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Friday, Jan. 14, 2005
Just got back from a bit of a morning run with Stu. No, I don’t mean jogging. That would indicate that I have an ongoing fetish with self-mutilation. A run in my dictionary allows the use of products from General Motors or, as in this case, the fine folks at Ford.

He called me up. “Got a line on some stuff up the Shore (which is shorthand for the place we were most recently working at) from some contractor and they got plans in their office. Wanna go?”

Well of course. I croaked out an affirmative, shoved boots to feet and headed out the door. Walking pneumonia and all. It is the call of the small business, you see, where there are no sick days. Plus, I’m so tired of looking at these four walls that any excuse to leave is seen as a good one.

In 70 degree January weather we went and we charmed. I’d cautioned Stu that he would probably need to do the bulk of the talking because listening to me right now is like hearing the business end of a plumbing transaction. Funny, but not quite what you’d expect in a meeting about potential work don’t you know.

And as we exited the noble hall of the contractor the bottom let out. Lo, the rain did fall in buckets. My gasping, Gollum like voice wasped over from croak to whisper in about 5 seconds, to the point that even Stu, who can interpret every raised eyebrow that I make was leaning over in the truck saying “Whazzat? Speak up ya bum ye.”

So I’ve got that going for me now. Ally’s gonna shoot me for sure.

He did relay something to me that made my blood boil, and you’d have to have at least a working knowledge of our history for the past few months, as eloquently outlined in this rant Here, the never sent hate letter to our former Benefactor.

Stu said, “So I went out to the Benefactor’s house the other day to put in the steps he was talking about.” A set of steps which would allow him to step daintily from the 100 foot long pier to the raised-out-of-water 38 footer which is moored in his backyard lagoon. It’s raised out of water to prevent barnacles and other undesirables from clinging to it, you see.

It was not a difficult task, one of those ‘Do this when you can’ inevitable requests that follow when you work on large projects for someone. They always have a pet project in mind, and it is always at their home. The Commandments were not cast in stone as deeply as any Benefactor Pet Project, you have my word on it.

“Steps? Oh yeah, so he could get his short ass up to the boat and watch TV on nice days when the wife was on the rampage,” I said. “So how’d that go?”

“Oh the steps were fine. Stopped by and picked up some 2 x 12, some lag bolts. Scrounged up some stuff from my garage, had everything I needed, believe it or not. Went right to the pier, built the damn thing in a couple hours. Just about finished up when he came a trottin’ on down to the boat.”

Stu has habits when telling a story that maddens me sometimes. One, he’s in no hurry. If he sees an appropriate billboard or motor vehicle or newspaper article that requires comment, he’ll break off the main tale to expound about . . . well, just about anything. It once took him the better part of an hour to relay the price of an axle repair using this method. And two, the ceremonial lighting of the stogie, often nearly a foot long, is a prerequisite for any conversation.

For this story, he employed both. Talked about a Hooters billboard for a while. Then displayed, sniffed, fondled, cut, lit and inhaled a cigar that most closely resembled an ear of unshucked corn.

I waited. Long enough, I waited. “Okay, so you finished the steps. What’d he have to say?”

Volumous exhaling of cigar. “Well, I’ll tell ye. He liked the steps fine. Jumped up and down on ’em, hopped on the boat, hopped off the boat.” Another plume of smoke.

One month later, I was wont to prod again. “So did he pay you or what?”

“Well, that got a little strange. I told him it cost me $50 for the materials and I’d appreciate it if he could pay me.”

You have to appreciate that he and I have received $0 for a month now. A fifty is a big deal for Stu. An out of pocket fifty is intensive care.

“Fifty bucks, that’s all you asked him for? Hell, and two hours work?”

“Yep. Right about two hours.”

“What’s a ‘little strange’ about that?”

He rared back for the punch line. “’Cause that’s when he said bullshit.”

It’s likely best that I had laryngitis already, because I surely would have had it anyway after a few aborted attempts at verbal apoplexy. For whatever reason, the man had deemed that we had made enough money over the course of 30 months or so on his project and the well had officially, dried up. Right in his backyard.

Once again (and I know, I can hear the groaning over the cable modem as I write this) the Boys have demonstrated enough naiveté, with a seasoning of what we like to call ethics and a dash of handshake agreements, to get boned once again.

I didn’t need a voice to steer me immediately to the bank, write a check and yank out cash money and put it in Stu’s hands, though. He didn’t expect it, didn’t ask for it, he’d already mentally wrote it off, but there was no question that he’d earned it. There is no way on earth I’d let that one go by without putting paid to it.

If you ever have occasion to ask a favor of a carpenter (or even, perish the thought, a plumber) who happens to be working on your house, and you get that “While you’re here could you look at this ten minute thing over here . . . ?” going on, stop for a minute. Check your wallet for a fifty first.

Hold it in front of the old lad first. Think of him as your personal Stu of the day. Then ask anything you want.

I guarantee you, you’ll feel the better for it, and I’ll think highly of you too.

Old time ethics, my friends, is deader than a rainy day in January. You heard it here first.

Thanks for reading.

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