I 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?”
“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.
Me and a new kid on the block, named Stan.
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?”
“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?”
“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.”