Hammer Time: Day One
“They are two nasty disgusting fucks in an SUV.” Stan’s fingers were literally shaking with anger as he slammed his door after driving sixty-five miles to change a flat tire. “I’ll tell you one other thing Steve. That tire of there’s was slashed! There is no way a rock on the side of the road is gonna leave a three inch gash on the sidewall.”
This was my ‘welcome back’ moment from a nice long vacation. Stan the Old Man was making everyone’s life crazy at the lot and as far as I was concerned, he was already living on borrowed time. Two pissed off long time customers had called me directly while I was in Honduras. One had been responsible for four separate purchases between family and friends over the past year. He was followed a few days later by a mild mannered Grandmother who told me in not so many words that Stan behaved like an old Southern bigot.
The pissed off male customer was Jeff Slassen. A dead ringer for Joe Pesci in voice and mannerisms. He was pretty much the ‘sixth man’ of our operation. Repairs, repos, referrals and even dealing with customers during the busy times. Whenever we needed something done quick and were short of hands, Jeff came to the rescue. With at least one well timed wisecrack every few minutes, he was a life saver. Jeff lives for this business and over the past two years he’s gone from customer to entrepreneur and handyman.
I really want Jeff to work at the lot. It’s rare to find someone who can do nearly everything you ask and enjoy most of the work. But Jeff needs medical benefits and no matter what opportunity comes about, he has to keep them. Like most of my customers, Jeff absolutely hates his dead end job. Working at a warehouse lifting boxes happens to be the fifth most common job for my customers. Right behind construction worker, Waffle House / IHOP waitress, working for the government and living off the government.
At that moment, Jeff had a nice thick torque wrench in his hands and was ready to turn Stan into a living Picasso. “That axe-ho threatened to call the police on my boss Steve, just because the rental was a day late. Can you friggin believe it?..”
“Don’t worry Jeff. As soon as I can afford to I’m firing that son-of-a-bitch.”
That was the PG version of what Jeff told me. I happen to live and breathe in what lightly can be termed an NC-17 business. But rarely do I venture to the fruitless world of cussing… unless I really need to make a strong point. As a Dad, I try really hard to keep the sicknesses of the outside world away from my family. Bad words. Bad food. Bad people. All the things I dealt with growing up in New Jersey I try to keep away.
Temper I also keep down . Silence.. reason.. and directness. They will beat bluster and bullshit any day of the week. Well… bluster at least. After the usual invective driven conversation with Jeff, I had a flashback. Unfortunately, this one would linger in the days to come.
Susan Bell has always been one of my favorite customers. Overweight and overfilled with joy, she always gives us a reason to smile. Susan also happens to be one of the most indecisive people east of the Mississippi, which is fine. Sometimes in this business it’s better to deal with customers who ponder the questions instead of the ones who are experts on everything. You can learn from the ones who ponder the questions.
For weekends on end, Susan has constantly grazed the lot and driven our vehicles. It’s her way of avoiding the malls, blowing off steam, and forgetting her job at the county tag office. Some folks shop or play poker. She drives cars. Especially ones that make her feel rich by wasting a lot of my gas. I think she put every single luxury car I ever bought through the paces. But after every four to six months someone in her family will always pick up something they like. Susan appreciates our automotive amusement park and we enjoy her mind and her money.
“I don’t know if he had a bad day Steve but he was shaking with anger when I asked to look at the Lexus.” She looked at me with a face of disappointed resignation that only a black Southern Grandma can inflict. “I’m just glad Keef wasn’t here cuz he woulda been’a tore up once he got through with him. ” I clenched my mouth to hold back my words. “I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking.”
Stan had been one of those fellows who smiles on top to his bosses while kicking underneath… and pretty much everywhere else. That motherfucker. Guys like Stan are the cyanide of a small business. Regardless of what they do ‘for you’, it pales to what they will inevitably do ‘to you’. I had to fire Stan. Without a doubt, nothing is more dangerous for your sanity and well-being than an employee who acts like he is better than your customers.
But there was only one problem. I was short staffed and training someone would take up most of the time I had for the week. We were short of cars and I needed a good 50 hours out of Stan whether I liked it or not. So this is how it went.
Monday: I buy eight cars and arrange for pickup and repair work. Stan does his job and stays until 7:30 PM.
Tuesday: Stan still needs to shuttle a few vehicles. I come to the lot and he’s sitting on a chair doing nothing.
“Why aren’t these cars at the tire change place?”
“Uh… Steve… I don’t feel comfortable being the only white guy at a place with nobody to pick me up. Now that you’re here we can…”
“Look Steve. I grew up in the South. I just don’t…”
“Those guys are from Senegal you ignorant backwoods fuck!? You’re scared of black people? What the fuck are you doing here then!… Who represents the majority of my customers… Pocahontas?!”
“Now let me expl…”
At this point all I remember was everything turning red and tuning out. I would like to say that I ripped his head off with a rapier or made some triumphant pronunciation about race being a myth. Or him being the primordial green ooze at the bottom of a barrel. But after 15 seconds of not listening I just said…”
” Go” You don’t belong here.”
I refrained from letting my temper get the best of me… Thank God. Until I saw him get in one of my vehicles and take off. Then I cursed the devil, called the police and picked up the keys to a Dodge Stealth.
My ‘welcome back’ was just beginning…
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