Smarts Win

Brother Dave said he knew a hippie who could beat me assembling partitions, beat me like that proverbial rented mule. But that won’t true. Nobody I ever saw could beat me at assembling partitions, especially a hippie.

The fact that I hadn’t made any partitions in 25 years, since my wife, Donna, and I moved to Knightdale, N.C., from Charlotte in 1971, really didn’t matter. Give me a few days, I’d be just as fast as ever.

Dave was telling me about this hippie because, in 1996, I started making partitions again, driving on weekends to Queen City Container, his box shop in  Charlotte.  I needed the extra money. Dave and I had decided to buy an ATV to ride up at Snowbird, in the mountains of North Carolina, and an ATV was a luxury I couldn’t afford. 

But it was all just a bunch of talk, on his part and mine, because I was never going to get to go head to head with this guy.

And then, one Saturday afternoon, in walked the hippie. I knew who he was right off — he had rings in his pierced ears. I had been back at it, assembling partitions, for several weekends and had regained my old form.  And on this day, I was already warmed up, rolling, ready to show him who was who.

You know where this is going, don’t you. He did beat me, badly.  And he didn’t even know we were racing.

When I knocked off work I stood nearby and watched him for a few minutes.  I was surprised. He wasn’t beating me at my own game — he had a different, faster, way of putting partitions together.  I asked him about that. Instead of copying the way other people made them, he told me, he had spent a whole day trying to figure out the best way.

He wasn’t just faster than me, he was smarter.

NOTE: For another partition assembling story, see “Motivating With Money,” posted on Dec. 1, 2017

Coming Friday: Pretty Woman

Advanced Reporting

The woman opened her front door and got right to the point, “Why are you looking at my house?”

When I chewed Apple I HAD to spit.
When I chewed Apple I HAD to spit.

I had just put a plug of Apple chewing tobacco in my mouth because I hadn’t intended to try to interview her until later. When I chewed Apple I had to spit, so I didn’t chew it indoors.

But I knew from the tone in her voice it was now or never — she was an older black woman; I was a young white guy. 

So I introduced myself, told her I was a reporter for The Charlotte News, told her what I was working on, and asked if could I come in and talk to her.  She said yes, but reluctantly it seemed to me.

That bulge in my face is not bubble gum.
This photo was made on another occasion but I was chewing then too. And that bulge in my jaw is not bubble gum.

I was investigating a federally funded neighborhood improvement program.  I knew that some inspection reports had been falsified, causing the government to pay contractors for work they had not done, and I was gathering more evidence.

I sat on the sofa in her living room and asked about the work that had been done on her house, but I was getting nowhere. She gave me one word answers and seemed uncomfortable with me being there.   I was pretty uncomfortable myself –I was about to spill tobacco juice down the front of my white shirt.

I had to spit.

My indoor chew. Mixed with coffee the juice goes right down.
My indoor chew. Mixed with coffee I could swallow the juice.

Indoors I chewed Red Man.   If I had to, I could swallow Red Man tobacco juice, especially if I had some coffee to dilute it.  But not Apple. No way. Gradually I began tilting my head back, trying to keep my mouth parallel to the floor so tobacco juice wouldn’t run out either corner of my mouth when I was talking. But you can only do that for so long. When your mouth is full the juice has to go somewhere.

Finally I told her: “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ve got to go spit out this tobacco.”

“Why, law, reach under that sofa and get my spit can,” she said.

I did. What a relief.

She offered; I accepted.
She offered; I accepted.

“Have you ever tried Days Work? she asked, pulling out her brand.

“No, ma’am,” I said.

“Would you like to?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And she handed me some, and a knife, and I cut myself a plug and put in my mouth.

After that I could do no wrong.

“Come on back here and let me show you the mess they left in my bathroom,” she told me.

NOTE: I chewed for about 10 years, I guess, until I heard a story that rattled my cage. I quit that day — right then.  I posted a story about that, called “You did WHAT?,” on Dec. 9, 2016.

Coming Monday: Smarts Win