Lester was attacking his meat-lovers omelet like it had just called him a dirty name. He stabbed at it and a quarter-sized lump of sausage slid onto the table. He growled at the escaping flesh, picked it up with two stubby fingers and jammed it into his already full mouth. He slurped his coffee.
“Are you enjoying that?” I asked.
“Mumph,” Lester said.
Lester and I go way back to the days when I worked for the rep. He hates everyone in the world except me because I was the only person who would visit him in the shed he calls an office back in the day. I would always bring donuts. Lester really likes donuts.
I hang out with Lester because he is the one person in the world who can always make me see the dark side of life. When I’m feeling better than I deserve to feel, I call Lester and he fixes me right up. In him, I find balance.
The waitress poured me some more coffee and walked away.
“What am I, chopped liver?” Lester shouted after her. She ignored him, as she always does. Lester growled.
Lester, in case you’ve never seen him around town or at one of the trade shows, looks a bit like the actor, Danny DeVito, but rounder, and no way near as handsome. He has a permit to carry concealed weapons and he does so with great glee. If it were allowed, Lester would shoot all of his customers in their kneecaps because he hates them with a passion like no other.
I was feeling better about the economic situation. The unemployment numbers were leveling off, and some of my contractor friends were telling me the money was loosening up again. I was also thinking about Mother Nature, and how she didn’t take a break during the Great Recession. Things mechanical continue to wear out and break down, and that’s always good for the heating business.
After a while, I realized I was feeling pretty good, and that’s why I was sitting in Gus’ Diner, across from that miniature bundle of plumbing-and-heating violence.
“Has your business been picking up?” I asked.
“Why would I want that to happen?” Lester asked. I shrugged. “I hate my customers and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no business like slow business.” He grabbed a piece of rye toast and stuffed it into his mouth.
“You don’t want more business?” I said. Lester shrugged. “I mean it would be good for you. You’d have more people to hate?”
Lester considered this and said, “When I need business, I get business. This is because I am irresistible.” He sneered and chomped another piece of toast.
I was feeling worse by the moment.
“I have an idea,” he said through the toast. I sat up a bit straighter. Lester always has such interesting ideas and they usually come with very sharp edges. He swallowed, which was a blessing. “You see that story in the news about fat people and indoor temperature?” he asked.
“You talking about the study that shows people can lose weight by turning down their thermostats?” I asked. “The colder it is, the more you shiver, and that makes you lose weight, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” he said. “It just gave me an idea.”
“You want to know what it is?”
“Only if you want to tell me,” I said.
“Who else could I tell?” he snarled.
“Well, there is that,” I said. “Please tell me.”
“OK. You know how I’ve always quoted boilers by basing the size of the boiler on the type of furniture my rotten customers have?”
I nodded. Lester has been using this method for many years, mainly because he hates his customers, doesn’t ever want to go back to see them again, couldn’t care less about how much fuel they burn, and wishes they would all eat rat poison and die horribly, but only after paying him in cash.
Oh, and he also thinks anyone who does a heat-loss calculation and puts anything in writing is a total loser.
Ethan Allen Or Jenny Craig?As Lester sees it, there is a direct connection between a boiler manufacturer’s catalog and the Ethan Allen furniture catalog. If the customer has enough dough for fancy furniture, she also has enough dough to pay for a big boiler. It’s that simple.
I remember going with him on this one job. He banged on the door and when the woman answered, she looked at me because she couldn’t see Lester. He was lower than the solid part of her screen door. She smiled at me; he growled at her. She looked down, gulped, and opened the door to let us in. Believe me, you would have done the same.
Lester rolled in. I followed. He got one look at the fancy couch and said. “Eight sections.”
And that’s what she got. That boiler was more oversized than Mama Cass and probably banged on and off several times a minute, but I never got to find out because Lester never goes back once he gets paid. Never.
“I’m going into the health business,” Lester said.
“Meaning?” I asked.
“Look around this diner, Dan,” Lester jabbed his knife this way and that. “What do you see?”
I leaned away from the knife and looked around. “Lots of people. Lots of food. Gus over there by the cash register with his eight thermostats.”
“Right,” Lester said. “And what do all these lousy people have in common?”
I looked again. “Well, none of them are underfed,” I said.
“Exactly!” Lester said. “From now on, I’m selling undersized boilers.” He snapped his rock of a bald head up and down. “This is gonna be bigger than Jenny Craig!”
“How did you ever get to be so smart?” I asked.
“I’m through bustin’ my hump getting those Ethan Allen boilers down those basements. From now on, I’m telling these fat slobs about the health benefits of a boiler that weighs less than they do. Let ’em shiver. It’s good for ’em. Hey, I saw it on CNN!”
With that, Lester slid off his seat. It took a moment for his short legs to hit the floor but once they did, he barreled over to a globe-shaped man and woman who were sitting at a table with their porky son.
“Hey, fatso,” Lester said to the woman. “You love your kid, right?” The man gagged on his blueberry pancake. “You don’t want him to turn into the same sort of landfill that you’ve become, right?”
The man started to speak, but Lester shot him a look that would have stopped lightning. The man shut up and Lester turned back to the woman. He raised one bushy eyebrow, waiting for her to answer the question. The woman shook her head. No, she didn’t want her son to be a landfill.
Lester poked his calloused sausage of a thumb over his shoulder and at her husband. “You want that kid to grow up looking like this load over here?” The woman’s mouth, full of scrambled eggs, hung open. She shook her head again.
“Then get some cash together. I’m installing a Jenny Craig boiler in your house. It’s the best thing for all of you. The kid will shiver that tonnage right off, and so will your dump truck of a husband. You, I’m not so sure about, but you’ll try, right?” She nodded. Under the circumstances, you, too, would have nodded.
He installed the tiny boiler next day. The family didn’t have much of a choice because Lester is, as he says, irresistible, and quite persuasive once he makes up his mind about something.
He left the old one right where it was, explaining it would have value as an antique some day. “Those guys from that reality TV show will be around to give you a great price one of these days,” he told the family, and they accepted that, as you would have accepted it, under the circumstances.
I don’t know how it’s going to turn out for that family because, well, you know. But I am feeling much more in balance, and much worse about the future, and all thanks to Lester.
Hey, here’s to a leaner America!