Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trust me on this....

  When I was growing up in Millville, telephones were connected to wires in the living room, and you only used them if you needed to talk to someone, or kill a big spider. Indoor games consisted of folded cardboard, some cards, and a few pieces of pot metal or plastic. Absent of much store bought equipment, we mostly made up our outside games and entertainment as we went along. I don’t think it took quite as much to amuse us back then.

  My brothers and I spent a lot of time down at the creek, catching minnows, crawdads, and snakes. It seemed like a lot of fun then. It doesn’t sound so inviting now.

 Sometimes, one our sisters would want to tag along, and since we could always use an extra set of hands on the homemade gunny-sack seine, or an extra set of feet driving the quarry into it, we graciously consented.

Now it happened that in between the house and the creek was a barn lot, and surrounding the barn lot was an electric fence wire that kept the cows in that lot. It didn’t take much for the younger boys to crawl under it, or for the older boys to jump over it, but the cows, who occasionally brushed against the wire, seemed a little wary of it. Our sisters, who apparently had either witnessed an unfortunate cow making contact, or who remembered Dad’s warning not to touch the wire, shared the cows’ wariness.

  On one occasion, our little sister Mariellen asked to join us on our adventure, and being the good big brother, I promised that I would help her get under the fence. I had her get down and start crawling about ten feet before we reached it, and every time she asked if it was safe to get up and walk, I replied “not yet.” About a hundred yards later, everybody, except Mariellen, had a good laugh when she finally crawled up to the bank of the creek. I don’t think she ever trusted me quite as much after that.

  Trust is funny like that. We’re all born with it, and we all need a certain amount of it, but as we get a little older and wiser, we learn that it’s safer to temper our trust with some of the same wariness those cows had for that electric fence.

 People trust different things. There’s a woman on the other side of town that does psychic readings out of a room in the back of her garage. I always figured that if she was really psychic, she would have a nicer office, but apparently enough people trust her enough that she can afford to keep the neon sign turned on out front. And even if she was really psychic, I think it would be hard to be right 100% of the time. I imagine there are some people who used to trust her that don’t so much anymore.

  Some people put a lot of trust in the government. I’m not really sure why. The people who run the government are just folks, just like you and me, except that we don’t know them and they don’t know us. Getting elected doesn’t automatically give them greater insight into how you should run your life, or how you should plan for your retirement, or what it takes to create real job for you, or what kind of health insurance you should or shouldn’t buy.

  Given the mess the government is in, I think more and more people have been trusting it a little bit less in the last few years, and I think even more will trust it even less in the next few years. And that’s not a bad thing. Maybe we can start to put a limit the things we trust government to do, and maybe we can start trusting ourselves to make more of our own decisions again, instead of trusting the politicians to make those decisions for us.

   After all, it’s not like they’re psychic or anything.


Sunday, October 06, 2013

For what it's worth...

   Herschel used to be a mailman in Hagerstown, and he was also a painter on the side. About 40 years ago he approached me with his arm in a sling, and told me he had a ladder I could have if I would come and pick it up. It seems he had taken a tumble from the top of it, and in the process lost most of his affection for it, and no longer wanted it on the job.

  I was just getting started in business at the time, and I was tickled to death to get it. It was a 10 foot tall wooden step ladder, a little rickety perhaps, but that was fixed with some wire and cross braces, and a few extra nails and screws. It was a heavy ladder to begin with, and the extra attachments made it into what my Dad would call a "family ladder", meaning it took the whole family to move it.

 Still, it came in handy several times for several years, and got us to places our 6 foot step ladders wouldn't reach. At those times I wouldn't have taken a hundred dollars for it. After a few  years, it was mostly replaced by aluminum ladders, which were then mostly replaced by fiberglass ladders, and as a result, the old wooden ladder hung on the back of the ladder rack, out of active duty and out of mind until the rack got so full there wasn't room for all of the fiberglass ladders.

  After some thoughtful consideration, it was decided that the old wooden ladder needed a new home, and as luck would have it, some of our Amish friends down the road were having a consignment auction. I didn't figure to get as much out of it as I used to think it was worth, but I did think that maybe somebody who was getting started in business might think it was worth more than Herschel thought it was worth.

  I got a check in mail Thursday. The ladder brought a dollar. The auctioneer kept a quarter and gave me 75 cents. It reminded me of something I found out a long time ago. When you're looking to sell something, what you think it's worth isn't nearly as important as what the person looking to buy it thinks it is worth.

  The politicians and bureaucrats up in Washington seem to think the federal government and what it's trying to sell is worth a lot more than a lot of people out here think it's worth.

  And luckily, a growing number of people just aren't buying it anymore.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

By the numbers...

  There’s a list of phone numbers hanging on the wall of my office that has been there for years. I started the list 40 years ago when I went into business, and I’ve added new numbers whenever we hooked up with a new supplier, and scratched through some when one of our suppliers went out of business. There are some lumber yards on the list that kept the same number, but I had to scratch through their name whenever they sold out to another company, sometimes 3 or 4 times.

  There are some electricians, plumbers and other sub-contractors numbers on the list, also. Some still in business, some retired, and a few that won’t be answering a phone ever again. At least not a land-line.

  While there were entirely too many numbers for me to remember all of them, I did manage to memorize the ones I called most frequently. 855-5213 and 529-9162 still come to mind. There were probably 10 or 12 businesses and as many people that I could call strictly from memory. I couldn’t always remember why I called them once they answered, but at least I remembered their number.

  18 years ago I obtained a cell phone, and over the years I upgraded until I ended up with a phone that stored the numbers of everybody I would ever need to call, along with the numbers of everybody that would ever need to call me. With my next new phone, all I had to do was push one designated button to place a call, and eventually I got a phone where I simply had to say the person’s name that I was wanting to talk with, and the phone took care of everything else.

  Now, no doubt it all made things a lot easier, but a while back someone asked me for my Mom and Dad’s phone number. I realized I didn’t know what it was. I could pull out my phone, say “Mom and Dad”, and then read the number from the screen, or I could say “Call Mom and Dad”, and then ask Mom what their number was when she answered the phone. Of course, there’s always the possibility that she would tell me to wait a minute while she looked up their number on her phone.

  I suppose I could try to justify things by concluding that I had more brain space to remember more important things now that I don’t have to remember all of those phone numbers, but it’s still hard to get past the fact that I didn’t know my parents’ number. And when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I depended on my phone to remember just about all of the numbers that I used to remember for myself.

  I suppose it’s a sign of progress. As a society we have learned to depend on others to do things we can’t do or don’t want to, and it gives us time to do the things we want to do, along with the things other people depend on us to do.  I was raised on a dairy farm, and I’m just tickled to death that there is somebody else milking those cows now so that I don’t have to anymore. And I’m also tickled to death that people are willing to pay me to work for them in order that they can have the time to do the other things that they need to do. Depending on others to depend on you is one of the things that make society work.

  So while it might be a good thing when society depends on you and when you depend on society, it can get a little expensive when the government depends on you. Or when too many people depend on the government.

  I read an article the other day that gave a breakdown on the number of people who receive a check from the government. Between Social Security and Disability payments, welfare and unemployment recipients, and government employees, about 125 million people depend on the government for part, most, or all of their income. Of course, that means the government depends on everybody else to pay enough taxes to keep the people that depend on the government, paid.

  And when we reach the point that there are more people depending on the government than there are to support it, I afraid they’ll have our number.