In the Oil Patch there are a lot of Maritimers. One of their additions to the OP dialect is the term "Buddy".
Everybody is named "Buddy".
"Hey, Buddy" one safety office addressed me. I asked her how she knew my name. We both laughed.
Well Tales of Buddyis a section where I tell stories about people. Most of them are real people with the name changed to Buddy to protect both them and me. Sometimes the story will be about me and the name is changed to Buddy just to protect me. And maybe they are fictional, but mostly not.
Stories will be sporatic with the newer ones appearing at the top of the page. When a new story is added I will try to remember to link to it from the home page or a monthly update page.
Dodging The Draft
Buddy worked as an instrument engineer in a paper mill in Japan in the fifties and sixties. One day some research group set up a paper caliper (thickness) measuring instrument. It was a C-Framed device with a readout. For the demo the researchers had set up a belt of paper that fed through in a continuous loop to simulate the web on a paper machine.
He contemplated this device and considered the changing environmental conditions in a paper machine room. He walked over and blew on the C-frame. The reading went nuts. He walked away. So did everybody else. Not much value to an instrument that can’t handle a draft of air.
Earlier in life he had lived through WWII in Japan. He told of him and his brother running to avoid being strafed by a fighter plane. They would collect dud incendiary bombs and cut them open for the fuel for their mother to cook with.
Buddy had a black eye. I asked him what happened.
Well, you know I’m Swedish. I was drinking with my neighbour who is also Swedish. We both had too much to drink. I got up to leave his house. On my way out the door I stumbled on the threshold. I said, “Big, dumb Swede!” Referring to myself. He thought I meant him.
A number of years ago I took a quick certification course for scuba diving on a Caribbean island. When the classroom session was over the participants loaded into an open bus and headed across the tropical island to actually dive. There was one boisterous fellow from St. Louis. He announced his future plans to all who wanted to hear and many who didn’t. With his new found knowledge and skills he was going to purchase some diving gear and go on weekends to a lake where people dove about two hours from his home.
We got to the beach, donned our gear and walked into the water until it was above our heads and even more. Boisterous Buddy must have had some sort of inner ear issue. He started uncontrollably spinning.
The instructor grabbed hold of him and led him back to the beach and said “Sit here and wait for us.”
The rest of us had an enjoyable dive.
Buddy was quiet on the drive back across the island.
Keep Your Friends Close
Buddy is a techie. Has been all his life. When he was in the army in Vietnam he did classified, techie stuff. He still recalls with a hint of bitterness the day he realized that those nice marines were not there to protect him and his techie buddies.
They were there to make sure their knowledge didn’t fall into enemy hands. By any means necessary.
Buddy was born during the Second World War in Germany. He was a baby when his father was taken prisoner. He was a school boy when his father returned from being a POW in a Russian camp. He was so happy his father was home.
At their first meal together as a reunited family his mother served cabbage. He whined, “I don’t like cabbage!” A quick slap to the head stopped the whining and made him reconsider his enthusiasm for his Dad’s return.
Frugal To A Fault
I had a boss that worked for Vancouver Sun in rural distribution in BC when he was about 20. A former co-worker of his said that my boss would hitch hike and put in an expense report for Greyhound.
He’d order a cup of hot water in a cafe and make soup with their ketchup and put in expenses for a meal. He was bragging one year he had put $3k into savings. His boss said, “how did you do that? We only paid you $2k."
Do you suppose that our politicians got rich by pinching pennies?
Two buddies were renting a basement room in a friend’s house while they worked on construction of a local paper mill. They left a magazine about UFO’s laying around. It had grainy photos of unidentified flying objects and encouraged people to report any sightings even providing forms and phone numbers. As an amateur photographer, I viewed the photos as ludicrously fake. I was sure I could do better.
One afternoon I stood on the lawn and snapped away while my friend lobbed pot lids, dog dishes, plates and a garbage can lid from the sun deck and her father retrieved them. With a full roll of shots I retreated to my darkroom.
I returned after supper with a blotter roll of damp 8x10’s. The best of our blurry handiwork. The roomers were home. We announced we had seen a flying saucer and even got pictures. Look!
They were excited. You have to report this. Use the form. Call the number. Oh no, we don’t want to get involved. It was all a prank. You’re just saying that. We’ll report it. We’ll say we saw it. It took a long time to convince them we really had just faked the pictures. Nothing like an eye witness, I always say. Nothing at all. Unless it’s two.
A paper company sent several supervisors to learn a systematic decision-making and troubleshooting process.
The decision process began with choosing “musts” and “wants”.
The musts are go, no-go. Absence of a must is a show stopper. Stop right there. Not an option.
The wants are rank ordered and scored.
If you do things right the high score choice is the “best” decision.
I have found the process helpful for purchasing and hiring decisions. Many of the supervisors returning from the course used the process to second guess past choices.
They divorced their wives.
Against his boss’s advice Buddy put his motorcycle and a bunch of his other stuff into a rented storage locker for $100 a month.
Then off he went to Southeast Asia to do a power plant start-up.
He dropped his jacket into a garbage can at a stopover in Osaka and didn’t own a jacket until he returned to Canada two years later.
All his treasures had lost their lustre over twenty-four months. Everything except his motorcycle went into the dumpster. The bike sold for $2,400. A wash!
Buddy was a good mechanic but not much of a businessman. He started a service station, but quickly ran into trouble. Friends would come in, get their cars repaired and go to pay. He would say, “you can pay me later.”
That seldom happened.
The money set aside to ransom the car got spent and the customer didn’t set aside any for “later’. Eventually Buddy’s businessman father-in-law stepped in to take care of the business side of things and Buddy concentrated on fixing cars.
That worked better.
Buddy borrowed a still. He made four gallons of grappa (Italian moonshine) in his basement. Then he heard rumours of the RCMP raiding houses in search of homemade hooch. This made him a bit nervous.
Early one morning he packed the four glass jugs into a cardboard box and drove to the local lake with intent to hide the contraband in his boat house. The ramp down to the dock was a bit frosty. Buddy slipped a little. Just enough that the jugs banged together and shattered. He stood there a minute holding his soggy cardboard box of broken glass then went back up the ramp and drove home. No more fear of a police raid.
Buddy built a two-story retirement home for himself and his wife of many years. One day he was up on the steep roof and started sliding and couldn’t stop. He got tangled in the top of the extension ladder he had used to access the roof. He and the ladder thus entwined fell to the ground.
As he lay on the ground in a world of hurt but with nothing broken, his wife came out of the house and declared, “See! I told you you were too old to be on the roof.”
Based on that and other simmering grievances he decided he was not too old to divorce her. For the last ten years he has been married to a more pleasant, much younger wife in Mexico.
A Neg McMuffin
My wife dropped me at the exhibition grounds in Vancouver and drove off to circle the long blocks. I walked onto the property and went to the conference we were not attending and bought a box of books from their book display.
Returning to the street I stood in the light drizzle holding my box and waited for her return. As I waited a grizzled old guy in a slicker pushed his laden bicycle up the street. Half the handle bar was missing but he had hose clamped a stick of wood onto the existing half to serve as the missing half. I thought it would suck to be him and was glad I wasn’t in his circumstances. However, the longer I stood in the rain waiting the less glad I was about anything.
Eventually my wife and car arrived and my wife moved into the passenger seat. I put the box in the trunk and got into the driver’s seat.
“Where have you been?”
“Oh. I saw this sad old guy pushing a bike and I went to McDonald’s and bought him a coffee and an egg McMuffin.”
We drove around for a long time looking, with no luck until we spotted him coming out of a Burger King. I pulled to the curb and said, “Go do your thing.” “Oh no. Couldn’t you do it?”
This went back and forth for a while with the predictable outcome. I got out of the car with the paper sack and walked across the sidewalk to the old man.
“Hello sir. My wife and I would like you to have this egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee.”
“I can buy my own coffee. I don’t need you to buy me coffee. You can stick your egg McMuffin up your …”
“Thank you sir. Have a nice day.”
Back in the car. “That went well”
I guess Buddy was more of a Burger King than a McDonald’s kind of guy.
Buddy had lived in or around Roswell, New Mexico most of his life. He decided he had had enough of sage brush and headed to BC to check out the coast. Half way through Oregon on the way there by bus he was starting to get nervous. He’d still seen nothing but sage brush.
Things improved, though, and he got to the coast, and he liked what he saw. He ended up in my home town and looked at a lot of waterfront properties with many of the local realtors. He found nothing that quite suited his needs. He left his phone number with the realtors and returned to New Mexico.
One day he got a call from a realtor with less than sterling reputation. Buddy said he discounted everything he was told by fifty percent and decided that the property would do and bought it over the phone. He said when he finally saw the property it was half as good as described and he was well pleased.
Some years later I happened to be in a coffee shop with the same realtor. He was showing me what I knew to be a $3 watch bought from some itinerant pedlar for $20. He declared that he was a little suspicious, but was reassured when the pedlar presented a business license from the town. “I knew he was okay then”.
With, what was for me, enormous self restraint, I did not raise the obvious point that the realtor, too, had a local business license.
Pie Are Round
Having dinner together we ordered pie for dessert.
Buddy mentioned that he was an only child. When his mother baked pie she baked two. One for him and one for his father. He had no idea that was not the norm. As a teenager he started dating the girl who became his wife. One evening she asked him if he would like some pie.
She appears with a wedge of pie.
“What’s this?” He inquires.
It was the first cut pie he had seen.
Despite the pies he was skinny all his life. Plus he had the annoying habit of staying clean in all circumstances. One time we went to the basement of the paper machine under the calendar stack for him to show me a job. Everything was coated with a mixture of hydraulic oil and paper dust, a combination that acts sticky soot. We climbed a ladder to a catwalk and looked at the task. We came back down. My coveralls looked like I had crawled through a chimney. His light coloured Dockers and white polo shirt were unblemished.
As You Like It
Buddy opened his lunch kit and removed his sandwiches. He grumbled about the way they had been cut by his wife. In the helpful manner of co-workers the world over, we all pitched in and said, “Buddy, don’t put up that. Go home and straighten her out.”
I guess he foolishly followed our “advice”.
The very next day he opened his lunch kit, took out his sandwiches, took out a knife. He cut them just the way he liked them to be cut.
I moved on to another work area, but happened to be there at break time about ten years later. He still had his knife. I conjecture that he never had a sandwich cut not to his liking ever again after he “went home and sorted her out.”
As a pulp tester on shift I got to watch things happen without being directly involved. One day they were having a lot of trouble with getting pulp wood into the groundwood pulp mill. The wood was sixty inch long round wood that had travelled the length of the paper mill property floating in a water filled flume. At the end of the journey the wood floated onto an inclined set of spiked rollers. The spike rolls were driven by hydraulic motors.
When things were working as they should the logs travelled up the spike rolls shedding their water on the way, landed on a short conveyor belt and went down a chute to be fed into pulp wood grinders. That day wasn’t one of those days when things were working as they should.
Panic Buddy was shift supervisor. He had the millwrights sort of working on the sort of working spike roll drives. Meanwhile he had pulp mill workers use pike poles to drag logs up the incline. The spikes are designed to dig into the wet, slippery logs and move them up the incline. When stopped they offered a fair bit of resistance to having logs dragged over them.
There were 13 Watrous Great Northern grinders in that pulp mill. Hand-bombing wood up the spike rolls didn’t satisfy their appetite. Soon they were only four grinders making pulp, then three, then two, then back up to three and so all day.
Production wasn’t the only casualty. Quality suffered as well.
Shift change happened. Panic Buddy handed over the reins to the evening shift production supervisor. He said, “Get out of the way of the millwrights. Shut down the spike rolls and let them do their job.”
The millwrights did.
Operating grinders quickly went to zero.
In an hour or two the millwrights were done. The spike rolls were running. One grinder operating. Then two. Then three. All the way up to the max available to operate.
Everybody settled into a calm shift of making lots of good quality pulp.
Panic had left the building.
Buddy ran the northeast service center for a multinational electrical company. One day a motor came into their machine shop. It was double ended with a shaft that came out both ends of the housing. The work order was to remove the shaft from one end of the motor so it could be used in a single ended application.
Day shift machined off the one shaft.
Night shift came on and machined off the other end.
I suspect the motor owner got a deep discount on a replacement motor. Another buddy went to the city with his near new car and came back with a brand new car. “What happened?” “They had my car up on the hoist for an oil change and lowered the hoist with the car door open. It hung up on an oil barrel. They practically gave me this new car.”
We hiked the Somoto Canyon in Nicaragua. It’s a mixture of trails, shallow water hiking and floating down the river for a few hours. At one point there is what looks to be a thirty-foot jump that one can make into a deep pool. The guide offers advice of how to hold your legs and not to yell and maybe some other hints that I can’t remember. Not that I would need that advice. Just not the sort of thing I would willingly do.
Some of the others in the group took their turns. Buddy didn’t. This was his second time hiking the canyon. He was returning with his girlfriend who hadn’t done it before. He said on the previous trip he had made the plunge. He also said that two girls on that hike had jumped. One had kicked her legs and yelled, counter to guidance. She landed hard, felt immediate pain but was able to hike the rest of the way out of the canyon.
A few weeks later elsewhere in Nicaragua Buddy ran into her companion. “Where’s your friend?” “Oh. She ended up in hospital, hemorrhaging from the jump. Her parents came down from the States and had her med-evacced home.”
As summer students in a paper mill on the west coast, Buddy and I had long evenings to occupy ourselves. Often that occupation involved travelling dirt backroads. One evening we ventured onto a dirt road of unknown destination and found ourselves at a row of beach cabins. Sitting on the porch of one of the cabins was a lodge brother of my father. He bid us join him.
He was a mechanical superintendent approaching retirement age, but regaled us with stories of the paper mill from the dirty thirties when he was not much older than we were that summer.
He said the most unnerving thing he had experienced was being a casual labourer back then. Each morning a few hundred men would assemble at the mill gate. A superintendent would appear and say, “You, you and you. The rest of you go home. Come back tomorrow.”
The mill used dry, tumbler style debarkers which did a less than perfect job at removing all the bark. The logs were then cut into 24 inch lengths and sorted. Clean pieces went straight to their end use. Ones with bark were diverted for touch-up on open faced spinning discs with sharp knives built into their faces. The workers held the piece of wood with picaroons and pushed against the rotating disc to cut away the bark. Under pressure for production the workers would often just use their hands instead of the picaroons. This was much faster, but could cost a few fingers if one slipped.
I asked is this what happened to Art (another lodge brother that just had a thumb on one hand). Oh no. He lost his fingers in a laminator. Before they had plastic to make vaporwrap for the paper rolls they made a vapor proof wrapper themselves. They laminated wrapper and newsprint together with tar between them. The tar would build up on the rolls and they had to be cleaned with a rag and stove oil. If a person wasn’t careful their fingers would get sucked into the nip and pulled in until the knuckles stopped them. By the time somebody got the laminating machine stopped the fingers would be gone.
It was hard times. There were medical doctors hand-bombing grinder blocks into pulp grinders. The open flumes created a fog that everybody worked in. When they started bleaching pulp they did it by adding chemicals to the flumes so the fog became a choking fog that you worked in all shift. Even though everything was dripping wet with the fog, smoking was not permitted. Some boss would appear out of the fog and catch somebody smoking and fire him on the spot.
A probably apocryphal story another old-timer told was of a grinder room worker forgetting his lunch. He sneaks up the hill to his company house on the edge of the mill perimeter and gets successfully back with his lunch. He tells his buddy, “I got home and the supervisor was in bed with my wife. It’s okay. He didn’t see me.”
The good old days. Not sorry I missed them.
A popular event in Mexico and for those recently from there is a quincinera, a birthday party for a fifteen-year-old girl. I’ve been to one or two.
One Sunday evening Buddy took me across the border to the quincinera for a church that had been founded in Matamoros fifteen years before. Balloons, streamers, the band wearing pink ruffled front dress shirts.
Buddy preached a sermon abut Ruth.
I bounced a toddler on my knee and thought about the mix of ages there. There were people who would have been not much older than the toddler and now had babies.
There is the eternal hope of salvation, but there is also the alternative that a church community can offer to a culture that can be so violent and alcohol dependant.
Buddy was in the navy. One day he gets assigned to help in the petty officers’ mess where another sailor showed him how to make coffee for the petty officers.
You fill the urn to here with water.
You put this much coffee in the basket.
And here’s the most important step…
The sailor worked up a quantity of phlegm from deep in his throat and hucked an oyster into the coffee before putting the lid on the pot and turning it in.
Buddy converted a highway bus to an RV. I did some wiring on the bus for him. In return he gave us a ride to Tucson for Christmas on his way to Mazatlan. When he picked us up on the way back he had a few new stories.
He checked out other bus conversions while in Mazatlan. He noticed one with no furnace and commented on it.
Owner: "Nope. If it gets cold enough to need a furnace I head further south". "Works in the summer, too. I don’t have A/C"
Buddy’s father-in-law was missing and presumed drowned. His overturned boat had been found on the Fraser River. Eventually he was declared dead. The life insurance companies paid out death benefits but his union hall refused. They knew he had staged his death and was working in his trade in Australia.
Eventually he came back to Canada. What happened then? Your guess is as good as mine.
Buddy’s house in our small northern Saskatchewan town was broken into. He reported the break-in to the local police and his insurer, listing what was taken. Six months later he realized more was taken than originally thought.
He finished the roll of film in a disposable camera that had been around for about a year. When the photos came back they included photos the burglars had taken of each other. He gave the photos to the police and they took it from there.
Buddy arrived on his hard-tailed Harley during the confused period of a pulp mill start-up. His Electrical/Instrument skills were absent, but he was a cheerful and willing worker. He was willing to go into a man basket hanging off a crane and strip damaged teck cables off the legs of the log loading crane which was more than any of the electricians were willing to do.
He was willing to do other things as well.
One day the supervisor was complaining about the neighbour’s dog barking keeping him awake over many nights. The next day Buddy came in and announced, “You won’t have to worry about that dog anymore, Boss.”
The supervisor was horrified, but what could he do? A contractor at the table queried, “You and I are okay, aren’t we, Steve?”
Buddy went to town on an errand with the shop van. The police detained him for something else he had been willing to do. We sent somebody to pick up the van and stopped wondered what we were going to do about Buddy. He did come back into our lives once more when he came across some company cheques while doing some cleaning as a contract labourer. He wrote one to himself for $129 and cashed it. Some sharp-eyed head office type noticed the signatures didn’t match the ones on file and Buddy had another close encounter with the police.
A friend sent me a link to Scanner Bin - the Clever Document Scanning SolutionUSA Link He was mocking somebody buying something that was basically a cardboard box. He had a point. This was not just any box, mind you. Somebody had done the work to make a cardboard box that was just the right size and which folded up into a flat package so you could slip it into your briefcase. And there was an optional LED light strip that gave shadow-free “scanning”. I can see if you had a daily need for this that there could be value in buying it. Your time wouldn’t have to be worth much before it wouldn’t be worth it to search for just the right size box and box-cutter it without box-cuttering yourself and then the light source…
You could order one, copy it and send it back. Seems unethical not to mention being petty. Come on, man! You’d do that for fifteen bucks? Unfaithful in the small things? What could that extrapolate to?
I worked with somebody who was that frugal and focussed. He ordered a bracket for a trolling motor. It had plastic coated mild steel pieces that clamped around the outdrive of your inboard/outboard boat motor. The metal pieces were attached to a thick piece of plywood that you clamped your trolling motor to. Voila! You could now steer your trolling motor from the steering wheel of the boat. Inside. Out of the sun and rain. No need to hang your butt over the transom when you were trolling for salmon. Seems like a great idea. I’d be suspicious of the additional stresses on the outdrive when you were bouncing along cutting across the waves at high speed, but he wasn’t.
The trolling motor bracket arrived in the post. He brought it into our workshop in the paper mill and copied the metal pieces. He used company supplied stainless steel on company time. Way better than plastic coated mild steel as far as corrosion resistance goes. Might not be quite as strong, but strong enough, I guess. Never heard of his trolling motor falling off. He did spend some of his own time at home cutting some wood for the clamping bracket, but not much. Certainly on a cost-benefit basis he got his time’s worth when he sent the bracket back for a hundred dollar refund. I’ve got logs in my eyes so not worried about his twigs. The transaction is instructive, however. He is a millionaire now. I’m not. Everything has a price. If you want something are you willing to pay the price? Choose wisely.
Buddy worked at another pulp mill before coming to the paper mill where we both worked in the instrumentation department as technicians. He told me a curious tale of somebody who developed his own work rules.
Each day all the instrument technicians would line up and each be handed their two work orders for the day. This one individual, and individual he was, took his two work orders and went off and completed them just like everybody else. Unlike everybody else who managed to milk their work orders and take all day to do them he just settled in and got to work. Then he went home. Usually by ten o’clock. All the others stayed until four-thirty. This drove his supervisor even crazier than the average instrumentation supervisor (disclosure – I’ve been one).
The individual was told he couldn’t do that and put in for eight hours pay. “Why not? I’m doing as much work as everyone else. I’m not the problem. If you give them more work you can give me more work.” Apparently, some familial relationship with a member of the board of directors for the corporation prevented the supervisor from taking disciplinary action. I have no idea how or if the situation resolved itself. My wild guess is that the individual got bored and wandered away, but that is just a guess.
Years after hearing that story I had a job where I analyzed a company my employer was thinking of buying. This company had institutionalized the above practice. They had six production lines. For any given product run they would take the pinch point of the line and determine 300 minutes worth of production. That’s five hours. Add an hour for clean-up and you can go home with eight hours pay when you have made five hours of product. I have never seen a more energized work place. The work crew represented the United Nations with people from all over the planet, but they worked together seamlessly. The goal of many of them was to be home in time to watch the soaps.
Of course, there were constraints. If quality issues arose from shoving stuff through that would come back and cause reductions in past pay. However, if a crew member called in sick the rest of the crew had the option to share his work load and his pay as well.
If a production run was close to completion the crew could keep working to fill the order and build up credits for days when the production line broke down and it was impossible to make the five-hour production target. When I analyzed the operation it was paying people with five years experience about twice what its competition paid and it was getting about four times the productivity as its competitors. Talk about alignment of interests between employee and business owner!
This operation had the simplest and most effective key performance indicator system I have seen. It summed the production and contribution margin for each production line. This took about ten minutes a day to know which line was producing the most contribution toward the operation’s fixed costs and if the operation had kept their head above water the day before.
Some years ago I was having dinner with the national sales manager of a control valve company. He was around 60 and told me he had had his own valve company for years and sold it for millions of dollars and retired to Florida when he was 51. Every day he would go to the golf course and play golf with other retired men. They were all closer to seventy than to fifty and had the health problems that can go with that territory.
He would hear them complain about “my hip this and my gall bladder that and so on.” He told he that he came to realize that if he carried on like this every day he would fall prey to all these ailments. So he wandered out of retirement and found a job that used his skills and kept him around younger, healthy people.
Another buddy worked at a uranium mine. They worked a schedule of one or two weeks in camp at the mine and an equivalent time back home. In his case, home was Saskatoon. His buddy, a millwright, decided he’d finally had enough of work and decided to retire to Saskatoon.
Upper class people train for leisure with hobbies and leisure pursuits. Working class people tend to have their life and skills built around working. Without having to work the retired millwright soon got bored. He took a part-time job pumping gas at near minimum wage, but at least it got him out of the house. It wasn’t long before his employer realized that he had skills as a mechanic and put him to work in the service bay. It wasn’t much more time after that he found himself working five or six days a week of every week for not much more than minimum wage.
The light came on, as they say. The now enlightened millwright realized that working half time in camp as an industrial mechanic at industrial wages was a way better deal than working full-time as an auto mechanic at service station wages. He went back to the uranium mine and had half his life back.
Economies of Scale
Everybody wastes some money. Some people waste a lot. Others only a bit. Nobody is perfectly consistent, but we all have some mental model of spending that we more or less follow. I mentioned in Jail Mindset somebody who was willing to go to jail to save money.
Last week we were in Matagalpa. There was a weigh scale in the Pali for one Cordoba. I would use it on the way to breakfast. Here, in Esteli there is a scale in the Pali around the corner. It is the same basic scale, but costs two Cordobas. The break even point over buying a bathroom scale in Matagalpa is 3.4 years and in Esteli 1.7 years. If we lived here I would definitely own my own. I’d be weighing myself the same time, same state of undress, same alimental situation every day. That would be worth it to me. Maybe not to you.
We belong to a group of couples who volunteer to help various ministries. Most couples have cards that they share with their names and contact information. Buddy was telling me he met one guy who was more frugal than either of us would expect to be. His wife died. He remarried. Rather than waste all those perfectly good cards he scratched out the name of the former wife and wrote the name of the new one on the card in ink. I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been pencil.
One time a distant relative came into our lives for a brief period. He was a total dunce when it came to investments in technical terms, but consider what certain habits accomplished. He only carried a little cash, had no credit cards and carried no cheques. If he saw something he thought he’d like to buy, he had to go to the bank and withdraw the money. That created enough friction that he hardly ever did. He had all the normal shop tools of a homeowner, but had only bought them after careful consideration. He owned a number of houses. He and his family bought their first house and paid the mortgage off early and moved out and rented it out and bought a second house as a family home and paid it off. Rinse repeat.
With consistent frugality he accumulated several houses in one of the more expensive real estate markets in the U.S. He had bags of silver coins in his attic and hundreds of thousands of dollars lying dormant in savings accounts. So not very bright at investment, but a whiz at frugality blessed by a good job and an expanding economy.
I remember buttermilk from when I was a child and my memory is that it is vile. Tastes change, however, and I had been pondering whether it would still taste as vile to my adult palate. This was just idle thought that didn’t rise to the commitment level of buying a whole quart or liter of buttermilk. Then one day Buddy mentioned when he went to Cracker Barrel he always had a bowl of pinto beans and a glass of buttermilk. This was a commitment level I could embrace.
The next time we were in Cracker Barrel I ordered a bowl of pinto beans and a glass of buttermilk. “I’m sorry, sir. We do not have buttermilk.” “Oh. Okay.” A while later I ran into Buddy. “I thought you said you order pinto beans and a glass of buttermilk when you go to Cracker Barrel. I tried that and they said they don’t have buttermilk.” “Yeh. They tell me that, too. I just ask them if they have buttermilk pancakes. They say they do. Then I ask them what they make them with. They come out with a glass of buttermilk every time.”
Before we got back to Cracker Barrel I was in a supermarket which had half-pint bottles of buttermilk. “Worth a try,” I thought. Nope. Tasted just as vile as I remembered. People sure have different tastes.
Speaking of differences, I was working with a fellow one time. He told me his life story. He was married to his first wife for decades. She contracted some horrible illness that she died from over a period of years. He remarried. A few years into that marriage his second wife came down with an illness that took her a few horrible years to die from. He was now married to a lady he had met online. We knew her. She definitely marched to a different tambourine.
I said that with his experiences he must have some insights on marriage. He said, “I’ll tell you this. People sure are different.” A lifetime of experience, summarized in a couple of phrases.
What Happens in Vegas
I’m young at heart. I am still an insufferable know-it-all even at my advanced age. There is really no excuse for that. It’s is both a bug and a feature. Buddy, however, was pretty young so he can be excused for thinking he knew something that just wasn’t true.
He went to the last session with the pastor with his wife to be and the best man and the maid of honour. They went through the checklist for tomorrow’s wedding. They got to the wedding license part. Buddy said, “we don’t need a wedding license for a church wedding.” Pastor, “Oh, yes you do. I can’t marry you without a wedding license.”
What to do? The process in California takes more than a day. There just wasn’t time before tomorrow’s event.
Buddy and his fiancé hopped a red-eye flight to Las Vegas and grabbed a cab at the airport. They directed the cabbie to a wedding chapel and directed him to wait for them. Now married, they headed back to the airport and a flight back to San Diego. The bride got back in time to go to her wedding day breakfast with her father. The wedding “ceremony” was held with nobody being the wiser other than the immediate wedding party.
They say, that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead, but this secret held for years. Until one day, years later, Buddy’s widowed mother was discussing remarriage plans with the same pastor. “You could always do what your son did.” “Oh? What was that?”
Choosing the Right Target
Buddy was a motivation trainer. He claimed that one year he worked with the Miami Dolphins. Leading into the season and all through the season he worked with them on the mantra “we’re going to the Super Bowl!” And it worked! They arrived at the Super Bowl.
Then a more effective “What Happened?” analysis than Hillary’s kicked in. They figured out that their goal had been one step short. Once they achieved their goal of getting to the Super Bowl they kinda ran out of steam. The new mantra became “We are going to WIN the Super Bowl!”
Buddy worked for a company building subway cars in a Montreal suburb when they first got into the business. You probably have contributed to welfare payments sent their way.
They had a subway car under construction and hadn’t worked out the details of the automatic door openers, yet. There were some VIP’s that wanted to see the results so far. One evening buddy and a co-worker lay under the subway car in the factory. When the VIP’s came on their tour Buddy and his co-worker used ropes to open and close the subway car doors as appropriate. Another successful tour accomplished.
One rainy Saturday morning on the coast I drove to an advertised garage sale way out in the country. With the rain and the distance from town I was the only customer there. I poked around looking at stuff and selecting a bit. I opened a box of miscellaneous kitchen stuff and the vendor realized it was a box from their last move that she had never got around to unpacking. Not for sale.
One thing I selected was a section of galvanized furnace ducting. The lady asked what I was going to do with it and I explained I would make rabbit feeders out of it that would hold a week’s worth of food at a time. She asked me how I killed them when butchering day came. I responded that I shot them.
She got all concerned for my safety and wanted more details. I said I put them in a box well away from my hands and used a rifle with a .22 short cartridge to shoot them in the back of the head. She seemed relieved. It appears she had a friend who decided to shoot a largish rabbit with a .22 pistol. The friend grabbed the rabbit in one hand and the pistol in the other. The rabbit struggled. The end result was a gunshot wound to the hand.
Who's Handling Your Food?
A co-worker told me he worked at McDonald’s when he was a teen ager. He said he got into a rhythm making their signature burgers. He hated it when somebody would order a “special grill” which have customer requests like “no ketchup” etc. His response to the break in his work flow was to spit on the hamburger patty. Think about that next time you annoy somebody handling your food.
Race to the Grave
Buddy lived in Maryland for a number of years before returning to his home country. He told me about a funeral he went to. The client was presented to the funeral home as penniless, homeless and without family in the United States. Whether by law or by custom the funeral home did everything at no charge.
The funeral service was held in the smallest room possible. A crowd of people showed up, made up of friends, supposedly non-existent family and other members of this large ethnic community in Maryland. The partitions had to be moved back to make the room bigger to handle the crowd. The funeral director realized he had been scammed. He looked really annoyed.
When the casket was loaded into the hearse, the hearse took off at full speed and maintained pedal to the metal all the way to the graveyard.
Years later Buddy cannot tell the story of how fast the hearse drove to lose the procession and how annoyed the funeral director looked without laughing almost to the point of tears.
There is a fable about an ant and a grasshopper you may know. The grasshopper plays all summer and is not ready for winter unlike the ant who industriously stored up food.
Buddy was fond of strays, perhaps that is why he befriended me. Maybe, but it’s been decades since I could ask him. One day he picked up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker (let’s call him HH) said he was going back to his parents in Pennsylvania. Buddy offered to buy him a hamburger. HH said he was a vegetarian, but since he was traveling, he guessed that would be okay.
Over hamburger and fries HH related his tale of woe.
All summer long HH lay in the meadows in the sun playing his guitar. When winter arrived, he had no firewood. One day of cutting firewood gave him enough fuel for three days. Being out of shape from doing nothing all summer meant that he needed to spend those days resting up in bed. By the time he was rested up it was time to cut again. As the winter grew colder, he fell behind and catastrophe struck.
His water bed froze. Time to go home to mommy and daddy. Buddy dropped him at the ferry landing to help him on his journey.
Winters don’t last forever. Spring arrives. Buddy sees HH looking very downcast walking along the street. He pulls over and says he looks a bit down, could he buy him a hamburger. HH guesses that would be okay under the circumstances.
Over hamburger and fries HH explains the source of his despondency. One thing he hadn’t bothered to tell Buddy last winter was he had not played in the sun alone. He had an “old lady” that he had left with the frozen water bed. She had solved the water bed problem by acquiring a new “old man”. When HH arrived back home the disloyal wench and her new old man ran him off. I guess you can’t rely on anybody.
Buddy came to Canada from Germany with his parents when he was about ten years old. They sent him to school in Canada in lederhosen. He said he learned to fight.
We pass a pet/feed each day on our walk to uptown. They have a parakeet cage near the window which reminded me of a story Buddy told me about his buddy who sold parakeets by mail order with a money-back guarantee that they would talk.
He sold thousands at a pretty high price since they were “Guaranteed to Talk”. He bought his stock cheaply from Woolworth’s and other chain stores that sold parakeets at a loss to make money selling cages, feed, etc.
Of course, the birds never talked and people would call his toll-free phone number and ask for their money back. He would say, “No Problem. Just put the bird in a Ziplock bag and mail it back to us. When it arrives, we’ll sent you your money for the bird and postage.” Nobody ever sent one back.
Eventually the feds shut him down, but it was a profitable scam while it lasted.
Lawn Boy Buddy
Buddy sold Lawn Boy lawn mowers at his small engine dealership. He sold one to an elderly widow. She traded in an ancient pull-start Lawn boy for a new electric start model. The old one was in mint condition since she and her husband before her would thoroughly wipe it down after each use. It worked fine, but was getting too much for her to start by pulling the cord. The electric start one would solve that problem. Unfortunately, the electric start mower seized up in a few months.
The lady brought it back to Buddy’s store and he replaced it under warranty and passed on the cost to the manufacturer.
A few months later the warranty replacement mower seized in similar fashion. The lady returned it.
Buddy couldn’t replace it under warranty without the manufacturer getting involved. The manufacturer’s rep claimed that the lady must have failed to use oil in the mower gas for the engines to seize like that. The lady insisted her husband had taught her about adding oil to the gas and she had done it for years on the mower she traded in. The manufacturer’s rep was still pretty skeptical, but Buddy fought for doing the right thing by his customer. They arranged to go to the lady’s house and they asked for a demonstration of how she mixed mower gas.
She got out her measuring cup and measured out some gas. Then she took out her bottle of Crisco cooking oil and measured out the precise amount of cooking oil to add to the gasoline. “Stop, right there!” The problem was solved. The newer mowers had tighter tolerances in their engines than the old one that had survived years of cooking oil. The rep agreed that they would replace the mower under warranty “one last time”. He gave her a case of two-stroke oil with the mower and the insistence that that would be the only type of oil she ever used.
Buddy says he bought a hotel in southern Alberta a few years back. It had good revenues and low expenses and looked like things were only going to get better with the Keystone Pipeline going to be built nearby. Well the pipeline didn’t work out and most of Buddy’s other plans around the hotel fell on hard times too.
One of his motives, he says, was to provide work for an adult son who was having trouble finding work in the oil patch. Well the son hated the work in the hotel and his job prospects picked up with another offer and there he was gone and Buddy finds himself running a hotel in small town Southern Alberta a long way from his home and his wife in B.C.
Perhaps that is overstating things.
Buddy wasn’t really running the place. He soon realized that the people running the place were the long time employees. And they ran it the way they wanted to.
The hotel was one of the big employers in town and depended on the townspeople to patronize the place, whether it was the liquor store part, or the coffee shop, or the convenience store, or any other part of the business except maybe the rooms. And therein was Buddy’s dilemma. The person in charge of cleaning rooms and doing the laundry services for the hotel was carrying a bag of laundry detergent out one day. Buddy confronts her and asks what she is doing. “Well, I have none at home and you have lots.” Buddy’s life flashes before his eyes. If he fires her, half the town is related to her. His revenues will plummet if the locals boycott his hotel. Nobody in town would take a job as her replacement, either. They don’t want to be shunned. He lets it slide. He doesn’t want to be changing beds, mopping floors, and laundering linens.
He noticed the cook was cooking extra thick ham steaks for some client’s breakfasts and multiple patties in the hamburgers at single burger prices for friends and family. And she is related to the other half of the town’s population so the same rules as the housekeeping lady apply. She stays and does things her way.
Henry Ford said that if a man thinks he can do something or he thinks he can’t do something he is probably right. Buddy sure felt he couldn’t. It would be easy to second guess Buddy’s perception or his willingness to confront or his decision that these were not the ditches to choose to die in. All that matters to his story is that he felt stuck. Maybe frozen is a better adjective than stuck. This, after all was a town on the frozen Canadian prairie with winter coming on. A savior appeared wanting to buy the place and Buddy saw the offer as his way out and back home to the much less frozen B.C. lower mainland and he took it.
The cash up front was twenty or thirty thousand which was a very small part of the cash Buddy had invested. The balance was to be paid back monthly over a few years. Buddy didn’t get very many payments and then nothing and then it took eleven months of legal action to get the property back. What was left of it. His buyer had milked it for the full time for cash flow and then stripped it of any fixtures and equipment of value. Checking out the buyer after the fact Buddy learned that this had been done by him more than once. The things we learn after the fact. Is that hindsight? Comments would be hindsight, as well. So I won’t.
As the recently late Wayne Dyer said, "we don’t live in the universe where we should have done something only in the one where we did or we didn’t."
Micki's Pancake House
Micki was a Nica. She was about fourteen when she got involved with an older man, an American, living in Nicaragua. Together they opened a restaurant which he named after her. That was her only connection. She was in no way an owner of the place although it bore her name and he always told her he would leave it to her in his will. They stole/ purchased/ lured away the servers, cooks and recipes from a popular Granada restaurant and quickly had all that restaurant’s customers as well. Micki worked for years in the restaurant and lived in the older man’s house, and loved him and was loyal to him. Their relationship was more paternal and it has been said she loved him like a father.
Not all Nica – Expat relationships are noted for loyalty and fidelity. Both parties are often exploited, but she was exceptionally loyal. He maybe not so much. He went back to the States for some medical treatment and left another ex-pat living in the house with her. When she resisted the sexual advances of the friend he threw her and her clothes out in the street. When the restaurant owner came back to Nicaragua after his treatment he brought her back to live with him. She was living in another room of the same house and still working away in the restaurant.
Then a couple of things happened.
First, he went to a lawyer and had a new will drawn up leaving the restaurant to his son in the States. His lawyer blabbed to other lawyers. One of them told her. The fur hit the fan and things were pretty uneasy and he drafted a new will.
Second, being a young woman she had certain drives for love and affection and found a young man of her own age to fulfill those needs. She became pregnant.
She tells the old guy she is pregnant. Then, according to him, in the heated discussion, she is so upset she shoots herself in the chest with his hand gun.
Her family shows up.
The police show up.
The family is placated by his offer to take in their thirteen-year old daughter to live with him and give them the restaurant. They don’t make a fuss. The police are placated by the family or other considerations.
The fuss dies down.
After a little while the owner quietly sells the restaurant to a third party and quickly leaves the country. And life in Nicaragua goes on. At least that is a story that Buddy told me. I have no idea if there is the slightest particle of truth to it. It might not be true. It is believable enough, but as Mark Twain said fiction has to be more believable than real life.
Oh Gee !
Nowadays you may see “OMG” in text messages. OG is not a contraction of that phrase. When I was twenty-one I spent about a year working selling real estate, first with one firm and then a second. At the second firm was a really old guy in my eyes. He was around my current age at the time of writing this. He didn’t “peddle houses” like the rest of us. He sold water front property. This enabled him to come into the office a bit during the winter to write letters and make phone calls and to travel up and down the coast with clients in the summer as a tax deductible expense. He leased his boat from the shell of a company he had operated. His initials were O.G. and as a hobby he wrote a column in the local newspaper entitled “Oh Gee”. That probably identifies him, but I don’t have anything bad to write about him so hopefully that is okay.
Buddy had started an electrical contractor business in the 50’s in the Southwest United States. He said that when he started he had just a 1947 Coupe with a ladder on the side, no employees and no debt. Ten years later he had ten employees and was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and was considered a big success.
He said his father went into the local Cadillac dealer and asked about the fuel economy of the model on the showroom floor. The salesman mocked him and said that if he had to ask that he couldn’t afford it. His father said “okay” and left the dealership. The other salesman asked the first if he knew the departing would-be client was the richest man in the county. Buddy’s dad drove to the next county and bought a new Cadillac from that dealer.
Buddy’s dad was a widower and getting on in years. He wanted to downsize and had seen a small mobile home with a suitable layout, but he didn’t consider that living in a trailer was suitable for a man of his station in life. He had a small concrete block home built on the back of Buddy’s property. It was the same size and layout as the mobile home.
The real estate office that we worked from had local house listings and local and regional business listings. Buddy was amused by the retiring customers that came into check out motels that were for sale. He didn’t think that was much of a retirement occupation. He said that he had never worked so hard in his life as when he ran a motel. One of the other tales he had about the motel business was how that when he had gone into it he had four thousand dollars and his partner had a million dollars. He said when he got out of the motel business two years later he had nothing and his partner had a million and four thousand dollars.
Buddy said he knew that he had made seat belt use a habit when one day he arrived at a farm gate. He undid his seat belt and got out of the car. He opened the gate and got back in the car and did up his seat belt. He drove through the gate. He undid his seat belt and got out of the car and closed the gate. He got back into the car, did up his seat belt and drove off.
He lived for years in a town in the Southwest that increased in population tenfold during World War 2. Housing and building materials were at a premium. He said that one fellow owned a couple of lots used to build RTM (ready to move) houses. With ¼” thick sheetrock and 2x2 studs on four foot centers he said they barely held together for the move, but they were all that was available at the time.
He said that in his home town all the bakers would meet to set the price of bread at a level where they could all make money. Then they would trip over each other to be the first back to their bakery to drop it a few cents to try and score sales.
Before he moved to Canada he came by bus to check it out. The route was through Oregon and for several days after leaving home he saw nothing but sage brush and he was starting to get worried since the whole purpose of the move was going to be to get away from sagebrush. But the sagebrush got left behind and he looked at properties and didn’t see anything quite right. He said he bought his first property in Canada, sight unseen, over the phone from a real estate sales person that many people didn’t trust. He said he just discounted everything the salesman said by fifty per cent and it was still okay.
In his later years Buddy decided to have a houseboat built suitable for ocean use. To amuse himself he named it the Bon Nus. People, of course, thought it translated as “Good News” not “Good Nudes” which was his intent. When the houseboat was being built a local fibreglass shop had made a mistake and then charged thousands of dollars labour to correct it. Buddy made sure everybody knew about it and would either avoid them or build protection into any contract with the shop. He said these things in as nice a manner as you could please. He said his practice when cheated was to badmouth the business until he figured he had cost them twice what they had cost him.
It’s winter. Juanita wore her winter jacket to the airport and left it in the son-in-law’s car to go back to our daughter’s house for a few months. I dressed in layers which I will shed as we get further south and after the carry-on luggage has made it past the airline people and can be fatter without risk of them insisting it be checked.Here are a few tales I have or have heard about winter jackets.
When we were living in Whitecourt, Alberta, I commuted for a while to Vancouver. Early each Monday morning I would drive to Edmonton, park the car in the Park ‘N Fly and fly out to Vancouver, returning Friday evenings to drive back to Whitecourt. One December Monday I was running late and it had been relatively warm so I skipped plugging in the block heater. By my return on Friday it had gotten much colder.
The car would not start. The parking lot people called the booster service, but that didn’t help enough so they called a tow truck and I waited in their little building. While I was waiting a family arrived “dressed in their summer clothes”. Mom, Dad and the kids all looked a little shell shocked. This was a bitter comeuppance after being on a cruise ship in Florida that morning. Dad went out into the darkness to start the car to warm it up. Mom & the kids waited inside. Dad left the car running and returned carrying everybody’s winter jackets that had been in the trunk of the car. They were frozen into grotesque, stiff shapes. The kids looked even worse than they had. Finally the car was warm and Dad marshalled the troops to make a run for it. The kids obeyed, but there was no way they were going to put on the jackets. They just clutched them and headed for the car in their tee shirts.
Buddy told me of going to work on a start-up in Southeast Asia for two years. Ignoring advice from his boss, he stored a bunch of computers he was experimenting pushing the limits with and some other stuff that he was attached to along with his motorcycle. The storage locker fee was $100 a month. When he returned he sold the motorcycle for $2,400 and threw all the computers and other stuff in the trash. Technology and his interests had marched on.
You ask, “What’s that to do with winter jackets?”
Well, while changing planes in Osaka he threw his winter jacket in a trash receptacle and didn’t own a jacket for the two years he was away.
Buddy and I had been hired in a panic for a shutdown where the clients thought they needed a lot more manpower then they did. It meant the work load was not the heaviest, but it also meant our days were numbered. Last-hired, first-let-go is the general rule, unless you generate the opportunity for new experiences by your performance. We were last hired so maybe it was just that, or maybe we earned the lay-off, but they sure didn’t need us.
But I digress.
In our second week it was starting to get cold in the mornings and we asked the foreman about getting some company issued flame resistant jackets. He said he would talk to the company rep coming up from Calgary on Thursday. Thursday arrived. The rep arrived. He handed out ball caps and cooler bags to everybody, but no jackets for Buddy and me.
“Buddy. I think we are being laid off tomorrow.”
I was right.
No License to Learn
Buddy says he was in Toronto one time and wanted to get back to Vancouver. He saw an ad in the newspaper for somebody to share the driving. Buddy was almost 20 years old, but he had never learned to drive. The person who wanted someone to share the driving didn’t think to ask him if he knew how to drive.
I asked him what happened when it was his turn to drive. He said, “Well, it became obvious right away that I didn’t know how to drive so the other guy started driving again. Eventually he got so tired he didn’t care anymore and it became my turn. By the time we got to Vancouver I could drive pretty well.”
If you drive up the coast of B.C. on highway 101 you will before too long come to the end of the road and find yourself on a dock looking out over the water at some of the northern outposts of the gulf islands. Behind you on your left is a breakwater and a small harbor with commercial fishing boats and pleasure boats. Behind you on your right is the Lund Hotel with a bar and restaurant and some rooms and a few shops. A few years back you might have encountered one of the commercial fishermen in the bar and he might have told the story of his time opal mining in Australia.
Buddy says that the opals are found in a layer of dirt several feet below the surface. A seeker of opals digs a vertical shaft to the level of the layer and then digs a horizontal tunnel through the relatively soft dirt looking for a lump of hard material which, hopefully, is an opal.
He started small, doing all the digging himself. One day he found a large lump that was an opal. He carried it to town and bought himself a bottle of whiskey and took the lump to an opal cutter. He sat and sipped while the opal cutter tried to cleave the opal. This is the moment of truth. If the opal stays intact it can be quite valuable. If it shatters or crumbles then what remains has hardly any value at all.
The opal remained large during the cutting process. Buddy had money. He had enough to hire two diggers. The diggers dug lateral tunnels while Buddy sat at the bottom of the shaft and listened.
“Thud. Thud. Clunk.”
“Clunk” meant the digger had hit something hard. When he heard a clunk Buddy would scurry down the tunnel the clunk came from. The clunk could be a rock or an opal. He had to get to the end of the tunnel in time to see which it was before the digger stole it from him.
He didn’t claim to have made a fortune, but he grubstaked himself to a commercial fishing boat on Canada’s West Coast. Better than sitting in a hole in the ground in the Outback one supposes.
Buddy went to Australia to see family members who had settled from England there rather than in Canada. While in the Outback a local named Snowy says, “Want to go for a ride?” Off they go in an open, jeep type vehicle. Snowy is steering with one hand and waving a rifle with the other. When he sees a rabbit he shoots it with a one handed shot from the rifle.
The rabbits almost invariably flip over and lie still, killed with a single shot. One doesn’t. It flips over the edge of the road and into a ditch out of sight. Snowy stops the vehicle and goes to where the rabbit was last seen. It is still alive, but wounded. Snowy dispatches it with another shot. “You don’t leave things to die” pronounces Snowy and they carry on.
Buddy asked Snowy how he learned to shoot like that. Snowy said that when he was a boy his father would drive a truck while he and his brother shot rabbits with a shared rifle. If he had the rifle and he missed a rabbit his father would take the rifle away and give it to his brother who got to shoot until he missed a shot.
Earlier this month I drove through Jasper on the way to the coast and then through Banff on the way back. Years ago there would be hitchhikers lined up waiting for a ride. Not anymore. Nevertheless I was reminded of a story told me about hitchhiking through there years ago.
Somebody picked Buddy up and they drove along fine until they reached a long line of cars behind a camper or trailer. The driver that picked Buddy up starts swearing at the situation. Then he reaches under a cushion on the front seat and pulls out a hand gun and starts waving it around while he swears.
Eventually the cars behind the camper manage to pass it as does the car that Buddy is in. The driver calms down. The gun goes back under the cushion until they catch up to the next line-up behind a slower vehicle. Then the swearing starts and the gun comes out again. Buddy is terrified, but doesn’t want to provoke the guy. He sits it out through the mountains until they come to a town where it might be reasonable to say is a destination and to ask to be let off.
Although we were a grade year apart Buddy and I were lab partners in a high school Physics class. I graduated and went to UBC and he graduated a year later and went to U Vic. He majored in Spanish in first year at U Vic and then he returned home for the summer.
Like many of us paper town kids he worked at the local paper mill, but unlike most of us when fall came he didn’t return to university. He headed south. Way south. He took the winter wandering down the west coast of South America perfecting his Spanish.
Along about the end of February he had a friend at U Vic send the usual begging letter to the paper mill employment officer. “Dear Mr. W. I am looking for work this summer to support my studies …”or whatever the drill was those days with university students.
He got his summer job and returned with the rest of us students and in the fall he returned to U Vic and majored in Portuguese. Then back for the next summer to work in the paper mill and off to Brazil to live in a cheap apartment in Rio de Janeiro and get better at Portuguese.
Buddy was one of my heroes for his creativity and accomplishment at learning a couple of extra languages but I lost track of him after I dropped out of university (Sorry. “Took a break from my studies”) and after a few lesser adventures ended up working as a pulp and paper tester. Then one day Buddy showed up in my testing station to be trained.
“What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since the summer after Brazil.”
“Everything was great until I graduated with my BA and the only job I could find was driving truck in South Edmonton. That got really old in a hurry at forty below. I’m back here to build up a stake and go back for a post graduate degree in Library Science. It’s an indoor job and I like books.”
He was around for a while and I assume he did what he planned after he left. I wish him well. He is still a hero of mine if a bit of an object lesson on choice of studies.
Buddy and Buddette
Depending how you looked at it Buddy and Buddette entered my life by phone or by a window or by agreement. My brother-in-law called me and said “somebody crawled through the window of your rental suite and started living there. They said you said they could live there.”
He was pretty upset. That brother-in-law is a tough guy. He was a logger and faced and survived hazards that would have taken me out in the first week, but he was out of his element dealing with tenants. I guess I was, too. I said, “That’s okay. I’ll take care of it when I get back from school in two months.” Shoulda woulda coulda (one comedian calls them the Holy Trinity of Regret) done something else like say, “call the cops and throw them out on the street.” But I didn’t. I left them there until after I came back from apprenticeship school and took care of it and took care of it and ....
“Act in haste. Repent at leisure” is one of my Grandmother’s sayings. Too true.
To be fair to Buddy and Buddette it may have been a simple matter of misunderstanding.
They had looked at the two bedroom apartment the week before I left for school and I had told them “show up with the rent by Thursday and the place is yours.” They hadn’t and I had left town for school asking my bro-in-law to keep an eye on our place which included the empty rental suite on ground level.
The building was an old general store. The suite was in one half of the ground floor. Our quarters were in the back on ground level and with two bedrooms above the rental suite. There was another half of the former store with an upstairs and downstairs. That became a suite after we sold the property, years later, but when we owned it was a workshop and storage area.
I had converted the property to residential use on the cheap and sound proofing came years later when remodelling between tenants. Until then you could hear pretty well anything between the upstairs and downstairs above a normal conversational level.
That became a problem. Buddy worked seasonally. When he didn’t have to get up early the noise stayed up late. One time I went to the door and one of the four kids answered it. I said could you cut the noise a bit. He closed the door and said, “The landlord wants us to be quieter.” A voice cried out, “%^** the landlord.” I went into the electrical room and shut off the power to the unit.
It got quiet.
Then Buddy’s sister yelled “My baby. It will suffocate.” I thought “I didn’t know they had a kid on an iron lung in there.” She came out the door of the unit and made a right turn and climbed over the fence and fell in a heap on the concrete pad in front of my door and the electrical room door. She could have gone six feet along to the corner of the fence and then along the fence another six feet to the gate, but that isn’t how she did it. She took the more direct, if less conventional, route. It wasn’t the only time she would show that tendency, but more of that later.
Not wanting anyone to suffocate. I turned the power back on. That seems to have been the stick in the spokes. The party lost its momentum. All was quiet on the Western front. Not one of my prouder moments, but many an effective thing has been done in anger.
You have heard the beginning of the relationship. Let’s get closer to the end. We’ll skip over the muddle in between. No need to talk about butchering rabbits and Buddy waiting for me to give him a ride to get a case of beer and him getting impatient and saying “I’m getting kind of thirsty, Paul” and a few bunnies with their purpose delayed a bit and me giving him his ride. No, we will skip over that to the night it all ended. Or at least we reached an agreement that it had ended.
“Tap. Tap. Tap. “
I answered the door.
Buddy was there.
”Could you keep this money for me? I’ve had a bit to drink and I might pass out and my friends will steal it from me.”
It was a couple from Gideons dropping by for tea. We sat and visited over tea.
“Tap. Tap. Tap. “
I answered the door.
Buddy was there again.
”Could I have twenty bucks?”
“Sure, Buddy. It’s your money. Here.”
Back to our visitors. The couple looked a little uneasy.
“Tap. Tap. Tap. “
I answered the door.
Buddy was there again.
”Could I have another twenty bucks?”
“Sure, Buddy. Here.”
Back to our visitors. The couple looked a little more than uneasy. Maybe alarmed, but maybe a bit less than alarmed. But our visit continued without further interruption. We bid them adieu and we went to bed. To sleep perchance to dream. But sleep was elusive with the party below us.
Along about four thirty I had had enough. I went to the door of the suite and knocked. Somebody answered. I asked for Buddy. “Go to the other door.” I went to the door that was a direct connection between the master bedroom and the world. Buddy was there with his guitar singing along with Fats Domino about thrills and blueberry hills. But I knew that. I had been unsuccessfully trying to sleep above it.
“Buddy, could I talk to you?”
He stepped outside.
“Buddy. This isn’t working I go to work every day. I need my sleep.”
“Don’t feel bad, Paul. It never works two families in the same building. I’ve been kicked out of other places. Don’t feel bad, Paul. It’s okay. And, Paul. I’m okay now I won’t be passing out, You can give me my money back.”
I start counting out the money. Buddy’s sister appears and observes me counting out the money to Buddy.
“Make sure you get a receipt. I’m not dumb. I went to high school. Make sure you get a receipt. I’m not dumb.”
Buddy muttered back at her, “Shut up. It’s all your fault.” I finished counting out his money and went back to our unit. Juanita started cooking breakfast. It was earlier than normal but there was no point in going back to bed.
“Tap. Tap. Tap”
“Paul, can you give Buddette and me a ride to my parents in Cranberry. And my sister. If I leave her here her boyfriend will beat her up.”
I look at my watch. Lots of time before work. “Why not? Sure”, I say. I open the back door of our four door sedan. Buddy’s sister starts to get in the car with a beer. I object ineffectually and she proceeds to get in the car through the front door and climb over the front bench seat into the back. The beer pours out of the bottle and into the middle of my new seat covers and then she drops the bottle and it rolls to the back of the seat cushion and continues to disgorge its contents. Glug. Glug. I reach in through the open, ignored back door and grab the bottle before it quite finishes and throw it across the street to smash against the curb and I lose it.
“Get out of my car!”
“Get out of my life!”
Buddy and Buddette start walking toward Cranberry with Buddy shaking his head.
Buddy’s sister’s boyfriend announces “Nobody can talk to my wife that way. I’m taking you on, Paul” and starts removing his size XL Tall white shirt. I guess he didn’t want to get my blood on it. Good call. I’d bet on him in a fight too.
I ignore him and turn and walk haughtily to my door and grab the door knob to open the door.
It won’t turn!
Juanita had been worried about the activity out there and had locked it. I lose all semblance of cool composure and start beating on the door and yelling Fred Flintstone like for Juanita to open the door. She does. I enter with all possible dignity and lock it without looking back.
I don’t actually remember Buddy and Buddette moving out. They must have. I remember repairing all the damage to the unit and the next tenants who were another capital destroying pair. But that’s another story. My last memory of Buddy and Buddette was them walking away from the scene around my beer soaked car with Buddy just shaking his head.
He talked to my bro-in-law at an AA meeting last year and said to say hi to me and to tell me he was sorry. I guess I’d better change his name to Buddy so the second A holds true even if it generally doesn’t in small towns.
"Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it.
The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use."
— Earl Nightingale: Motivational author and speaker
The above quote appeared the other day in a daily motivational e-mail that arrives from Nightingale-Conant. Although I would most assertively disagree with the basis of many of their offerings, I have benefited from some and am willing to sift. Now that that disclaimer is out of the way back to the matter at hand. The quote reminded me of a Tale of Buddy.
Buddy was a mechanical engineer who took me to dinner one night on behalf of his employer. One of the things we talked about was how he was working for this valve company in Massachusetts and started taking night courses toward an engineering degree. His brother mocked him saying, "That will take ten years!" As Buddy said to me, "It did take ten years, but the ten years would have happened anyway and now I have my degree. My brother has nothing to show for those ten years."
Buddy was driving toward Prince George on the Prince Rupert to Prince George highway in British Columbia one moonless night. He was far from the nearest town with no signs of other traffic. A small plane experiencing mechanical difficulties landed in front of him using Buddy's car's headlights illumination and the highway as a landing strip. A bit of an adrenalin rush one would suppose.
Around South America
Buddy told me about when he was eighteen or so and he got a job on a Scandinavian freighter working its way down the west coast from Canada and around the tip of South America to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
There were two guys on the ship that were writing a serial article for a men's magazine about their travels down the Pan-American Highway. They were not actually travelling the highway. At each port they would unload their motorcycle and race inland to the highway and take a few pictures and look around and come back and write their next article and send it off. Reminds me of another buddy whose wife wrote multiple stories for a true confessions type magazines. Apparently "true" for them meant it could be true and it could have happened.
But I digress.
Back to Buddy on the ship.
He had some sort of cigarette ration and didn't smoke so he was saving this and adding to his stash anyway he could for resale in Argentina where cigarettes sold for high prices. They arrived in port in Buenos Aires and immediately somebody came aboard and bought all his inventory for an unbelievable price.
This was cause for celebration! Off to a night club with his shipmates!
After a while the police arrived. The night club owner had called them. The bills were doctored. The purchasers of his cigarettes had paid him with bills to which they had glued extra zeroes to increase their numerical face values. The words on the bills did not match their numerical denomination, but the words were in Spanish and he didn't know any better. At the police station he told his story and they greeted it with great delight. He couldn't understand much the police were saying but he did understand the term "estupido." They considered him so garmless that they just confiscated all but one of his phony bills and sent him back to the ship. Years later he showed me his momento as he related his sad but amusing story.
Privately Owned Refinery
Buddy told about a privately owned refinery he worked at in Alberta, decades ago. He had shown up looking for a job. The owner/manager asked him what an instrument mechanic was and what he could do for the place. After a bit of sales pitch from Buddy he offered Buddy a job for a few months on a trial basis. Buddy accepted.
The railways were getting out of steam locomotives and moving to diesel in those days. The refinery had a number of old steam locomotives they had bought surplus from the railways. This was the "steam plant." The fuel was waste gas from the process. Unlike the natural gas you may burn in your home furmace this waste gas was all over the place in terms of heat value per unit volume. This made the steam output a bit erratic. Buddy rigged up a constant heat value controller using a pilot flame and a thermopile regulating a valve so the waste gas flowing to the locomotive boilers flowed at a variable volume, but a constant flow in terms of heating value. Steam output smoothed out. The owner gave Buddy a raise and said he'd keep him.
The owner/manager was a chemical engineer and had some pretty quirky ways. If a tradesman was caught with an adjustable wrench on site he was fired.
Another quirky, but inherently practical mandate was that each year had its unique color. Everything over hauled or rebuilt in a given year was painted that year's color when it was rebuilt. If it was something fancy like an analyzer then just the flanges would be painted. This sounds strange, but after several years of doing this one could walk through the plant and see the repair history of the place. You knew what had been rebuilt and when and what had never been rebuilt. Pretty simple and effective. It would take a lot of technology and maintenance of that technology and database to have that in a modern plant especially with instant access in the field like that.
The staff was provided housing. Each house had a garbage burning pit out back. You threw you rgarbage in, turned the manual gas valve and threw in a match to incinerate the household garbage. Pretty nifty. Mind you it was sour gas - natural gas with a high percentage of H2S (Hydrogen Sulphide). H2S is highly toxic and has all sorts of environmental and safety regulations and safety controls to deal with it these days. Not something you would find somebody burning in their back yard.
One day the refinery received a call from a neighbor about a mile away. They had recently moved in and had a concern. There was a tap on the wall in their garage and when they opened it gasoline came out. The line was traced back to a gasoline storage tank in the refinery. Judging by the condition of the line and the ground it was buried in it had been in place for many years and for many prior occupants of the house. I guess none of them thought it was a problem that they had a tap in their garage from which they could fill a jerry can.
The refinery owner had indiosyncratic hobbies as well. He became fatally involved with his hobby of glacier walking in the Rockies one day when he fell into a hidden crevsase. A nephew took over the operation. He was as hands-on a manager as his uncle but without the underlying competence. Not enamored of being whipped into shape Buddy wandered away. So did other employees. So did profits. The place was sold to a major oil company and eventually closed down.
Buddy Stops Feeding the Dog
It was almost lunchtime. Buddy says to me, "It's lunchtime. I gotta go feed the dog! I hate feeding the dog!"
I responded, "Whose dog is it?"
"Why do you feed it?"
"Because it would starve."
"So. Whose dog is it?"
After a brief pause, "Yeah. You're right"
Buddy never fed the dog again. A couple of weeks later I asked him how it was going. He said the kids were a little irritable because the dog tended to become a bit agressive when it wasn't fed, but otherwise things were going okay.
Buddy moved a few days' drive away. Two years later I dropped in and visited him. I noticed the dog and the dog dish on the sundeck and asked how that was going. He said he had never fed the dog again and every so often looked out at the dish and thought of me.