I Worked for a Duck

Joe Lansdale in 1973. Credit: Dan Lowry

Once upon a time, in the early 1970s, I worked for a duck. He was a nice duck and owned a flower business. What he did was he hired people like me, and other long-hairs and down and outs to stand on street corners in Austin, Texas and sell flowers. Ducks make nice employers.

People bought a lot more flowers than you might think. Austin was a pretty cool place back then. At the end of the day, the duck had a good return on his flowers, and I, and those doing the same kind of work I did on different street corners, got paid. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it wasn’t bad money for a part time job for someone not yet twenty, or maybe just turned twenty. I’m a little uncertain how old I was then, and it lacks importance.

The duck had a yellow van, and he drove us to our street corner in it and let us out, along with our cache of flowers. I would sometimes try and get people’s attention by doing a little dance on my street corner, and it worked. A lot of folks said they were buying flowers from me because I entertained them.

One time I was finishing up my dance and a beer bottle whizzed by my head, having been thrown from a car by a bunch of rednecks. I was mad and wanted a piece of them, but they raced away. They may have been rednecks that thought they were tough and were going to mess up a hippie, but I most likely looked crazy in that moment and that might have temporarily scared them out of their redneck credentials, or maybe they had some place to go and were short on time to be there.

Whatever, they went away fast. I didn’t dance anymore that day and kept an eye peeled in case they returned. I was at an intersection, and I hoped they’d catch the light. They didn’t come back though. And that’s good. I was young enough and hot-headed enough, I might be serving time in prison.

I got a little sick about it for a while, thinking I might have lost an eye or ended up with a brain injury, or at best a black eye. That bottle thrown from a car had some real speed on it.

I really had it in for rednecks after that, and part of the reason is that I had grown up with just their type. Couple of days, and I pretty much got over it, but thereafter I danced very little and continued to keep a sharp eye. No one threw anything else at me, and I never saw the rednecks again.

Okay. I’m not completely over it.

Even with years on them, I think if I saw them today, I would recognize them, and they would be in for it. Another twenty years, and they would still be in for it, even if I had to beat them with a cane or my walker or run them over with my wheel chair. On my deathbed if I should accidentally see them on the television news, perhaps having been caught having illegal relations with a wombat, I would apply harsh language. I hope they ended up with terrible jobs and their wives cheated on them and their dogs bit them and they suffered repeated bouts with pink eye.

In spite of that, selling flowers for the duck on the street corner was mostly an okay job, but I will complain enough to say it was hot in the summer standing on those corners with very little to drink, and the concrete was hard on the feet at the end of the day. I tied my hair back to stay cool and wore a hat, but I still got hot and sunburned.

But the duck treated me well. The flower job and a student loan put a bit of money in my pocket and allowed me to pay rent where I was staying with my first wife, buy a few odds and ends for us, and I went to class at the University of Texas when I wasn’t selling flowers. I had a number of jobs like that back then. I didn’t mind. I figured I was working my way through college. Turned out I was working, but not through college.

The way I discovered I worked for a duck was that a number of us were anti-Vietnam war folks. I’ve always been proud of that, while at the same time being proud of my brother who was a captain in the army. I didn’t believe in that war and thought it was useless and killed many good men for no real reason. All these years later, after we dropped out of that war and came home, Vietnam has become a trade partner, and there was no domino effect with the communists taking over the world. Many Americans now go to Vietnam for vacation.

Because I was anti-war, and the duck was anti-war, and this was before I was drafted (didn’t serve; another story), we were loading flowers into the van one day, talking about our military draft status, and the guy I was working for told me, “I don’t have to worry. I’m a duck.”

This surprised me. I had been poorly observant. I hadn’t noticed him being a duck. He looked like a normal long-haired guy to me. I laughed when he told me he was a duck, but he looked at me in a way that made me feel foolish, and I realized right then he really was a duck. Or thought he was. It was a psychiatric deferment.

I said, “You told the psych you’re a duck to stay out of the war?”

“No,” he said. “I am a duck.”

“Okay,” I said.

There didn’t seem to be another conversation opening on the nature of being a duck, so I let it be. I worked for him off-and-on for a while, and finally my then-wife and I separated, and I dropped out of school and went back to East Texas, and then on to Berkeley, California and waited for my divorce papers. They showed up. I moved on.

By the way, I’ve decided he really was a duck. I worked for him, and it was all right. Now and again I think about him and wonder if he is still alive and lives near a pond.