Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cloyce and my used Model C

I remember a time when I was 16 or 17 that Pops handed over to me a used Electric Eel Model C drain cleaning machine which he had taken in on trade, and told me to clean it up for sale. With it, for honestly the first time in my life, I went all out on a work project. I really put my heart into the job.

I took the motor off the frame, and washed all the grime off both. I painted the motor gray and the frame royal blue, just as they painted them at the Eel factory. I rewired it and installed new wheels. When I was finished with it that baby looked sharp. She was dressed to the nines. I was truly proud of my work. Pops was too. That made me feel very good.

A few days later a regular customer, I'll call him Cloyce just to give him a name, came by. I was busied at some project at a work bench in the middle of the Shop, the old barn where I still work. "Bill,' I heard Cloyce say to my father, "Have you got any used Models Cs?"

My heart sank right to floor. It went right through my boots.

You see, Cloyce was a great guy and a good customer. He never debated nor asked for better prices. He just bought what he wanted and said thank you. But man oh man, he was one lousy drain cleaner. He lost more cables in more sewers than you might think it possible for any one man to lose. I think he lost more snake cable in a given year than entire companies would. He abused his equipment in ways and manners worse than any person I've ever, ever known. In the museum of incompetent plumbers, yes, I mean this, is a solid gold, life size statue of Cloyce. He was simply not good at his job. It remains a wonder to me how he ever got work. Who would refer this guy?

And Pops was going to sell him my Model C.

He couldn't not not sell the man the machine. I get that. We were, are still, in the business of selling new and used drain snakes, and Cloyce's money was as good as anyone else's. Plus, his poor skills weren't our fault. He had to sell the unit. As he took Cloyce's money Pops, for the only time in his life, looked over at me with a sheepish, embarrassed, pained look which plainly said, 'I'm sorry, son'.

Cloyce wheeled that Eel out the door with a bright smile, while I was truly morose. You know those classic theater masks, the grinning one which represents comedy and the crying one which spoke tragedy? I learned that moment how tragedy felt.

Within a month Cloyce brought that Model C into the Shop for a switch or something. The front swivel caster was gone and the frame broken off so that the drive shaft had no support. The paint was scratched and grime covered my first child. I swear it looked up at me in despair and whispered pathetically, "Shoot me."

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