Found: A Few Good Men

I have a late father, an ex-husband, a grown son, a business partner, and there's a new man who is very dear. For the purposes of this piece, though, these are not the men in my life. The men in my life are Chuck, Alan, Jim, and Bob. And Roger, Jay, Paul, and Sam.

Chuck is in charge of my oil burner. Alan keeps the oil tank full. Jim buys my cars; Bob services them. Roger handles appliances: He repairs them or shops for and installs new models. Jay hauls away trash and brush, and Paul plows my driveway. Sam is the generalist. He is in charge of all repairs and installations not covered by the specialists. He fits toilet tanks with new innards, hangs storm doors, and once spelunked the hideous crawlspace beneath the family room to tack up sagging insulation.

People who know me know all about the men in my life. "Did Chuck find the leak in the boiler?" a friend asks. "What does Bob say about your clutch?"

My friends complain that they can't get contractors to come to the house or to produce repair work on time. I've never had trouble. But I also think that having good men in your life is a matter of having good instincts, good manners, good humor, and complete trust.

"I don't care what kind of washer I have," I tell Roger. "Just pick out one that handles heavy loads on weekends and doesn't get lonely by itself all week."

"Didja see the new washer in the cellar?" Roger asks over the telephone three days later.

"Yeah, it looks fine."

"Well, there's a scratch on the front panel. I didn't see it till I had the machine uncrated and down cellar. If it bothers you, I'll yank it outta there and exchange it."

"Are you crazy? The washer's in the cellar, not on my coffee table. I didn't even notice the scratch."

When you trust people to make decisions for you, you must also trust that their best judgment will yield you the greatest value. Don't worry; their choices will be most conscientious. After all, they can't turn to you later and say, "Well, I warned you not to go with this model, but no, you knew better."

And for another thing, a specialist gives "permission" to be better to yourself than you allow yourself to be.

I would never have let myself have a car with power windows, air conditioning, and those little buttons that move the outside mirrors around. But I didn't have to take the responsibility for self-indulgence, because Jim said I should have a car with all those bells and whistles. Jim knows about these things. He interviews business people about their auto needs, shops for them, negotiates a good price with the dealer, then offers a selection. The only choice I had to make about my car was color. As a result, I am delighted with my blue car. I even liked the box of chocolates that Jim placed on the back seat as a client gift.

"Change the oil," I tell Bob when I take my nice blue car in for service, "and please look to see if any of the gears are frying. Do whatever you think you should to keep things running right."

Several of the "other" men in my life, horrified at my carte-blanche attitude, have advised me that I'm paying Bob more than I ought for car maintenance.

But I let a smile be my only reply and I keep up my good relations with Bob. He is there when I need him. Like when my son and his friend, changing my oil to save me money, broke the oil cap off. I had to telephone Bob to come and tow the car to his garage. It could have been a delicate moment, but Bob knows me for the good customer I am and he didn't even give me an I-told-ya-so smirk.

"This happens," Bob said quietly, not quite making eye contact lest he embarrass a customer. So I usually leave a dozen doughnuts on the front seat of my car when I drop it off for servicing. A bribe? No, an expression of gratitude.

The men in my life come immediately when I call them and they seem willing to deal with whatever idiosyncrasies my household features.

"I'll try to remember to open the padlock on the gate," I tell Chuck, who is going to service the oil burner in the morning.

"If you forget," he says, "I'll just climb over the gate again."

The men in my life know where the spare keys hide. They know my office phone number and where I keep the cups. They know what really dirty laundry looks like and how to jimmy the bulkhead door. If one of the guys, in letting himself in, inadvertently lets out the dog, he will catch her and close her inside before he completes his service call.

"I stopped by and moved that wood pile," Paul reports. "I stacked it behind the garage. Snowstorm is due tonight, and I wanted to clear the way for the plow in the mornin'."

With this many men in one woman's life, there's not a whole lot of privacy, but there is a warm feeling of family and gratitude. Out there in the dark - beyond what I can see - there are people taking care of me. Bless you, boys!

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