Friday, February 29, 2008

Bridge to the Future

Dedicated to Malka bat Sima – may she have a speedy and complete convalescence.

Two stories this week – one for kids and one for adults.

Story for kids -

A poor man named Shlomi lived in Bialystok is praying for help in supporting his family. “Please God,” he pleads, “Help me support my family! I’m willing to go anywhere, try anything, just guide me!”

That night he has a dream. In his dream he’s digging under a certain bridge in Warsaw and finds a box of gold coins.

“This is my sign!” he decides, and sets out, with his shovel, on the long journey to Warsaw.

When he arrives in Warwaw he has two problems. “First of all,” he realizes, “I have no idea which bridge was in my dream. Second of all, even if I find the bridge, how can I just start digging? It will surely raise suspicion. Oh well, I’ll cross that bridge when I find it.”

So he starts searching bridges. It takes him several days but he finally finds the bridge of his dream. “OK, now what?” Shlomi realizes that his only hope is to dig at night, when no one is around. So he impatiently waits until nightfall. In those days, people didn’t stay out much after dark, so by about 10:00 the streets were deserted. Shlomi started to dig.

And dig.

And dig.

And dig.

“Still no box of gold. Not even a nickel! What am I doing here? Am I crazy? No, I’m not crazy, just a fool.”

Suddenly there was someone standing over him – a night watchman!

“What are you doing? Why are you digging here? I’ve been watching you for the past hour, you have been digging and digging! What in the world are you looking for?”

Shlomi didn’t know what to do. Should I tell the truth? But he won’t believe me. But I cannot lie... So he decided to tell the truth.

“You’re not going to believe me, but I will tell you the truth. I had a dream that there was a box of gold coins under this bridge.”

The watchman laughed and laughed, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! You silly man, you think your dreams mean something? If I believed my dreams I’d be in Bialystok right now looking for gold under the floorboards of some Yid named Shlomi. Now go home and stop being such a dreamer.”

Shlomi couldn’t believe his ears. He rushed home as fast as he could and sure enough, under the floorboards under his bed, he found a box of gold coins.

Story for adults -

Q: What’s the best way to get rid of an old junk car without having to pay towing fees or deal with the state red tape?

A: Donate it to a small and under-funded non-profit organization.

We joined a national car donation program a few years ago, and every once in a while someone designates their jalopy to JSL and we get a letter telling us that our net proceeds after the towing and commission were $0.00.

So in December, for the first time, someone donated a car that was actually worth something. And it was local, not through this national service, which means no service fees.

In theory.

It was a 1998 Buick LeSabre, and looked pretty good! (see the blog version of Table Talk for photos). The Blue Book value was about $3,500.

Not bad, right?

You’re waiting to hear the catch.

The first catch was that the donor is an immigrant whose English is challenged, and he erroneously signed the wrong part of the title, and lives in another state. So getting a new title issued and signed by him was a challenge.

The second catch is that the car needed some repairs. In retrospect, we should have tried to sell it at a big discount “as is”, but who knew?

In any event, I had no idea how log it would take to find a buyer, so I put a blurb on craigslist and soon enough I had a guy, Steve, who said he’s been looking for this model and year Buick for a long time. Problem was that his top dollar was $2,000, far below the KBB value. And no, he wasn’t interested in a car that needed work.

So we took it to a mechanic who did not charge an arm and a leg, about $600. While this is going on, and the state inspection, we’re still waiting for the new title and Steve is calling about every other day.

Finally, in early February, we thought we were good to go and phoned up Steve.

Steve comes for a test drive. He’s happy.

Then he takes it to his mechanic. His mechanic found a couple problems. Steve’s unhappy.

Our mechanic says, those are minor problems, but we figure we’ve got to get rid of this car, so let’s get them fixed. Another $230.

At this point, after going to all this trouble, Steve stops answering our calls. Can’t get ahold of him.

Back to craigslist, and we found another buyer, a teenager named Nathan who wanted a Buick for his first car.

Nathan comes with his parents, test drives. Nathan’s happy.

There is one problem. While trying to adjust the side mirror, which is sticking, the mirror breaks.

We decide that the mirror was old and we should fix it. Nathan agrees that if we fix it, he’ll buy the car, and we arrange to meet on Sunday afternoon to close the deal (this is last Sunday).

This will be my first personal involvement with this car. Until now, it was handled by my staff. But I’m the only one who works on Sunday.

So I show up Sunday afternoon, meet Nathan, Tall friendly hobbledehoy type of kid. I hand him the keys and the title, and just before he hands me the check, his father discovers that the car won’t start. Battery is completely dead. This is a new battery.

It turns out that the mechanic erred when installing the new mirror and caused a drain on the battery. But in the meantime, Nathan went elsewhere and found a different car.

And then, suddenly yesterday one of my staff member’s next-door-neighbor sees the ad, phones, and before the day is out we have a check in hand for our asking price.

Did you ever find that the resolution to a problem is often right under your nose?

Shabbat Shalom.

Travel/speaking schedule:

March 4-6 – San Francisco and Los Angeles
April 3 - St. Louis
April 7 - Baltimore

For details, send an email!


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