Thursday, February 6, 2014

Family Canon: Karma

Every family has its canon of stories.  It may be about when Uncle Bob caught the enormous pike in North Bay on his honeymoon.  It may be when Tom impressed his kids by tracking a deer "by sense of smell" through the dark of night.  Or it may be when Dad finagled an unbelievable bargain at a yard sale.

Regardless of the story, they endure because there are deeper lesson that resonated within them.

Dad's Unbelievable Bargain

My dad loves auctions and yard sales.  He is a student of human nature and these events provide a broad stage for those natures to play out.  My dad was an incredibly hard working man.  He reserved a portion of many Saturdays during the summer for visiting sales.  It was justified because it combined recreation and a chance to save some money.

Dad pulled into a fairly typical, mid-Michigan yard sale.  He had selected this one from pile in the local Wheedle-n-Diddle paper because of the many garden tools listed in the manifest.

Yard sales are a real crap shoot.  Sometimes the merchandise is junk...used up tools, handles rotted from being left in the weather.  Sometimes the prices are way out of line, "Yup, that is real dis-tressed wood in that handle.  It is an anti-que.  Probly worth $50."  Other get surprised in the other direction.

This family appeared to be recently retired.  It looked like they were moving out of Michigan, probably to Florida.  The tools had been used.  More importantly, the tools were quality tools and had been well cared for.


One of the tools was a Troybuilt Rototiller.  Back in the day, Troybuilt Rototillers retailed for about $700 while the "throw-away" rototillers sold for $300.  Troybuilt Rototillers had gears machined out of bronze and iron.  The gears run in a sump of 85W differential grease.  They did not depreciate because the aficionados did not buy them for their paint job, they bought them because they they were designed and manufactured like industrial machinery.  They run, and run well, through +25 years of hard use.

They wanted $75....about ten cents-on-the-dollar.

My dad circled the machine.  It was in good shape.  Sensing a possible sale, the 65 year old woman came over and asked if he had any questions.

"That is a beautiful machine!" my dad said.  He unscrewed the gas cap and sniffed the gas.  No varnish smells.  He reverentially replaced the cap.  He unscrewed the oil cap, dipped in a pinkie, smelled it, rubbed it between his fingers.

"You took great care of this.  I want to buy it.  You know it is way under-priced, don't you?"

The woman's eyebrow's perked up.  She said, "Well, mostly we are trying to unload this stuff because we don't have room in the U-Haul and there is not room for a garden where we are going."

Consummating the deal

My dad throttles his spending by carrying a limited amount of cash with him.  But squirreled away in a super-secret hiding place (his wallet) is a check.  It gets carried a great deal and tends to really show its age before it gets used.

My dad said, "I only have $40 with me.  Will you take a personal check for the difference?"

The woman thought for a second.  "Tell you what, give me the $40, get it loaded up and get out of here."

My dad wasted no time.  He paid her the money.

As she was helping him load the rototiller (they are not tiny machines) she told him why she made him such a stellar deal.

"There was a man looking at that rototiller just before you pulled in.  He badmouthed it up-and-down, did everything but spit on it.  I did not like that man.  He asked if he could pay by check after trying to jawbone the price down.  I told him, 'No.  It has to be cash.'  So he jumped in his truck to run home and get the cash."

"You came along.  You obviously know about machines.  You were respectful."

"When he comes back, I will be able to look him square in the eye and tell him, 'Another customer came through who was able to pay my asking price, straight up, in cash.  I had to sell it because I really did not know if you were coming back.'"

Moral to the story

Stories durable enough to be included in the family canon often have multiple morals that can be extracted from them.

  1. People appreciate being appreciated
  2. Karma is a bitch, but only if you are
  3. "Commercial transactions" involve more that the trading of mathematically equivalent amounts of currency and merchandise.
  4. It is rarely to your disadvantage to be "likable".

1 comment:

  1. Joe, I loved this story. I too believe in karma and it's boomerang ability, so I try to spread good karma whenever possible. Your dad sounds like a wise man in many ways.