The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Get Grounded


Standing outside Carnegie last week, on what I now realize was probably the last warm day of fall, I felt no reason to go inside. The blue sky, the fresh air and the breeze dragging a leaf lazily across the sidewalk, all seemed to be telling me, stay. And hey! Who was that guy? A member of the grounds crew moseyed on past in a Cushman. Why didn’t I know him? I mean, we’re always crossing paths. We are sitting in the Grounds office, among at least 10 bright red and green mowers. Much to my surprise, I don’t feel girly and out of place in this huge, concrete, fluorescent-lit garage. Instead it’s just a wholesome rummy-playing hangout, where the kindly Grounds crew shoots the breeze every lunch break and afternoon. Their jokes are so funny I feel like a stick in the mud asking them to explain their occupation.

“Well, right now it’s, umm, leaves, leaves, and more leaves,” they explain over a game of 500 rummy, the kind where you can pick up the whole pile.

Rain or shine, five full-time staff and 15 student workers make up the Grounds crew, who arrive at 6:30 every morning to make our campus beautiful. Led by the trusty Jerry Nelson, a 5 and 10k runner who eats popcorn for lunch, their tasks are not governed by inefficient meetings that make them wish they could just go outside. In an outrageously laissez faire manner, they all just decide what to do and go outside and do it, and then go play some rummy. Kurt Olson, for example, is the mower man, and he’s worked at Mac since we were in grade school. “Yep, yep. I’m a senior man,” he said, eyes smiling behind cool yellow glasses with black frames. At nighttime, Olson is a bass player for The Lounge Kings, who play classic rock, rhythm and blues. Olson’s co-workers joke about him wearing spandex onstage while he reminisces about the shop vac and battery charger he received as gifts from Macalester, each one received after five years of dedicated employment. Sharing a love of technology, Gary Zahrbock, a newer member of the grounds team, shows me the weed whip tattoo he has on his calf.

“It is, indeed, a weed whip in action,” said student worker Sarah Johnson ’06, referring to the little bits of flying grass, which an undiscerning eye could miss.

Crew member Sandy Street, on the other hand, has a more feminine but equally outdoorsy tattoo of a bouquet of flowers on her leg. That tattoo and any thoughts of flowers are now covered as Street and the guys work through the never-ending winter. But if you’re dressed for it, they say you’re fine. They also say that Grounds attracts a certain type of worker. One who likes the outdoors. One who can find humor in finding a dead squirrel while stacking rocks.

“Don’t pick up dead animals,” said sports fan and pop culture whiz Jim Peterson during a pause in rummy. “It kills your mojo.”

Street, an animal lover who owns three horses and works the Shaw Field area, is now an expert on rabbits. She explained that they are so many this year because of the mild winter. And despite our convictions, the squirrels aren’t procreating out of control, preparing for world domination. They are this bad every year. There are always dead ones, too, and each Grounds crewmember has his or her death theories.

“Eating at the campus center is what kills them,” said Olson, amid an array of laughs, as he discards.

Spending so much time around campus trying to ignore the squirrels, Grounds has come up with nicknames for various campus locales. Our stomping grounds have become a fantasy world where 77 Mac and the nearby cottages are “the three little pigs” and GDD is “the new dorm.”

“That’s only because Gary’s been working here so long, though” explained Johnson, who has designated the garden in front of campus The Sarah Johnson St. Paul President of the Lounge Kings Fan Club Living Memorial Garden.

Johnson said Grounds is often her favorite part of the day and I can’t help but understand what Sarah means as I’m careening around campus on a Cushman between Kurt and Gary to get to a leaf site, fast. Scissors, a baseball, water bottles, and numerous knickknacks line the front window and rattle around as we turn onto the sidewalk near Grand.

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