My Buddy Stan

struwwelpeter0I can always count on my buddy Stan to do the right thing –  but only after all the alternatives had been exhausted.

It is why I hold out hope for him; eventually he is bound to run out of alternatives.

That eventuality finally arrived.

“I want to do the right thing,” he declared out of the blue.

“About what?” I asked.

“That’s just it. I don’t know.”

This was typical Stan.

“Otherwise I might be doomed.”

“You mean like ‘hell’ kind of doomed?”

“Worse.”

“What could be worse than eternal damnation?”

“Karma,” he told me. “lately I have gotten this feeling that everything I have done or failed to do in life is about to come back down on me.”

Knowing Stan, that is a lot.

The guy has racked up some pretty serious karma, yet I don’t know how harshly fate should judge him for it. You see, Stan has a disability of sorts. Just as some people are tone-deaf and others are color-blind, Stan has absolutely no sense of right or wrong.

It doesn’t make him evil, because evil is a destination you have to drive yourself to. Stan just lacks a map.

I realized that on the first day we met.

A violent summer storm had swept through the neighborhood the night before.  It ripped up trees and tossed their shattered remains far and wide. Most everyone came out the next morning to clean up but one homeowner decided to employ a couple of local kids to do the job.

Stan and I.

He offered us a penny apiece for each stick we picked up.

There must have been a hundred branches strewn across his lawn – but when you think about it, a hundred sticks only add up to a dollar – a pretty sweet deal for him. We thought it was a good deal for us too, so we set about the business of gathering sticks.

Before long, Stan turned to me. “Hey kid,” he said, “how many sticks you got?”

I counted them.  “Thirty-five.”

“Do you want to sell them?”

“Huh?”

“I’ll buy the bunch for 50¢.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I told him.

“Sure it does.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I argued, “beside, you don’t have the money.”

“Trust me,” he said.

For some reason, I knew I could – but not because of his sincerity, for he utterly lacked that. It was his rock-solid confidence. Still, I declined the deal.

“Something ain’t right about it,” I explained.

The concept of not-right puzzled Stan.  I suppose it threw him because my tone stressed the moral rather than the business side of the arrangement.  Yet underlying it all was the mathematical reality that even a third grader could grasp.  A penny apiece for thirty-five sticks does not add up to fifty cents.

Until it came time to redeem the sticks; which was when Stan doubled his money by breaking them in half.

Suddenly, it all made sense.  Stan-sense.

The guy who hired us picked up on it immediately. “You broke your sticks in half, didn’t you,” he accused.

Stan beamed.  “You betchya,” he proclaimed.

For the briefest of moments, the guy flashed with anger then broke into a big smile.

“Kid, you got potential,” he told Stan, “I run an industrial junkyard; it’s the business of buying machines and breaking them into parts. When you get old enough, come by the yard and I’ll give you a job.”

And he did.

It is how Stan learned to become a machine whisperer.

***

“I’ve got to do something about my karma,” he whined, “and quick.”

“Oh, I see where you are going,” I told him, “you are afraid of an impending crisis, so you want to strike a bargain with fate by making amends.”

“Man, you are good,” he told me, “I couldn’t put my finger on it – but that’s it!”

“Therefore you want to start doing the right thing?”

“Exactly!”

“Stan….”

“What?”

“Pay your taxes.”

“How did you know I was getting audited?”

“I know you.”

“So how can I start doing the right thing?”

“By paying your back-taxes.”

“Have you any idea how much that is going to cost me?”

“No, but you will find a way to pay it. You always do.”

Author: Almost Iowa

www.almostiowa.com

40 thoughts on “My Buddy Stan”

    1. There is a bit of Stan in all of us. It is in our nature to let the rules slide, to apply the double-standard that favors us and our side and to push the envelope (even a little) to get what we want – and still feel good about ourselves. Stan is that inner-devil who whispers sweetly in our ear, while our inner-angel snores softly on our shoulder.

  1. Probably not the right thing to say, but after reading through your carefully written piece, the bit that really sticks with me is the comment from your old Sargent. It explains a lot.

  2. “I’ve got to do something about my karma…and quick!” You just know with Stan this seemingly noble resolution is going to be about avoiding pain. I know some Stans but they aren’t as clever as he is. Breaking the sticks was a stroke of genius.

    1. Stan has been trying to come up with a short-cut or an end-run around karma for years. I have no doubt he will find it, much to the frustration of everyone else.

    1. That’s a great angle. Stan would enjoy that.

      PS, Both Stan and I drink Finnegan’s beer. It is a Minnesota brand sponsored by Summit Brewing that gives 100% of its proceeds to charity. Each bottle is marked (‘One Credit In Heaven’). We are drinking our way to salvation. It is a long road, but we are willing to walk it.

  3. We paid our sons to pick dandelions and the oldest proved expert at plucking each tiny stem separately, poor separating chumps that obstinate came up together. He’s not called Stan though.

  4. “Not evil just lacking a road map” love that.
    Reminds me of a bloke I know. Operates from a different view. Often misunderstood. We need all types in this world – less of the evil though.

  5. I’m glad the two of you were only ten when you entered into the stick-picking-up deal. I was worried at first. Great story. Stan better get his karma worked out or things are going to get even more “sticky.” 🙂

    1. I don’t think Stan will ever get his karma worked out, if you haven’t noticed, he occupies a position on the sociopath spectrum (lacking a sense of right and wrong). Like I stated in the story, sociopaths are not necessarily evil by nature, though they have a reputation, especially those who slide over to the psychopathic side (lacking empathy). Still even those who lack both morality and empathy might not be considered “bad” because they have had an upbringing that teaches them to conform their behavior to social norms.

      Sorry to get to philosophical. 🙂

      On a lighter note, we were once demonstrating an investigative tool that we put together for the MPD when a council person said, “it would be nice if you could identify criminals before they committed a crime.” To which my sergeant replied, “Oh, that’s easy, all we have to do is identify those who believes that nothing is ever their fault.”

      1. Poor Stan – lacking morality and empathy!? Well, I’m glad he conforms to social norms, though I’m not sure that’s such a good things these days. And that sergeant had it right. What an insightful comment. I’m going to remember that one. 🙂

  6. I kept trying to figure out how that fifty cents was going to benefit Stan, but I never once thought of breaking the sticks. This worries me, for some reason. It may explain why I’ve never had to pay back taxes. It also raises the interesting issue of active and passive goodness, since there’s no question that some apparent ‘goodness’ in the world is little more than laziness, or a lack of class cut-up levels of creativity, which Stan seems to have in abundance. Fun post.

    1. I would never disparage or think less of active good, but I have always been a little suspicious of it. There often seems to be a bit too much of the self involved and that has a tendency to bend the good toward the direction of those doing it. Passive good can be be more like fertile ground that nourishes whatever sinks its roots.

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