Wednesday, November 21, 2012

the honest broker

Thanksgiving, an annual celebration due tomorrow here in the U.S., is traditionally a remembrance of the season's harvest and a time to say "thank you very much." Irrespective of the confused or imaginatively-endowed entity to which those thanks are directed, still it is nice to take the time to say thanks. In this country, a big meal with a turkey front and center is the repast most frequently advertised ... turkey, a rather dry meat that no amount of basting can moisten. No doubt the turkeys are not forgathering to say thanks for the holiday, but people often are.

A couple of days ago, Dave, a big man with a small-appliance-repair business, came by to fix the stove here. The oven wouldn't light and the immediate result was that I ruined a perfectly good batch of brownies.

Dave replaced a worn-out part and ... it seemed all was well until yesterday when I tried to remake the brownies that had gone awry. When I turned on the oven, it became apparent that Dave's fix had not fixed the stove, which turned on, reached a certain heat and then crapped out.

When I told Dave on the phone what had happened, he said he would come by again today. He was contrite about what he had charged me for what didn't work and that contrition made me admire his approach to life. He said he would be willing to refund some of my money. Instead of finding an excuse, he shouldered the responsibility. It's not that I think he is to blame -- the stove is old -- but just the notion that he would stand behind what he had hoped to do was something for which I gave thanks.

Queen Victoria's bloomers
As we talked on the phone, it occurred to me that I might have to get a new stove, an expense I really don't want to shoulder. I went on the Internet and looked over gas stoves. And as I looked them over, I read the reviews of one model and another -- people's views of what they had bought. Over and over again it was apparent that what was new and up-to-date might cost quite a lot but invariably had cheap flaws. New-and-improved seemed to be invariably afflicted with the old malady, greed: It might look new and shiny and up-to-date, but the quality was lame... tinny parts, an exterior that got red hot as the oven heated up, etc.

In England, a pair of Queen Victoria's bloomers (Brit.: pants) sold at auction for 360 pounds. Who knows what anyone is going to do with the ginormous bloomers (bragging rights seems likely), but they were made of linen and monogrammed  with the requisite VR.

Linen -- a fine material made to last. Extravagant in one sense -- does anyone need their underwear to have a name tag? -- still, Queen Victoria died in 1901 and presumably had made some use of the bloomers before that time and yet here they were, over a century later, in good enough shape to be sold for 360 pounds.

OK, "buy cheap, get cheap" and "you get what you pay for" and "caveat emptor," But such well-crafted warnings lay too much of the burden on the buyer and too little on the seller, for my money. Am I old-fart wrong in believing that there are people like Dave willing to sell the best product they can and, more, take responsibility for it? Honorable people? It may be too much to ask or too much to suggest, but still I ask and suggest it.

An honest broker can look himself in the eye. A rich broker has lavish excuses. But more than whether or not a rich broker can bamboozle me, there is the demeaning aspect of what the rich broker is willing to do to himself. It is not just a matter of whining about ethics, it's a matter of what anyone is willing to do to him- or herself ... sell their decency for money. Everyone would like to think they are decent and honorable people, but where the excuses pile up higher and higher and higher, what becomes of that decency?

OK. It's a choice and no one can choose for anyone else. Whining proves nothing. But as a matter of what brings a little peace to this life, I think honest-brokering is best. Not that such honesty guarantees a happy result (the stove still doesn't work), but it does support a less excuse-prone life, a tinny lifestyle.

Thinking about the stove and its options, I have pretty much decided to pay Dave the better part of a new stove to bring the old stove back to life. Like Victoria's bloomers, the stove is old, but its basics are better than what is new and improved.

And besides all that, I would rather be disappointed working with an honest broker than I would paying some shiny store with shiny excuses.

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