It all began like this:
Day 0: txt
Hi, it’s Mike. Could you pls do me a massive favour?
Stuck in [place] w/ no $s (long story). Got to get to [place] before [time] 4 [job]. Can you put [let’s call it $150, ok?] on my [account] asap & i repay sun nite?
I don’t know if I made it clear, but Mike runs a small business. Well – sole proprietorship really. He does roof resealing (he is not affiliated with any roofing franchise that may run charmingly regional ads on tv). It’s often a cash business, and we all get caught short occasionally. $150 is not a lot of money – the resealing job would more than cover it – so no probs.
Well. Here’s the thing.
You see, Mike does my roof occasionally. A bit of tar, some flashing, replaces a few tiles (you know, from all the hail). Definitely does a great job – no question. Charges me [let’s pretend it’s] $100, which is more than fair. Absolutely – no problems there. But over the past while, well, I’ve been making less use of Mike’s business than previously. My roof is well and truly middle aged, these days, and aside from the occasional service mostly has all the waterproofing it needs. Even the other jobs around the house – for which I have seen other tradesmen – need doing less often than when the house was new.
Other thing is this: on prior occasions, Mike has been proactive in reminding me that my roof was due. For myself, I feel that it’s my roof, and I decide when it needs a fresh layer of tar, not someone else. On those occasions I’ve wussed out and agreed … but, I think it might have been obvious that I wasn’t 100% happy about the salesmanship being directed at me, and not as proud and pleased to have a nice watertight roof. Yes, I understand that the man has a business, and I am a customer. But still. If anyone has relatives that sell Amway, you know what I mean.
So. A hundred fifty bucks. Obviously, Mike would prefer to repay me in kind. Frankly, I didn’t like the idea. While I’m happy to lend a dollar to a mate in temporary trouble, if I lend him some cash, and he pays me back by doing the roof, well – what’s the difference between that and simply paying in advance for a service which I may or may not require? Furthermore, it’s very unlikely that Mike would do the roof for the usual hundred and give me the additional fifty – it’s be awkward, you know? So not only am I (effectively) paying in advance, but there’s a 50% rate hike as well. Sure – it’d be a premium service, but my roof – I decide.
And … where does it end? “Oh mate, I need to borrow another $150, I’ll do the roof again, ok? Oh mate, you’ll never believe it, I need $500 – I will completely redo your roof, no worries. Oh mate, mate, can you spare a couple of grand? I’ll pay you back [in roofing work].” Pretty soon you’ve spent ten grand and maybe have the tightest roof in town, but it’s ten grand that you’d perhaps rather have spent on other things, simply because you were too gutless to say “Why no, Mike, I would prefer not to be your go-to guy for spare cash this month.” It’s a bit like domestic violence: you have to move out the very first time your partner strikes you, or wind up a battered wife. Boundaries, people – boundaries.
But hey – maybe I’m blowing it all out of proportion. Maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe I’m being ridiculous.
So here’s the question: is Mike borrowing emergency cash from a mate? Or is he trying to milk a client for spare change? Which am I, to Mike? A mate, or a customer?
Well, nothing could be easier than to find out. It’s simply down to whether or not Mike paid me back like he said he would.
Sunday night came and went. And the next week or two. I did not contact Mike, nor have any work done. Turns out that the house doesn’t really need all that much maintenance, and for the little bit of occasional DIY there’s instructions on the internet.
Day 20: facebook
Dude, I’ll come over and do the roof this weekend! Pay you back.
Any chance of just doing it as cash?
Is there some kind of problem?
Now, to be fair to Mike I hadn’t told him or even suggested that I would not be happy having the roof done as repayment, or why.
(I’m not writing this post in sequence, so there’s a bit of “Pulp Fiction” narrative choppyness to deal with. Looking back through our correspondence, here’s where it really started to go wrong. I did not reply to the actual issue “is there some kind of problem?” for a week. Perhaps if I had, things would be different now.)
Day 20: facebook
Day 21: facebook
[Some bullshit excuse for not replying]
Day 22: facebook
Talk to me. dude. Spill it.
Finally, I got around to being a trifle more up-front about the issues (you know, dredging up these messages has left me not looking as good as I thought it would.)
Day 28: email
The issue is – I would like you to pay me back in cash. Yes, you’ll get it back from me in the fullness of time. But I’d like to keep the “lending you money because you were in trouble and asked for an emergency loan” separate from the “paying for services” thing. I’d also like to feel that it is not always true that if you lend money to a roofing contractor, you never see it again. At least not in your case.
Regardless of how much it goes against the grain for you to hand cash to me, that’s kinda where things stand.
You have my number, *****, we can do coffee any day.
Ok, so dredging up the tired old stereotype of the money-sucking roofing contractor was low. And looking back on it now, a bit out of left field for poor old Mike – I hadn’t mentioned a thing about it up till now.
But I was “pissed”, as the americans say. Piqued. I’d worked myself into a righteous lather. First it’s, like, “Dude, I’ll pay you back Sunday!”, I hear nothing for three weeks, and when I suggest “Umm, I’d kinda like the money, really” it’s like “Dude, you have some sort of problem?” Although in all fairness – I did, and looking back on the correspondence that’s not quite the way it happened.
To continue: I got this back. In 24-point font, by the way, although I’m sure that was inadvertent.
Day 30: email
Oh right. Roofing contractor = doesn’t repay debts. You read that in Wikipedia?
You obviously have some issue with me that you haven’t mentioned. I’ll pay you off in installments. What’s yr bank account?
Now to be fair, he was right about un-dealt-with issues simmering below the surface of our amity. Some of them not his fault at all. I had discovered recently that I will simply never get for my house the price I want, no matter how leak-free the roof. And I lent my car to a dude who – last we spoke – agreed that paying rego was fair if he’s going to borrow it for months on end; but I haven’t heard anything from him recently, either. I’m in Tuggeranong tomorrow, with luck I’ll be able to deal with it then.
Neverthless. The situation now is “I’ll pay you back $150 in installments“, when he thought nothing of texting me “Shit, bro, I need $150 within the next 2 hours, can you spot me the cash?”.
I also misinterpreted “You haven’t followed up this other gulf that lies between us” as “you haven’t chased up this loan”. So I began chasing it up. Once a fortnight.
Day 32: email
Ta, that will be fine. Bank account is *****.
t would be good if you could let me know when you make a transfer, otherwise I’ll have to scan my account regularly to find out.
Day 47: email
Hi, me again. I thought I might pester you about this again, as it’s been a couple of weeks, so here’s an email.
Day 62: email
Hi again. It’s been another fortnight. Hope your business is going great, and looking forward to the return of our little loan.
You see the – rather funny, in retrospect – warning signs: the messages getting just a little bit less civil with each passing fortnight.
Anyway, by day 77 and not a word from Mike, not a peep about this “massive favour” I had done him, I had about fucking had enough. And so I spewed:
Day 77: email
Well, once again I write to remind you about the loan of $150 that I made to your business, over six weeks ago. It’s surprising and a little alarming that your business doesn’t manage to clear 25 bucks a week. Perhaps a regular job might be the go. A little nine to five, hmm?
The alternative, I suppose, is that paying back people who help you out when you ring them and tell them that you urgently need help – as in “OMG can you spot me some cash within the hour” – is not a big priority for you. You’re a family man, of course, and so always have a ready excuse for treating people shabbily. It does, however, put a fresh perspective on those stories you have told me about all the terrible users and deadbeats around you, and how dreadful they are, and how you are the responsible and – dare I say it – honourable one. It also puts a fascinating slant on your outrage at my reply to your accusation that I have some sort of problem with you:
“Oh right. Roofing contractor = doesn’t repay debts. You read that in Wikipedia?”
Wikipedia or not, you have given me no reason to doubt it.
So rather than explaining and justifying yourself, rather than getting all outraged, rather than accusing me of having some kind of problem, how’s about you just pay back a loan of a hundred and fifty bucks? It’s amazing that I have to point this out, but: I am not the bad guy here.
And so begins the terminal stage of this regrettable saga. Because that did, finally, get a response.
Actually, I can’t be bothered to go through the whole business any further – it was weeks ago now and care-factor near zero. Mike un-friended me on facebook. I just got a txt indicating that he may be leaving town, but I’m pretty sure it was a bulk mailout to all his clients and I accidentally happen to be on the list in his phone.
Mike, obviously, is a woman. And the thing about women is: they will peg you as having some particular role in their life pretty much as soon as they meet you, and it doesn’t change (unless your name is Darcy and she later finds out that you are worth a fortune). To “Mike”, I was a source of money. An income stream. When that is the case, the money only ever goes in one direction.
I suspected, I knew, that Mike would never, never pay me back. Oh there’d be protest, there’d be argument, there’d be drama, there’d be all manner of smokescreen, but the one thing there would never be is a return of a loan of a hundred fifty bucks as a smallish wad of folding stuff handed for her to me. Nuts, right? She’d get it all back almost immediately. And if not, well – it’s no more than paying back a smallish emergency loan. Why the big deal? Why the problem?
Because for her, that act – the act of dipping her hand into her purse, pulling out some notes, and handing them to me – would be anathema. It would feel to her to be deeply, deeply almost morally wrong to do such a thing. Worse than incest.
You see: it’s not that a roofing contractor does not pay his debts. They can be excellent businesspersons. It’s that a roofing contractor never, never gives money to a client: never gives a refund, begrudges even handing over change (what, you never heard of a tip?). Money goes to the franchise owner, but never to the client. And a client is what I always was.
Oh, I’ve had a series of mails and txts, all saying “Ok, I’ll pay you back, you total bastard!”, but it isn’t going to happen. I’ve been told that I think a hundred fifty bucks is worth more than our friendship. Hilarious, I know – isn’t that exactly what Mike herself had decided? There’s none so blind as they who will not see. I have apologised for the way I have expressed myself, but Mike reckons it’s not a real apology. I suspect the only apology she is likely to accept is one involving my saying “Look, forget about the $150” – which I just will not do.
At the end of the day, despite all her protestations, she has behaved precisely as I guessed she would. She remains flabbergasted that I could take a stand about how I am being treated. I think that what galls Ms People-Person, Ms Cynical and Perceptive, Ms Self-Aware Self-Motivated business woman who though that she could maneuver me into patronising her business by pleading mateship is this: I was right about her; and she was wrong about me.
Three people in my life over the past six months or so. Mike has not done the right thing by me. Adrian has, despite us having had a personal falling-out a couple of years back. I think it’s a guy thing: I owed money to D&D (a couple I knew) years ago, and there were personal issues, a big blow-up. But I paid them back, simply because I owed them, despite my feelings. I also did not want to cheapen my (rather silly) righteous anger by using it as an excuse to keep my cash.
The remaining person has undertaken to return my car to me on the 21st. We’ll see, although I am pretty confident about that one.
Update: car was returned, no worries. I suppose it leaves Jeff in the lurch, a bit, but the man had six months to arrange something for himself, and an additional 28 days from the time I said “Dude – car. 21st.” I won’t feel bad about it.
Day 135: email
Well, I was all prepared to pay your [$150] Paul, regardless of what you may think. I had even gone to the trouble of sorting the fifties out with the windows matching in one corner. THEN… I made the mistake of reading your blog.
Well, well, well… what an eye-opener THAT was!
Instead of reinforcing all the good things about you, it simply concurred with your initially voiced true opinion of me, which you have since tried to limply deny. I don’t think I need to say anything further regarding it, or the reasons why I am NOT going to pay your [$150] now. Far be it for me to dispel one of your entrenched belief systems about women and [roofing contractors]. God forbid… I think your head might actually become unscrewed.
Sigh. More of the same. Only one thing really matters: “I am NOT going to pay your [$150] now”. Why not? Especially when she’d gone to all the trouble of lining up the bills? My feeling is that a necessary and sufficient condition for repaying someone money that you owe is that you owe them. But here we have some weird inside out justification for not doing it – no, I don’t understand the “reasons” for it. Unless I do, in fact, understand perfectly well.
No wonder she was reduced to asking for a loan from me – a mere acquaintance and client – when that’s how she treats people who do her a “massive favour”. All she ever had to do was say “Paul! Here’s your $150, ta, thank you – it really helped me out when I was in a difficult spot.” But no: denials, delays, drama, and finally “Ah ha! Now I have the excuse I was looking for!” Cross one more person off the list of people willing to do you a favour when you ring them out of the blue on a Saturday morning, Mike. That list must be getting hellish short.
On receiving her last email, I resisted the mild temptation to reply: “Yes, Mike, I know. I knew it right from the very beginning.” I have not attempted to contact her since.