The One Phone Call Rule

I can’t remember where I learned this, but it has served me well over the years.  

I was thinking of one of my old friends in Rock Hall.  He’s an extrovert.  He’s confident and he’s been extremely successful in his career.  I’m not sure exactly what his professional work was, but to hear others tell it, it was mostly about dealing with people.  Dealing with people in tense situations, a company in distress, or a company on the verge of bankruptcy.  He worked for a management consulting firm.  We all work for management consulting firms.  But he’s good at it.  There would be winners and losers.  It was my neighbor friend who’s job it was to sort it all out.  Someone who was an extrovert and is confident in themself and their ability to save as many jobs as possible.  Rumor was, many an employee owes their job to my neighbor.  For this, companies paid, and in my government experience, handsomely.  Back in Rock Hall, if I needed to make one phone call, it would be to him.

Now, I’m not usually drawn to confident extroverts who have formed unflinching opinions.  Especially when we have politically opposite leanings.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  Even if that cover is good looking.  Good looking as told by several of the greying ladies of Rock Hall.  

Anyway, I was thinking of my neighbor and these memories came back.

Now, I’ve tried very hard not to put politics in my posts.  If I did, I would surely lose half of the few readers I have.  More importantly, I’d lose me and then what would you do?  The other thing I try and avoid is unsolicited advice.  Nobody wants advice from an old guy.  I know I don’t.  It took me sixty-five years to form my uniformed opinions and a lifetime of mistakes to learn not to touch a hot stove.  What the hell do I know?

Anyway, I want to share this rule that has served me well.  So much for taking my own advice.

I can’t remember how I adopted this and none of these examples are related, but here’s my one phone call rule.  If you need something and a friend has the means, it should take only one phone call.

Sometimes in your life you might need help.  I don’t mean the kind of help like, “hey neighbor, can I borrow a rake?”  Come to think of it why the hell didn’t you return my rake?  I mean the kind of help like, “Hey. it’s snowing, and my car just died on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Can you come get me?”  Choose wisely grasshopper.  Your cell phone is dying, and the tow truck still hasn’t arrived.  Who’s that one friend who would drive fifty miles in a blizzard to pick you up.  Would you?  Would I?  I hope I would.

It is better to have one friend who would make the drive than a hundred who wouldn’t.  The hundred who wouldn’t make the drive would never say no outright.  They’d have a canned excuse, one already in the chamber.  “I just washed my hair.”  “The final episode of Sex in the City just started.”  When you get any sense of hesitation, any sort of follow up questioning, just hang up.  Hang up and move on.  

Example #1.  Once, I was sitting in the middle seat on my return flight from Rochester, NY.  It was winter, the blizzard had just started, and my flight had to make a stop in Buffalo.  Buffalo is a hellhole of a city and gets about eighty- seven feet more snow than Rochester.  They get more snow because their football team sucks.  I was sitting on the tarmac in Rochester when my government cellphone buzzed.  It was Tom Potts.  Tom was the Photo Lab Chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency.  His lab did everything from military reconnaissance processing to all the film for the military attachés around the world.  Very hush hush.  Tom was out of money to buy film and chemistry.  We were just starting the ramp up for the Persian Gulf and our military’s prime reconnaissance lab was out of money.  

One of my jobs at the time, was to manage a consolidated contract for buying film and chemistry from Eastman Kodak.  Numerous federal agencies would send me money and I would manage the consolidated contract.  My contracting officer was a single, middle-aged woman and strictly “by the book.”  She followed the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) to the letter.  While I managed the technical aspects of the contract, she was the only one who could legally bind the US Government into contract.  Now, normally the rule was “no ticket, no laundry.”  If you didn’t have money in your account with me, you didn’t get a Kodak cookie.  “But the FAR didn’t say we couldn’t,” I said.”  “But it’s not right.”  She said.  “Well, I don’t want to go to jail.”  I said. “How about we balance the books at the end of the year and anything unfunded we cover as quality control for Kodak.  Kodak has been known to screw up.  We need our labs to check on the contractor.  That’s our bill, the NRO’s, not the other agencies.”  I said.

Author’s note.  Kodak did have a history of screwing up their film or chemistry.  I think it was in 1902.  

“I can make that work.”  She said. 

Back to the flight from hell, or the north pole, whichever.  Sitting on the tarmac, my cellphone went off.  It was Tom from DIA.  I hung up and called “by the book lady.”  “Move $3 Million to Tom’s account now.”  I hung up.  The people around me overheard the conversation.  The couple in the row in front on me were whispering.  “Nope, not drugs.  That’s all I’ll say.”  I said.  Everyone went back to their own business.  I arrived back in DC safely.  A few months later, the war started.  Tom’s lab was hopping.

The agency this lady worked for gave her a big award.  Something about one phone call to her boss’s boss made it happen.  The government gave her a few thousand dollars for helping the war effort.  More importantly, she kept me out of jail.

Example #2.  I kid Jason about this incident sometimes.  I also kid Lillian’s cousin Robert.  Robert is a cop in Gilbert Arizona.  Robert has been lifting weights since he was two and is no stranger to physical altercations.  While Jason was there for me, Robert was back in Arizona, arresting bad guys.  Slacker.  He wished he was with me.  Years later when relaying this story to Robert, he wished he could have been there for me.  If ever I really needed help.  My one phone call would be to Robert.  He’s that kind of person.  

Jason is over six feet and has me by several pounds.  In the many years since this story, I can proudly say that I’m catching up in weight but sadly not in inches.  Lillian, Jason, and I had just landed at LAX when we learned of a crisis at Grandma’s house.  Grandma has lived alone for over twenty years.  Tony died in 1995 and Grandma has been alone ever sense.  Occasionally, to break the boredom, she would take in a houseguest. Not cats, but people who need a temporary place to stay.  Jennifer stayed for a time when she moved to California to pursue her master’s degree.  Robert stayed a bit as well.  Now, Grandma’s house is small.  Two bedrooms.  The third is now a den.  The den used to be Lillian’s bedroom.  Grandma has been known to take in houseguests but after a time she tires of them and wants her space back.  

The current houseguest was a family friend from Germany.  He was in his early fifties or late forties, or I really can’t remember.  Anyway, this guy was now scaring Grandma.  He slept most of the day, had some shady business dealings and he was “hitting” on the neighbor lady.  Grandma was scared he might rob her or even hurt her.  She wanted him out of her house, she wanted him out now.  

It’s an hour drive from LAX to Grandma’s house.  While Lillian talked to her mother and got the sordid details, she told her we’d help her get rid of the jerk as soon as we arrived.  While Jason rode in the backseat, he didn’t say a word.  Jason has a habit of not paying attention to things that are none of his business.  I drove and formulated my plan.  The creep extraction plan.  

Upon arrival, I didn’t say hello, I didn’t say anything.  I just went to the bedroom of the creep.  It was one in the afternoon and the bum was still sleeping.  “Wake up and get the hell out.”  I yelled.  Sitting on the living room couch with Grandma and Lillian who then yelled at Jason.  “Go help your father.”  Slowly, Jason got up.  Actually, it only took him a few steps to get to the bedroom door.  Jason is big and Grandma’s house isn’t.  Jason politely moved me aside.  When he finally opened the door, the creep saw nothing but Jason.  Pushing the creep out of the way, Jason told the guy. “Get your shit and get out.  Your scaring Grandma and she wants you to leave immediately.”  

Dazed and confused the guy started arguing in German.  Realizing that conversation was highly overrated, Jason started to pick up the creep’s clothes and shoving them into the guy’s chest.  Suddenly, the language barrier dropped.  The guy got the message.  Looking at Jason’s fist he decided to take what he had and get out of the house.  He arrived at this decision because Jason had picked him up and carried him to the door. Once outside I sat next to Grandma, and she began yelling at me.  “Maybe he could stay?  He’s not that bad.”  “A little late.” I said.  Then Lillian started yelling at me.  “Why aren’t you outside with Jason?  Go help your son.”  He’s fine I said.  “Get out there!”  “Fine.”  I walked over to the door.  By this time the guy was picking numerous pieces of clothing up from the street.  He was still dazed and confused.  Jason was telling him to get in his car and go.  As he drove away, Jason was still throwing articles of clothing at him.  We never saw him again.

Example #3.  In 2007, Lillian broke her ankle as she tried to load our boat for a long-planned trip to the Bahamas.  She didn’t just break her ankle, she shattered her tibia, fibula, and angle bone.  When I ran back down the dock to get her, she was holding her foot up like it was no longer attached.  “Look at my foot.”  She was going into shock.  I ran and got ice and then called Bruce.  You could trust Bruce with your life.  Bruce and Kathy were the first neighbors we met when we moved to Rock Hall.  Bruce was a fellow Airman.  Over way too many drinks Bruce and I would exchange war stories.  “There I was peeling potatoes at 4 o’clock in the morning.  He served as a crew chief during the Vietnam War.  He still had a few scars.  We really didn’t have anything in common.  One phone call to Bruce was the only one needed.  He rushed over and we rushed Lillian to the emergency room, sixteen miles away.  No time to call an ambulance.  Sadly, both Bruce and Kathy are now gone.  Good people make good friendships.  Bruce and Kathy were the best.  

If I could only make one phone call.  It would be to Jason, or Robert or just a few others just like them.

Got to run.  I hear the phone ringing.


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