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About Utah: Mindless is nice — but not forever

Clay Frandsen, 22, starts his third year of college this week at the University of Utah, and he can't wait. His mind is ready for the grind. Bring on the pop quizzes. Bring on the midterms. Bring on those professors with their Socratic method.

Clay just spent the summer watering trees and flowers in downtown Salt Lake City. Eight hours a day. Every day.

He's ready to do some thinking again.

Since the first of May he's been showing up at 7 a.m. at the city's public services headquarters and hopping into the driver's seat of a Cushman cart — aka "the office" — with a 120-gallon water tank mounted on the back.

He's spent his days watering the large concrete flower pots on State Street and West Temple and the trees on 100 South — 30 gallons per stop.

First he puts the hose in the planter box. Then he turns the water spigot to the "on" position. About 15 minutes later he switches it to "off," removes the hose and drives 20 or 30 feet to the next station.

Every so often he has to refill the water tank.

At 3:30 p.m. he drives the Cushman back to the garage and clocks out.

When I observed Clay at work the other day outside the Deseret News offices on 100 South, I practically drooled with envy.

Here indeed was mindless work.

Just think. No story ideas to come up with. No angles to concoct. No opinions to form. No deadlines. No editors!

"All you have to do is make sure the hose is inside the planter box?" I asked.

Clay smiled. "Yeah," he said, "and then you've got to remember to pull it out when it's full.

"A robot could do it," he added.

Clay became the Central City waterboy last year when he returned from an LDS mission to Mongolia and looked around for a summer job.

Salt Lake City was advertising online for seasonal employees. He answered the ad, passed the interview and they pointed him toward the Cushman.

He had exactly zero experience watering trees and flower pots. At that, he was slightly overqualified.

"I wanted something outside," said Clay. "This is outside. You don't have to think, but it beats being inside a cubicle typing."

Hey, now.

Clay could tell I had a serious case of mindless job envy so he let me drive with him to fill up the water tank.

As we drove he explained that even though being the city waterboy isn't mentally taxing there's still plenty to look at and occupy your mind.

Downtown is fascinating, he said. You name it, he's seen it. He has numerous homeless friends, he's gotten to know business owners and tourists. One day a man who said he was the crown prince of Dubai engaged him in a long conversation.

Last summer, when a large Pentecostal group was having a convention at the Salt Palace and the youths were instructed to take to the Salt Lake streets and testify and convert the people, Clay was a sitting target.

"But I was just back from my mission so I'd ask if I could ask them some questions too," says Clay.

He's studying psychology at the U. and is starting his junior year this week. The new school year and the end of summer mean his watering days are all but over.

The timing's good, he said. He's ready for a change. Not thinking can get old. "This does make me not want to do this for the rest of my life," he said.

"But my mind is fresh right now. Come spring it will probably be fried again. But right now, I'm ready to do some serious thinking."

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.