Sunday, April 8, 2018

Mr. Pham

Please enjoy this week's Strangerville Live, and today's story:

My neighbor Lynne's landscaping could be in a magazine. Every flower and bush is perfectly manicured. I want to be buried in her backyard one day. Especially if I'm dead.

I was amazed that she had achieved everything she has by herself, especially considering that she's a flight attendant and is often gone for many days at a time. Then one day she told me about Mr. Pham.

I don't know Mr. Pham's first name and I'm not sure Lynne does either. He may not have one. She found him a few years ago and hired him to do some landscaping work on her property.

Mr. Pham is probably a genius. He is an exceptionally talented landscape artist. Lynne liked him instantly because of how proud he was of his work. He takes pictures of yards he's worked on and prints them out to put into a binder, and he likes to pull it out, a huge grin on his face, and show people that he meets. Lynne told me that only people who are really good at what they do care that much about it, so she trusted him and had him start helping her with her yard.

I needed help with laying some brick at the back of my house over a muddy patch where I keep a garden hose and some other lawn supplies, so last summer I thought I would give Mr. Pham a try.

A couple of things I learned about Mr. Pham:

1. Mr. Pham is Vietnamese and the language barrier is very real, to the point that I think there was no more than 20% comprehension between the two of us. 

2. Mr. Pham is a tiny man who is somehow stronger than any person I have ever met in my life, which I discovered when I saw him yank a six-foot bush out of the ground with his bare hands.

3. When you hire Mr. Pham as a landscaper, you are hiring him to do whatever the hell *he* wants. Not what *you* want. What he wants.

4. It's best not to fight number 3.

I had walked Mr. Pham back to the spot where I was hoping he could lay some brick. I tried to show him what I was thinking. He repeatedly shook his head and yelled "no!" at me. I didn't know why. But I got so overwhelmed that I just gave him a bunch of money and went inside and called Lynne.

Eli: So, I just hired Mr. Pham.

Lynne: Isn't he great?!

Eli: I think so. But I showed him what I wanted and he said no and then I think he told me he's doing something else but I didn't really understand.

Lynne: Oh. Yeah, I forgot to tell you about that. You just need to let him do whatever he wants. That's the deal.

Eli: Say what?

Lynne: Yeah. That's the deal with Mr. Pham. You aren't hiring him to do a project for you. You are commissioning him to make your life better. Leave it in his hands. 

Eli: That's . . . did I just deed my house to Mr. Pham?

Lynne told me that the year before she had come home and saw that Mr. Pham had ripped out some rose bushes that she loved and she started crying and almost fired him but then he came back the next day and had completely reworked the area, transplanted the bushes, and what he had done was so beautiful that it should be illegal.

I was skeptical. But then a couple of days later I walked into my backyard and saw that Mr. Pham had not done anything even remotely close to what I was hoping he would do. But, Lynne was right. What Mr. Pham had done was a thousand times better than I was hoping he would do.

So I didn't hesitate last week to call him when I decided that it was time to do something with the back corner of my backyard. 

Previously I told you about the thick dilapidated concrete pond that took up that space and which my friends and I ripped out and hauled away and now those friends won't talk to me and I probably have tetanus. Since then, that muddy patch has been neglected, so I decided that maybe I would hire Mr. Pham to lay some paver stones there so I could extend the patio a bit.

I walked him back there. Within a few minutes he had yelled "no" at me several times, made some vague statements about his plans, and told me he would be back next week to "take care of it."

I may have hired a hitman. But I believe I'm going to come out of this with a beautiful patio. Or something completely different. Pictures probably to come.

And now, please enjoy this week's episode of Strangerville, the first part of our four-part Strangerville Live broadcast.

This time in Strangerville, a storyteller takes the stage at Strangerville Live to remind us that . . . most people are good.
You Are Now in Paraguay, by Rachel Miller
Production by Eli McCann and Meg Walter

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. I have three neighbors that are Vietnamese, and they make great neighbors too. One of them has a little girl I pick up from school every day and drive home, and my daughter wants to play at her house every day. The language barrier between the girl’s parents and myself is probably more like 10%, punctuated by our interpreter being a kindergartner. So our interactions largely consist of smiles and nods and then they give me money. And sometimes food too. Then my daughter plays at their house all day, or their daughter plays at my house all day. It all just works out really well for me.

  2. You keep your law supplies in your back yard?

  3. I think a muddy patch sounds like a great place to store your LAW supplies, especially with how stressful some of your cases are, so perhaps this wasn’t a typo?

    “I needed help with laying some brick at the back of my house over a muddy patch where I keep a garden hose and some other law supplies, so last summer I thought I would give Mr. Pham a try.”

    1. What I want to know is: what exactly is a garden hose USED for in the law?

    2. Please tell me I am the best: when I read that, I assumed it was intentional so I imagined you putting all your most highly classified and confidential lawyerly papers down in that hole, and I was impressed by your dedication to your clients’ privacy. I MAINTAIN THIS IS WHAT HE MEANT, ya’ll.

      Without you, the rest of us wouldn't have known about the garden law supplies.

    4. Any Rose is the best person on the internet. You may use me as a reference, Amy.

    5. Thank you, Eli. Sincerely appreciated. (Adding it to top of resume, and printing off a copy to frame and hang on every wall in home).

  4. Did you tell Mr. Pham that your love language is to ALWAYS have control and be right?

  5. I remember being really confused when the "Sarah is" option disappeared from FB. Actually I think that confusion still exists today which is why I hardly ever post anything without some sort of attachment or quote.

  6. I need a Mr. Pham... I'm planning on installing a small pond in my backyard, and I want it to look lovely, but I am not great at actually laying out plans and doing all that. I generally just go to the store a million times until I end up with something I'm happy with.

    But, I can't wait to see how the muddy law supply spot is completely changed!

    1. I completely need Mr. Pham too - My husband had all of the trees in my backyard cut down a couple of years ago. Ya'll - ALL OF THEM. Now my backyard is essentially a mudpit that my puppy likes to dig in.

      Eli - as my puppy expert - how long until she stops digging and traipsing mud into my house???

  7. I was wondering if the law supplies in the back yard is a time-honored lawyerly tradition or just an Eli idiosyncrasy......

  8. We have a Pho. He only wants Pho written on the checks we pay him with. He doesn't want actual money.
    He edges the lawn while his 100 Bajillion year old wife weilds the mower like a weapon. She could live in one of those trendy tiny house things people put in small pottery, fill it up with dirt and you can design the house....anyway, she could live in one. She is SO tiny. But I think she could beat up every one on our block. Not that I've ever heard her speak. Pho just says, "Check". I one asked him to pull some weeds around the tree in our yard and it might have been the hardest thing I've ever done.

  9. I’m catching up on Stranger (life has been busy) and as usual, your writing has me giggling in public places.