Margins

Slow and steady wins the race, but it can be hard to do.

Slow and steady wins the race, but it can be hard to do. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / iqoncept

“It’s beautiful, Joe,” I said. “God bless you guys in this new home.” He acted indifferent and sort of shrugged his shoulders as he gazed up at his sky lights. “Yeah, I always wanted to build. I wanted my house, my way, you know?” I nodded. I always wanted the same thing but it was expensive. I could afford a mortgage and I loved the home we’d picked out as newlyweds but no, we didn’t have the money to build to our specifications. Cindy left the cake on the table and we wished them good fortune.

Backing out of the driveway I couldn’t help but go over the figures in my head. I knew what Joe made and I knew his wife wasn’t working anymore since the baby. His dad had passed on a few years ago but he had been a modest man who lived the same way, I doubted there had been any big windfall other than perhaps an investment that had performed well. Cindy must have had the same thought. She knew Joe’s tendencies to be impulsive, a bit brash; “Maybe he’s a good saver, huh?” I tried to stay positive and smiled and nodded as we backed out of the long driveway.

It didn’t take long for the chinks in the armor to begin to show. Cindy ran into Joe’s wife Donna at the local muffler shop and she was working out payment terms with the proprietor that was not too happy that Donna hadn’t told him of her money shortage until after the car was done being serviced. Cindy was in for an oil change and approached Donna by saying we had forgotten to buy them a house warming present and could she split this bill with her. Donna graciously accepted and walked out with her head high but as confidence between women is often without pride or prejudice, they were no sooner in the parking lot when Donna broke in to tears and began to tell the story.

Joe had been unable to finance the house as the “add-ons” occurred and her parents had to second-mortgage their house to back up the loan the bank had required. They were one paycheck away from losing it all and if not for her parents backing them up, they’d be in an apartment at best right now.

Fact is Joe had no business buying that house. He didn’t have the money to make the purchase let alone anticipate problems from exploding in his face. One misstep and it was a dive off a cliff and his family would be forced to follow. This risk he took was on the backs of others. He did have the money, when he began to build, to buy a regular house off the market though. What makes people take that extra step and push the margin closer to disaster? Why do they assume it is okay to assume others will make up for their indulgences?

Nick was from the old school. He was my co-worker on a summer crew and was 10 or 12 years older than the rest of the guys. We worked manual labor jobs for a landscape company and he was the most colorful guy. He was always mocking the younger guys that we didn’t know about what it took to be a “real man.” At lunch we would break out sandwich wraps and water bottles and he would chug a full gallon of convenience store iced tea and eat a “hoagie” loaded with salty lunch meats and cheeses. He’d belch and gag his way through lunch taking bites too big to swallow and halfway through the afternoon he’d fatigue as his body was working to process all that food and sugar.

When his son graduated high school he invited all the guys to the backyard graduation party and there he put on the same show. He ate like it was his last meal and drank more than iced tea. He was asleep in a lawn chair when we left and his wife had a very worried look on her face. “He lives life to the fullest,” she smiled as we thanked her for the hospitality.

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