Monday, May 26, 2014

And about that free lunch....

          Webster’s dictionary describes a curmudgeon as someone who is crusty and ill-tempered, and usually an old man. While I’ve long ago reached old man status, I’m doing my best not to end up crusty and ill-tempered. But as the years march on, I am developing a deeper understanding as to why old men might tend to get a little bit grumpy from time to time, and why Mr. Webster might feel compelled to give them their very own word to describe them.

            This June, I will have been in business for 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time.  A square of shingles that cost $11.00 and covered 100 feet in 1974 now costs $80.00 and covers 96 feet. And a 50 pound box of nails only weighs 30 pounds nowadays. It’s the kind of thing that could turn a person crusty and ill-tempered if you let it.

            A while back I received a bill from a sub-contractor who had done some work for us, and the bill included a “mobilization fee.” As near as I could tell, it’s a charge for getting ready to go to work. It reminded me of some of my buddies who used to work at the Perfect Circle factory and got paid for eating lunch. I was happy that I didn’t see anything on the bill about lunch, and I suppose I should be relieved that he didn’t charge us for getting ready to quit.

            One supplier that furnishes us with concrete started adding an “environmental charge” of $3.00 on each yard of concrete we bought from them. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, so when my curiosity got the best of me, I called their office and asked the man at the counter what an “environmental charge” was. He told me it was $3.00. I still don’t know what it is for, but at least it isn’t as much as a mobilization fee. If it was, I might tend to get a little ill-tempered.

            One day last week I went to a little restaurant for my unpaid lunch. I ordered a sandwich and some french fries, and a glass of water. The waitress asked if I wanted a large glass of water or a small glass of water. In my most non-curmudgeonly voice, I jokingly asked if there was a difference in price between the two. She proceeded to tell me yes, the large glass of water was 80 cents, and the small glass was 45 cents.

            I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing is really free, but I kind of preferred the arrangement where getting to work, and a glass of water with your meal, were just figured in as part of doing business, and not a separate line on the bill.

            I’m sure there are a lot of younger guys out there who think nothing of paying $80.00 for shingles, or 80 cents for a glass of water. And there are probably some who might be indignant or even a little bit mad about it, and the cost of things in general these days. But they can’t be a curmudgeon about it.

             That’s for us old guys.

Monday, May 05, 2014

You got a problem with that?....

            My old pal Stinky Wilmont had a few of ideas about why he spent so much time in the principal’s office all those years when we were attending Millville Grade School. He was convinced it was mostly because the teachers didn’t like him. He said that was also the reason he never made the honor roll, and probably the reason he always had to be a shepherd instead of Joseph or one of the wise men every year in the school Christmas play.

            I tried to tell him he might not have to spend quite so much time in the principal’s office if he would quit carving his and his girlfriend Rowena Lufkin’s initials in the top of the desks and cafeteria tables, and that he’d stand a better chance of making the honor roll, or at least getting a D+ once in a while if he would do his homework and study a little more when we knew we had a test coming up. I also suggested he might get a bigger role in the Christmas play if he would pay a little more attention and be a little more cooperative on the days when Miss Mullin came to Millville to teach the music class, but Stinky said he was pretty sure none of that would make any difference, since the teachers didn’t like him anyway.

            I suppose most of us spend at least a portion of our lives trying to solve problems that pop up from time to time, but it always seemed to me that problems are easier to solve if we first decide what the problem really is. And probably sometimes we know what the problem really is and how to solve it, but we dislike the solution more than we dislike the problem. I’m at the age where my waistline seems to expand a little bit every winter, and even though I know what causes that problem and how to solve it, I’m still tempted to try one of those “bacon and chocolate” diets that rolls across the internet from time to time, promising me that I can lose 30 pounds in a matter of days.

            Every couple of years we have an election in this country to choose some people to solve some of our problems. People give money to candidates they think will solve their problems, and businesses give money to candidates they think will serve their problems. The government keeps track of who gives money to which candidates, and how much they give, and sometimes it makes rules about who is allowed to give money to candidates, and how much they can give.

            Sometimes people seem to get upset if someone gives a candidate more money than they gave their candidate. The concern seems to be that the person or group that gives the most money will end up getting the best end of the deal when the candidate gets elected and starts voting on legislation to solve the problems of the people who gave him the money. While that might be a legitimate concern, I’m not convinced it addresses the real problem.

            In my mind, the problem isn’t that the people with the most money can buy legislation that will give them an advantage. Rather, the problem is that anybody can buy legislation that will give them an advantage. Legislation and rules at all levels of government should protect all people equally, and legislators really shouldn’t have the power to adopt any legislation that doesn’t. And if our elected officials would stick to the limited duties of running a limited government, it wouldn’t matter if one person gave them a million dollars, or if a million people gave them one dollar.

            You got a problem with that?