblower’s doing.
This sort of thing went on for 2 years until one Monday the owner of the boutique art gallery came in early to take some measurements of her space, as she was thinking about a possible remodel of the interior.
The woman had decided to walk that morning because the weather was divine and she only lived 9 blocks from her shop. One block away , she saw Ahmed across the street blowing the leaves away from the sidewalk of the Nugget. His back was to her, and he had thick ear phones strapped to his head as the leafblower buzzed.
She called his name — “Ahmed!” — but it was no use. He didn’t hear, and that’s when she saw. She confronted him a short while later, and Ahmed stood listening as the shop owner grew increasingly red in the face. He could not understand everything she was saying, but he knew he had been caught.
Indeed, it was the beginning of the end for Ahmed’s leafblowing business, but luckily for him, he had raised enough money to get his cafe running only two blocks away from the gallery.
He called his shop, “The Morning Racket.”