Stem to Stern: Everyone Gets a Trophy
When you need something done these days, who do you call? How do you find a reputable outfit to fix what needs fixing or build what needs building? I’m waiting … listening … yeah, I know, it’s impossible. There are plenty of businesses out there who claim to be able to perform basic industrial tasks, but we all find out the hard (and expensive) way that no one is capable of anything anymore. Residential, commercial, industrial, or marine, there is an innate lack of give-a-damn that has created an industry of insulting incompetence offered at sky-rocketing post-pandemic prices. I try not to dwell on this when I get on an airplane.
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Here’s a true story: We recently hired an outfit to replace our chain-link gate at the yard. The old gate still worked but it had been hit by incompetent delivery drivers so many times that it was bent, twisted and looking tired, not unlike the wretch who runs this place. I suppose Driver’s Ed has gone the way of Industrial Arts, and besides, who needs depth perception when you’ve got proximity alarms with blind-spot and back-up sensors? It took a three-man installation crew four visits to hang the new gate and it still wasn’t right. We asked to speak to the owner of the company. He drives out and tells us that these guys are his best crew and he’ll have them come back out and make it right. All they need to do is “install a truss rod.” The forty-year-old gate they just replaced never had, nor did it need one. They return the next day and weld in a diagonal truss rod, backwards. Now, if you tighten the turnbuckle, the gate sags worse than without it. Fool that I am, I had already paid them from the original invoice. We gave up and fixed it ourselves. It was painfully obvious that they were counting on that all along.
Here’s another example, based on a recent nightmare family experience: You and your spouse decide to install new storm-rated windows. You search the net, read the reviews and roll the dice. A “Project Manager” with a logoed polo shirt and a brand new 25-foot tape measure (first clue) arrives to measure for new windows and collect a check for 33 percent of the job to order the windows. Eight weeks later, you get a call that the windows are in, and you are billed another 33 percent. You do the right thing and pay up. Three days later, a 35 year old, CO belching Econoline with duct-taped, visqueen windows pulls up and out stumbles a rum-soaked clown and his meth-toothed assistant in a hoodie. They have only one visible tool between them, a 24 ounce waffle-headed framing hammer with which they “remove” your old windows and in the process, destroy your house. The new windows don’t fit but the big hammer resolves any discrepancy. At the end of the “installation” you are billed the remaining 33-percent balance. You refuse to pay until proper repairs are made and demand to speak with a responsible party. You soon find out that the sauced-up jester is the only one on the other end of the phone and he’s putting a lien on your house. It’s the Greatest Show on Earth, folks, and there’s a sucker born every minute. That would be you at the stroke of twelve.
How did we get here? It all started with the idea that everyone gets a trophy. Johnny can’t hit, throw, or catch but he still makes the team. Even though Johnny is incapable of even the slightest amount of hand-eye coordination, the league makes sure he gets to play every game. We don’t want to hurt Johnny’s feelings, so rather than encourage him to pursue academic or other cerebral interests, we lower the bar for the whole league. In doing so, we teach each kid on the team that excellence is not worth pursuing since, “They have to let me play, even if I suck.” Fast forward several years and Johnny is applying to the University so Mom and Dad can maintain appearances on their social media presence. His grades and high school participation are that of a pampered sloth, but he’ll graduate anyway. The school board doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so they dumb-down the whole curriculum. Everyone gets a diploma. We have now reassured every kid in Johnny’s class that only a fool would apply one’s self since everyone achieves the same outcome. Johnny applies to college and, because bad grades and SAT scores are prejudicial, is accepted and heads off to learn that self-reliant people who strive for excellence and work hard are deviant, capitalistic pigs. He graduates with a degree in Women’s Studies, moves back in with his parents, and spends his days smoking dope in his room, on the internet, with like-minded people with no skills who vote. Eventually, his desperate, frustrated parents call a sketchy old acquaintance from their cocaine days who owns a flim-flam window operation and beg him to hire Johnny. They’re headed to your house now.
This is precisely why we can’t find anyone who can fix or build things. We reap what we sow. Kids raised with low standards grow up to be adults with low standards. We have raised an army of entitled losers who demand to be paid huge money for shoddy work. The quality bar is so low that a team of Red Bull swilling Squirrel Monkeys could do better work. We find the same situation in boat service. I walk through the do-it-yourself boatyards up and down the coast and witness the low quality bar in all trades. Quite often, we are called in to bail out boat owners who thought they were going to save money by hiring “Proteus Mobile Marine Service” to work on their pride and joy. Mr. Proteus has an incredible ocean-themed wrap on his heavily-leveraged Mercedes utility van. Along with the Technicolor ocean theme is an abundant array of marine product logos that are there to impress. From the looks of his van, he can sell you propellers, install stabilization gyros, paint and varnish your boat, service and install A/V and NAV electronics, manage your 401k, and deliver your unborn child in a warm bathtub. Unfortunately, Proteus is in a class of Sea Gods who have lost their mythological prowess. It’s now all part of the Great Scam. You’ve all seen the names: Neptune Mechanical and Logistics, Oceanus Diesel and Electric, Poseidon Composite and Re-fit, Triton Consulting and Yacht Management. They can take things apart, but precise re-assembly is a meaningless nuisance and finishing the job is not in the program. You’ll need an actual boatyard to do that. Incidentally, what is the definition of “Yacht Management” and what does one pay for this luxury? From what I can determine, it consists of services one usually retains at a car wash. But…if you’re going to hire a trunk-slammer, it’s probably better to trust the guy with his name on the door of his truck and nothing else: “Fred Webb, Boat Repairs.” He probably has a mortgage, child-support payments, and a lazy brother on disability. He doesn’t have the ego or the money for flamboyance and the poor schlep has to show up.
You might consider all this to be an exaggeration from a bitter old fool. Maybe so, but I know a secret. You’ve all been the victim of these bums at some point. And if you’ve miraculously escaped the low standards of modern tradesmen, put your legal team on retainer, boys and girls. It’s right around the corner. A generation ago, someone dropped the Atomic Stupid Bomb and there were no fallout shelters in place from which we could re-group and save humanity. Hell, I’m at the point where I’m about to hand everyone a trophy and free WiFi if they can just make 40 hours. Ability is an important but distant second. The trophy will be in the form of a framing hammer inscribed with the words: For Johnny—In great appreciation for his participation in an average work week. In the words of another Johnny, “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help! You know I need someone. Help!” It’s enough to drive one to drink. Now where did she hide my Flor de Caña, my brand-new tape measure and the keys to my van?
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