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Some Forget Why They’re In Business

There’s this young fellow who has been painting houses in my neighborhood during the past few weeks. I first saw him painting the house across the street from me. He doesn’t have a sign, scaffolding or a bunch of fancy spray equipment. Just a compact truck, a couple of ladders, brushes and rollers.

Being an ex-house painter myself, I have been examining his work from a distance. He seems to be a good painter, careful not to get it on the brick or the shrubs.

He hollered over at me one day when I’d gone home for lunch. “Looks like your house needs painting. Want me to give you a price?”

Maybe later, I told him. It needs painting soon but not immediately.

The next week he was back, painting the house next to the first one he’d done. This time he caught me in the front yard when I’d come home for the day.

He was carrying a box of framed prints.

“I’m not just a painter, you know. I’m a poet too.” He handed me one of the framed prints, which was a typeset poem celebrating Mother’s Day. He says he has started producing these poems, and that a couple of Christian bookstores are now selling them. I’m no judge of poetry, but they were nicely presented in attractive frames. I politely passed on buying one.

“How about that house? When you gonna be ready to paint it?”

I told him to give me a price, but that I was going to wait at least a few months. I warned him that it was a big house and that I was picky, since I used to be in this line of work.

He gave me a fair price and a flier so I could call him when I got ready.

“I’m a good painter. There won’t be any paint except where it’s supposed to be. My promise is ‘You don’t pay me until you’re happy with the job.”’

He says he just got started painting on his own and selling poems. He said the Lord had given him a gift, and the painting supplements the poetry business. He talked about some relative who’s in the lawn business.

“He’s got $20,000 worth of equipment. That’s too much overhead. I got a truck, ladder, some brushes and rollers. It’s all I need. I just have to work hard and do a good job.”

He again reiterated his promise that he doesn’t get paid until I’m happy with the job. We shook hands, and I promised I’d call him later.

That night, I decided to grab some fast food, since my wife and I had both worked late. I went through the drive-through, got the order and went home. Once back, I discovered the drive-in worker had forgotten one of the sandwiches. So I had to go back to the fast-food place and get back in the drive-through line.

“You forgot one of my sandwiches,” I told her through the intercom.

“You have a receipt?” she asked.

“No, the receipt is in the bottom of the bag of the food the rest of my family is now eating while I sit in your line.”

“Pull up, please.”

The manager came to the window. “Our policy is that we must have a receipt.”

I asked the drive-in worker if she remembered me. She did. I asked the manager if she thought I would have come all the way back here from home and waited in line again simply to bamboozle them out of a two-dollar sandwich. She shrugged, said I was supposed to have a receipt.

I made it clear I wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, they grudgingly gave me the sandwich I had paid for and spent 30 minutes and two trips trying to get. No apology, no nothing.

I scratched this place off my list of fast-food choices. Lord knows there are plenty others to choose from.

The next day, I stopped in at a convenience store. I counted six signs on the glass, telling customers things they aren’t supposed to do: No smoking. Shoes and shirt required. No out-of-town checks. No more than three kids at a time. Don’t scratch your lottery tickets at the counter. Sorry, we don’t take food stamps.

The clerk was talking on the phone as I waited to pay for my soft drink. She had her back to the counter.

I cleared my throat, and she reluctantly acknowledged my presence, as if I was somehow intruding on her. She took my money and rang up the purchase, handed me my change without ever breaking from her conversation, which was either with her boyfriend or husband. Then she turned away, no “thank you” or “hurry back.”

As I left, I was wondering. Who’s going to be in business longer? The painter/poet who works hard and guarantees satisfaction before you pay? The fast-food place that thinks customers are trying to rip them off? Or the convenience store with all the “don’t do” signs and surly clerks?


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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.