Lawn Boy

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Recipient of the 2019 Alex Award​​

“Mike Muñoz Is a Holden Caulfield for a New Millennium–a ’10th-generation peasant with a Mexican last name, raised by a single mom on an Indian reservation’ . . . Evison, as in his previous four novels, has a light touch and humorously guides the reader, this time through the minefield that is working-class America.” —The New York Times Book Review

For Mike Muñoz, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work–and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew–he’s smart enough to know that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how? He’s not qualified for much of anything. He has no particular talents, although he is stellar at handling a lawn mower and wielding clipping shears. But now that career seems to be behind him. So what’s next for Mike Muñoz?

In this funny, biting, touching, and ultimately inspiring novel, bestselling author Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man determined to achieve the American dream of happiness and prosperity–who just so happens to find himself along the way.


Also by Jonathan Evison

All About Lulu

West of Here

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!



Jonathan Evison


For Matty, Tup, and Thomsen, salt of the earth


The Happiest Place on Earth

This Was Not the Plan

Nothing Auspicious

The Flying Saltshaker

I Am Not a Virgin

A Place to Land

Getting My Mow On

Boldly, into the Future

Drinking the Kool-Aid

The Usual Bullshit

The Pavement

The Guest Cottage

Coinstar Blues

Three-Dollar Minimum

You're Just You

Do the Math

The Social Thing



Like Butter

The Player

All You Can Eat

Not Just Any Lawn Mower

Changing of the Guard

Chief Seattle Days

How to Seize the Day

Standing By, Thinking Big

Miguel Is El Mejor

When You Make Other Plans

The Revolution Is Postponed

Stop-Gap Measure

Freddy, DDS

Burying the Lede

Try Not to Be Black

Big Mac Attack

Los de Abajo

Is That You?

Before and After

The Monkey

Clubbin' It

A Generous Offer

The Art of Favoring

What Are You Trying to Prove?

A Good Place to Start

Occupying Space

Lists and Reminders

Making a Stand

Following Up



Making It Official

The Day After

The Beginning


The Mixed Parts

Baby Steps

The Good Life

My Knight in Shining Armor


Today Is the Day


The Happiest Place on Earth

When I was five years old, back when my old man was still sort of around, I watched a promotional video for Disneyland that my mom got in the free box of VHS tapes at the library. Basically, the video was a virtual tour of the Disneyland grounds. I guess you could say it was a harbinger of things to come, because what really sparked my burgeoning imagination, more than all the fanfare and rides, was the fastidious landscaping: the big, perfectly formed Donald Duck – and Pluto-shaped bushes, the vibrant floral beds depicting Mickey and Minnie, and the impeccably manicured lawns. It looked like paradise to me. I would have given anything to experience Disneyland. For months, all I talked about was the Happiest Place on Earth. Mom said if we scrimped and saved hard enough, and we stayed with my dad's family in El Sereno, maybe we could pull off such a visit.

"What do you think, Victor?" she said to my old man, sprawled on the sofa.

"We'll see about it," he said, turning up the Mariners game and repositioning his ass.

I knew he was just blowing us off. But I wouldn't let it go. I kept pushing for weeks, to where my old man would get really irritable every time I brought it up. Finally, one day he dragged me out to the driveway.

"Get in," he said.

"Where are we going?"


Even at five, I was a little circumspect. But what choice did I have except to jump into the Impala?

"What about Nate and Mom?"

"Don't worry about them."

We drove through Poulsbo in the rain and took the junction south to Silverdale, my old man unshaven, in a dirty T-shirt, stonily silent, gripping the wheel at ten and two. After twenty minutes, I started getting impatient.

"How much longer?"

"Hold your horses."

Then I recognized East Bremerton, and I thought maybe we were going to pick up our food stamps on the way or that this was all a big trick to take me to the walk-in clinic again to get a flu shot. My old man stopped at a minimart and left me in the car. He came back out with a big can of beer in a brown paper bag, and a Sprite, which he tossed across the seat at me, so when I opened it up, it fizzed all over the place. But he didn't yell at me—not this time. He just drank his beer calmly out of the brown bag and kept on driving in silence.

"Are you sure this is the way?"

"It's the way."

We kept driving until we got downtown near the old naval shipyard, where he parked the car on a deserted side street, and we just sat there looking at the brick facade of an old warehouse while he sipped the last of his beer, his eyes darting back and forth between the street and the rearview mirror.

"Are we here?" I asked.

"C'mon," he said, stashing the empty beer can under the seat.

It's not that I was stupid, okay? I was five years old. Yes, I imagined Disneyland would be a lot farther away. I had no idea that Bremerton was in Southern California—who knew? It took a leap of faith to believe such a thing could actually happen to me, but I chose to believe, with all my heart. As I trudged along the Bremerton waterfront in the trail of my father's cigarette smoke, I was practically weightless with joy and wonderment—I still remember that sensation. And that's the thing of it, I never want to forget it. That brief blossoming of expectation, those few delicious moments before the fall, those moments in which I let myself believe something extraordinary was about to happen, that I, little Mike Muñoz, with the dad who called him Polla Pequeña and the chain-smoking mother and the mentally retarded big brother, was actually going to enter the Happiest Place on Earth—they are still among the most poignant moments of my entire life.

When I peered through the chain-link fence, across the expanse of half-barren concrete, at the rusting hulls of the great gray navy vessels, I was perplexed. The place looked big enough, sure. But where was the castle? Where were Mickey and Goofy and Pluto? Where were the big animal-shaped shrubs and the frothing sea of colorful flowers and the lush expanse of green grass that had so thoroughly sparked my imagination? Also, shouldn't we be hearing the laughter of children? Shouldn't it smell like cotton candy or roasted peanuts?

Instead, there were only the frenzied cries of a dozen feeding seagulls and a waterfront redolent with the stench of dead clams and urine. The only bush in site was a blighted thing about three feet high, an Almond Joy wrapper clinging to one of its bare limbs.

My old man clenched the chain-link fence and looked out over the shipyard in the rain, drawing irritably from his cigarette.

"Well," he said, exhaling. "Looks like they moved. C'mon, let's get out of here."

That was Victor Muñoz for you, world's greatest dad.

Needless to say, I cried. The entire walk back to the car, I followed in my father's shadow, chin quivering, vision blurred. But I didn't let my old man see me crying. I wasn't gonna give him the pleasure. The whole drive home, I gritted my teeth and tried to make myself believe that it could still happen someday, if only to spite my father, that one day in the not-so-distant future, if I hoped hard enough, I might still gain entrance to the Happiest Place on Earth.

A kid can dream, can't he? And that's what I did, for a while, anyway, until the relentless indignities of privation wore my innocence to a nub, awakening me to the reality that dreams were for dreamers. The point is, I'm not a child anymore. I'm almost twenty-three fucking years old.

This Was Not the Plan

Friday night, while Mom was pulling a double down at the Tide's Inn, I was at home, babysitting Nate for the third night in a row. Not that I'm complaining, but I could use a break. I watch my brother pretty much every night except Tuesday and Saturday, which consists mostly of placating him so he doesn't go ape shit. Surrender to Nate's will and it's pretty smooth sailing, most of the time. Overexert your own will, however, and you're asking for trouble.

Because unlike me, Nate knows exactly what he wants.

Mom and I make an effort to limit his TV time, because it seems like the right thing to do. So after a dinner of mac and cheese with turkey-dog slices and banana-flavored instant pudding, we screwed around with Mr. Potato Heads in the bedroom for a while. Nate likes to jam the arms and legs into the eye sockets, then hurl them across the room. He thinks it's hilarious. I can't really say that I share his amusement, but then I'm pretty much done with Mr. Potato Head at this stage of my life.

Nate smelled pretty ripe, so I finessed all three hundred pounds of him into the bathtub, using a couple of Oreos as incentive. After a hot bath, he's usually pretty sedate, which is when I cave in and set him in front of the TV in the kitchen, where he slouches at the table drowsily watching Despicable Me 2. As long as Nate's hypnotized by the television, I can generally count on him to stay in one place, which means I can almost have a life of my own, which mostly means reading.

I read at least two books a week, sometimes as many as four. Call it self-improvement. You see, old Mike Muñoz would like to figure out who the hell he actually is, what he'd actually like to do with his life. He aches to be a winner. I'd like nothing more than to spread my proverbial wings and fly the fuck away from my current life, or maybe just get above it for a while. At this point, I feel like I'm nothing more than what everybody needs me to be or whatever the situation demands of me.

Nebulous, that's the word I'm looking for.

"Nate, you good in there?" I shouted from the living room.

No reply.



Had I been paying closer attention, my first clue that all was not right in our household would've been the fact that the relentless burbling of those idiotic Minions had ceased at some point. But the truth is, once you've sat through Despicable Me 2 enough times, you stop hearing the little fuckers. Besides, I was too wrapped up in my book to notice. It's called The Octopus, by a dead guy named Norris, and it was recommended to me by the new librarian. The novel is about corporate tyranny in the 1800s, about how powerful outside forces impose their wills on us and disenfranchise us and beat us to jelly, until we're seemingly powerless to fight them because they own the game. They are the landlords of the world. Sound familiar? Take away the sheep-herding poet, and The Octopus could've been written yesterday.

You'd think I would've smelled the smoke before the fire alarm started squalling, but oh no. It wasn't until Nate shouted that I raced to the kitchen to find smoke so thick that I could hardly see him through the haze, fists clenched, tears streaming down his face.

I grabbed the hot mitts and threw open the oven door, exposing a molten pizza. Molten, because Nate had neglected to take off the plastic wrapper and remove the cardboard Frisbee from underneath. It didn't help that he was broiling it. I rushed the pizza to the sink, where I deposited it in a smoldering heap, opening both taps full throttle.

"You okay?" I said. "Did you burn yourself?"

That's when he gritted his teeth and raised his balled fists to chest level, and I knew that unless I could calm him within the next three seconds, he would go Incredible Hulk on me.

"Here, buddy, have an Oreo," I said. "Have as many as you want."

Tears still streaming down his face, he grabbed a fistful of cookies. As soon as he stuffed them in his mouth, his breathing began to quiet.

You've got to hand it to my brother—the man knows how to leverage his position. You don't want to negotiate with Nate. If things had gone a little differently with his birth, he might have ended up being one of those people who invented themselves and did whatever the fuck they wanted with their life. Become the first Muñoz to wriggle out of the primordial mud and grow some balls. Why not? He's got the single-mindedness. He doesn't take no for an answer. He might've cured cancer for all we know. But things didn't work out that way. As is often the case in the 360, complications arose. Shit happened. And instead of being an astronaut, my older brother is a three-hundred-pound toddler.

The tears, it turned out, were mostly for the pizza, our last. I shepherded Nate to the living room and, with expert finesse, convinced him to eat a microwaved burrito instead of a pizza. Turning on the big TV, I plugged in the first Despicable Me, whereupon, with the aid of the Minions, I soon managed to restore order.

Mom came home almost two hours late, noticeably tipsy. Apparently, she was unable to smell the aftermath of our near disaster over the blue tendril of smoke curling off her Vantage.

"Sorry I'm late, honey," she said.

She set her purse down on the dining-room table and proceeded straight to the kitchen for a tumbler of chardonnay with ice. That's pretty much her go-to. But don't judge her. Let's see you take it on the chin from three husbands, your boss, the state, the insurance companies, and anyone else who stands in your way. Let's see you bring home the bacon, get slapped on the ass all night, do zero self-care, take three vacations in twenty-five years, and not make a mess of raising kids all by yourself. Yes, it's true, she's been unlucky and unwise in love. It happens. And anyone who has ever been a waitress at the Tide's Inn, with its "colorful characters," its gazillion cast-off scratch tickets, and its signature bouquet of mop water and burnt hamburger meat, will tell you that the place just takes the umph right out of you. Between the job and Nate, she hasn't got much left for herself by day's end.

So, you see, my life is not totally without purpose. After five caregivers in three years (two of whom Nate physically assaulted), we've burned so many bridges with the Aging and Disability Services Administration that we don't even bother asking for help anymore. But we manage to maintain a household, just barely. There's a lot of broken shit around here and not a lot of resources. So if you're wondering why our showerhead is an empty plastic liter bottle riddled with fork holes, why don't you run down to Home Depot and price a new showerhead?

When Mom emerged from the kitchen, tumbler in hand, she sat in the old brown La-Z-Boy that used to be Ronnie's. She picked up the remote and turned on the TV to nothing in particular, firing up a fresh heater and drawing deeply from it. Maybe it was just the sickly light of the TV, but behind her veil of smoke she looked a thousand years old. You could see the new crown on her front tooth and how it was whiter than everything else—and it ought to be for six hundred bucks.

"You okay, Ma?"

"Fine," she said, exhaling. "You?"

"I'm good."

She flipped around the channels a bit, puffing her cigarette, until she landed on something called American Pickers, wherein two guys who seem a little gay drive around the country in a van, rummaging through people's old crap and offering them money for it. Initially, there was something hopeful about the premise, but it turns out it's not as simple as just being a hoarder. You need the right crap.

Finally, Mom stubbed out her cigarette and pushed herself to her feet. "When you get a few minutes, honey, could you look under the kitchen sink? It's still leaking."

"Sure, Ma, I'll take a look."

When she was halfway to her bedroom, she turned back, as though she'd forgotten something.

"Oh, and I hope it's okay, but I picked up a shift tomorrow night. It's gonna be tight this month with the—"

"But I was—"

"Oh, never mind, honey. If you've got plans, I'll just call Jerry and—"

"Nah," I said. "Don't worry about it. It's okay."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, I got it."

After Mom went to her room, I took a cursory look under the sink and quickly determined that the drainpipe (cheap-ass PVC) was cracked, and the elbow seal was also a lost cause. Probably the whole works would have to be replaced. A small pain in the ass, and twenty bucks if you did it right.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. Not about the sink but about tomorrow night. I'd planned on heading down to Mitzel's to sit in Remy's section, and eat another crappy entrée and drink a lot of water, so she'd have to come by and refill my glass. And no, I'm not stalking her. Some slow night, when there's a break in our conversation that feels natural, I'm gonna ask Remy out. Nick says I need to "hurry up and hit that shit." But then, Nick's kind of a dipshit.

Nothing Auspicious

I have this old picture, bent and tattered around the edges, that sits atop my dresser next to my pickle jar full of coins. The photo was taken a few weeks after my old man moved out for good. Not that there's anything particularly auspicious about the occasion of the photograph, but it's one of maybe a half dozen I have from my childhood.

In the picture, I'm standing with Nate and my best friend, Nick Colavito, out in front of the Bainbridge fire station, where my mom brought us for the annual BIFF pancake breakfast. Maybe it's because I look at the picture so often that I remember the details of that day so vividly. Or maybe I'm embellishing. But I remember my mom paying our admission with her previous night's tips, a tired but scrupulous stack of small bills. I remember that Mom didn't buy a plate for herself and that it was only after Nate went back for thirds and couldn't clean his plate that she devoured a half a strip of bacon and part of a soggy pancake.

Afterward, we waited in line for a free ride on a fire truck. I distinctly remember not having the heart to tell my mom that I was a little too old to get any kind of kick out of a fire truck, and so was Nick. But looking back, the engine ride was probably for Nate's benefit. He was always talking way too loud about fire trucks—often in church or in line at the grocery store. Anyway, that's when Mom lined up the three of us and snapped the photo.

Nate is on the left, a half foot taller than Nick or me. At eleven, he's already pretty thick around the middle, his T-shirt clinging to his bloated torso like a sausage skin and barely reaching the waistband of his cotton sweatpants, which are also too small. His hair is cropped short, so he won't pull it out or catch it on fire. Other than that, he looks somewhat content, if not a little cross-eyed.

On the far right is Nick, same age as me but older looking, his good-natured grin unable to belie the considerable defiance in his eyes. The effect is sort of a glower, like he's daring the world to do something or say something. Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell Nick to just hold his horses, that the world has plenty of shit in store for him. But I think he already knew that from experience.

That's me, little Mike Muñoz, standing in the middle. A sad-eyed ferret of a kid, skinny and bewildered, slight olive complexion, dark rings under my eyes. Greasy bangs plastered to my forehead, faded Toughskins jeans riding halfway up my shins. On my back, a dirty brown coat with a fake-fur collar. Not exactly the kid from the Sears catalog but a kid all the same. Eight years old and looking for a little security, a little self-confidence—any confidence, really. Just a third grader, bottom lip chafed from obsessive licking, little fingernails bitten to the quick, aching for a good time.

I don't know why I keep this old photo around, but it serves as a constant reminder of where I came from. Not that I really need one. I could just as easily look out the window. But sometimes, as with Nick, I wish I could go back and tell little Mike Muñoz a few things, tell him to relax and leave the worrying to the adults. Tell him he'll find love and security one day, if he can ever figure out where to look for it. And maybe I'd tell little Mike to start by looking outside himself instead of within the murky, undefined recesses of his heart. In my experience, a kid doesn't gain much through introspection. A kid gets more by throwing a ball or wrestling with a dog or burning anthills with a magnifying glass. Sometimes I wish I could just go back and tell little Mike Muñoz to quit biting his fingernails and have some laughs.

That's what kids should do, they should laugh. If there's a better, righter sound in the whole world than the laughter of children, I don't know what it is.

The Flying Saltshaker

What I like most about Remy is that she seems comfortable in her own skin, like she's not trying superhard to impress anyone. She's not apologetic about being a waitress at Mitzel's, and why should she be? I hate that everybody is so self-conscious about how much money they make, and how much freedom their big important job allows them, and all the cool places they go, and how good looking their kids are, and all the sexy pictures of jumbo shrimp and giant margaritas they post on their Instagrams. Remy's not like that. When she tells you to have a good day, you feel like she really means it.

Of course, Nick doesn't find Remy attractive, but what does Nick know? He's got something negative to say about almost every girl I've ever tried to get with, even though he's the one always pushing me. According to Nick, Shannon (the ticket taker from the AMC 7 in Poulsbo) looked like a pteranodon. And yeah, she kind of did, but that didn't bother me. I've got nothing against a slight cranial crest. It's not like she had wings. I was more bothered by the fact that I had nothing in common with her. According to Nick, Amy (the checker from Rite Aid) looked like Matt Damon. Personally, I thought she looked more like Hilary Swank, but that's beside the point. The real disconnect with Amy, once again, was that I had nothing in common with her. Nick called Monica from the bookstore "Skillet," because she looked like someone hit her in the face with a skillet, which was not entirely true. But the thing with Monica was, she didn't really read books, even though she worked at a damn bookstore. She may as well have been selling bathroom tile. I guess I don't see the point of dating somebody just because. Sex doesn't seem like enough.

The lone exception that Nick was ever willing to grant me was Shelly, the barista at the Coyote Coffee drive-thru on 305, to whom Nick assigned "semihot" status, from the neck down, anyway. He said I should "hit that shit," even if her face was "butter." And maybe I could have, if my heart had been in it. But the truth is, things always felt forced with Shelly, what with me ordering three coffees a day at the drive-thru window and trying to start conversations based solely on customer familiarity. With Remy, I don't feel quite as much pressure. The familiarity was there the first time I sat in her section, and it seems to grow with every visit.

Since Mom was working, I had no choice but to bring Nate with me when I went to Mitzel's the following night. This was bad news, of course, on a number of levels, not the least of which was a financial one. In case you didn't know, mowing lawns doesn't exactly make a guy rich. You'd think Nate would be grateful for a free, fancy meal. But let me tell you, coaxing him inside was no easy task, though the drive to the restaurant went relatively well. It wasn't until we parked my truck that things started to go south in a hurry.

"This isn't fucking McDonald's!" he shouted.

"Shhh," I said. "You can have anything you want."

"You said McDonald's!"

"Shhh. Look, they've got all kinds of cheeseburgers here. They're huge—way bigger than Mickey D's."

"You said Big Macs!"


On Sale
Mar 19, 2019
Page Count
336 pages