Promises, Promises

by Jake Block

I guess I’m getting cranky in my old age, but you know, one of these days, I’m going to start calling in markers on debts payable.  This applies specifically to those debts owed me by people who will promise me anything when they need my services in one way or another, and then have a memory lapse immediately, once they’ve gained what they needed.  It’s bad enough when anyone stiffs you on a promise, but worst of all is when it’s done by friends and the closest of your associates.  It does’t really matter to me whether it’s mowing my lawn or just buying me a cup of coffee.  They expect my part of the bargain to be completed, but somehow feel that theirs is optional.

 
I’ve been burned by people that were risky investments of my time, money or effort, and you have to expect that if you are going to be available to provide “services” of some kind, you’re going to run into a deadbeat once in a while.  I lost $500 to a guy who was a good friend of mine with car problems back in the 70s… he needed a way to get back and forth to the base for duty.  He knew I had it, and we had been friends, so he reached out for my help.  Now, for those of you who were too young to remember the mid 70s, $500 was a good chunk of change.  Allowing for inflation, that $500 in 1975 would be $2,365.67 in today’s dollars.  But Gary was “a good guy,” so I took a chance and gave him the money he needed with the promise that he would repay it in equal payments of $125 for the next four months.  A promissory note?  No.  A handshake between friends was all I needed, so I handed him the cash and he walked off into the outer darkness and got on the plane to his new assignment in Thailand.
 
I helped a woman I worked with to the tune of $300 when she found that her paycheck just wasn’t going to cover a child’s dental work, in the 1990’s.  I’d worked with her for some time, and we had become friends.  She taught me the ropes in a job I landed after I retired from the military, and we’d been friends.  So, I helped her out and she promised to pay me $100 a month for 3 months.  The first month, she was short on money and promised to pay double the next month.  The next month she had another excuse but could pay me the full amount with her next paycheck.  Three days later, I came into work and found her among the missing.  She had quit her job and moved on to parts unknown.  There was a thank you card in my in basket.
 
I’ve been burned.  It happens, and all you can do is chalk it up to experience and, like the Who, and I can hear them singing in the background…
 
“Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

 
It’s not all about the money.  Money is a tool, you can use it to build things like trust and commitment and loyalties, or you can throw it down a rat hole.  I would say that having been burned in my younger years has paid dividends that make me a wiser and more circumspect man today.  I’m not nearly as eager or ready to help people financially, these days, even though $300 or $500 means less to me today than it did back then.  I can still be quite generous when the cause is worthwhile and the person asking is a proven commodity in terms of their track record for being trustworthy and honorable as a friend or associate.  But even then, I’m not going to just pull out my wallet unless I am reasonably certain that I’ll be repaid in cash or services that I need.  A simple promise most probably won’t get it done these days unless you’re close physically, and closer still in my circle of trust.
 
Beyond money, I do things for people that are of value to them, and they often promise to do something for me in payment or appreciation for my efforts.  Now this can be anything from buying me a cup of coffee to performing some small service for me that would mean something to me as an act of gratitude, friendship or love.  As Don Corleone said in The Godfather, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.  But until that day, consider this justice as a gift…
 
The Godfather was generous when he gave his word and provided his service.  But he was also a man of honor who expected promises made to be promises kept when requested.  So there we have it, and if I’ve done you a service and you’ve promised me a service in return, when I call upon you… you’ve promised me a dance, so put your dancing shoes on and boogie down!
 
Cue up Helen Reddy singin’ “Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep.
The Orders of The Sect of the Horned God

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