Few things are as all-encompassing as being part of a group of people who are on the same wavelength. It’s a feeling of belonging you can’t get any other way.
Last week, I found myself in such a group. All because of Chet the Unhandyman.
What happened was Chet got a new job. Financially, it was everything anyone in Paradise could hope for. Full time. Health insurance. Pension. The highest hourly rate for unskilled labor in this part of the state. All for operating a forklift all day.
OK, there was a slight downside. Chet’s forklift would be carrying hazardous material. Extremely hazardous material.
“Don’t touch it!”
“Don’t eat it!”
“Don’t even breathe it!”
Chet’s risk was his friends’ gain. Right after Chet said he’d been hired, Dwayne the Earth Mover called me excitedly. “I’ve been thinking about how Chet’s job could shorten his life expectancy,” he said, “and I’ve got an idea.”
“What kind of idea?”
“Insurance,” Dwayne said.
“Life insurance. What say we take a policy out with us as the beneficiaries? This job’s bound to kill him in a few years, and we’ll all collect.”
“Doesn’t sound right to me,” I said.
“Chet owes you money, right?” said Dwayne. “This way you’re sure to get it. Think about it, OK?”
An hour later, Brannigan the Contractor roared into our clearing. Jumped out of his truck. Stuck his hand into the mouth of Belle, our dog who always bites him. “Let’s get this over with!” he said.
Belle obliged with a crunch. Brannigan laughed. “I love this dog! And I love Chet!”
“You love Chet?” I said. “Why?”
“Didn’t Dwayne call you about the insurance policy? Isn’t it perfect? Chet’s gonna make us rich!”
Before I could reply, Gwen the Beautiful came out on the front porch. “James Marshall’s on the phone. He said he’s got the insurance information you need.”
James Marshall is a part-time insurance agent in Paradise. Here on the Mountain he’s known as, “that fast-talking SOB who keeps trying to sell us what we don’t need.” I turned to Brannigan questioningly. “Yes!” Brannigan said. “This boy is sharp! I only called him 15 minutes ago.”
Gwen handed me the phone. James Marshall went right into his pitch. “Here’s how we have to do it. You’ll be the beneficiary. That’s because you’re the only one with what we call an insurable interest in Chet. Because he works for you, the law assumes you want him alive â€””
“I do want him alive!”
“Sure. We all do. But you, Brannigan, Dwayne and I will be paying for hundred thousand-dollar term insurance at the rate of $10 a month each …”
James Marshall broke off.
“Got another call. Hold on a minute.”
A minute later, he came back. “That was Tommy from Chicago,” he said. “He wants in too. Oops, hold on …”
Three more “Oops’s” later, James Marshall’s math had changed. “Let’s see now. With Tommy, Doug the Dog Breeder, Lily the Librarian and Old Fred aboard, we can double the payoff to two hundred thousand. And then, when Chet joins the dearly departed, you give us each our share.”
“I don’t even know Doug the Dog Breeder,” I said.
“Oh, he’s a good ol’ boy,” said James Marshall. “You’ll get along fine.”
Chet started his new job last Monday. Wednesday all the “partners” gathered at our ranch to watch me sign the insurance policy.
To make sure I went through with it even though Gwen and I both had our qualms. At the time, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do.
James Marshall laid the policy on the kitchen table. Dwayne the Earth Mover thrust a pen at me. And then the telephone rang.
“Let it ring!” Brannigan roared.
But Gwen answered, handed it to me.
“Hello, this is Nurse Rollins at Baxter Regional Medical Center. There’s a patient in the emergency room by the name of Chet the Unhandyman. He wants you to know he won’t be home tonight. He fell off his forklift and broke his foot.”
And there it ended.
Our group had no choice but to disband. From now on, I’m calling him Chet the Escape Artist. Once again, he’s lost a job in the first three days. But this time it may well have kept him alive.
And, almost as importantly in these parts, it kept me from disappointing the boys.
Larry Brody is an author, veteran television writer and producer and creative director of Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts. He, his wife and their dogs, cats, horses and chickens live in Marion County. The other residents of the mythical town of Paradise reside in his imagination, however, and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Originally published February 22, 2006