We hire the unhirable

Published: February 16, 2016 - by Dan Holohan

cantalope

So we've been telling each other for years that not many young people are coming into this fascinating industry of ours.

When I was still doing seminars I would ask for a show of hands of those who were under 30 years old. I'd get a couple of waves, but that was about it. Not much interest in working this hard.

            Big concern, right?  Who will be there to do the work if so few are stepping up now?

            But there are other concerns as well. A contractor buddy had an applicant that looked great to him. My guy gave the young fellow a skills test, which he passed like a champ. He could also pick up pen and paper and write whole sentences, without abbreviating anything (Dats gud 2). He had no tattoos above the neck. He had a driver's license, and he had never been in prison. Great.

            "I'd like to hire you," my friend said. "But you'll have to take a drug test first. That's not a problem, is it?"
            "Uh, no, not a problem," the happy applicant said. "But can you give me like 10 days?"

            Seriously.

            So if those who are truly qualified aren't coming into the heating industry because the work may seem too demanding or not fashionable, where are they going?  I wondered about this as I food shopped with my son-in-law, John, who is a Stanford-graduate mechanical engineer, and very smart. John is also very precise and approaches shopping with a plan - and a spec. We do not rush through the aisles. John reads labels and spends a lot of time considering the specifics of produce.  Everything needs to be just so.  

            On this trip, one of the items on John's list was Saucy Susan, which is an old-school duck sauce that has been around longer than I have been on the planet. The Lovely Marianne and our daughter, Meghan, were waiting at home for us with Ava, our grandgirl. Saucy Susan was for a special recipe, and we had best come home with it, along with everything else on that list.

            So where in a large grocery store would guys like John and me find Saucy Susan?

            No it wasn't in that aisle. Or that one either.

            Nope, not in Spices, or in International Foods.

            Not over here either.

            Our search brought us past the meat case, where the butcher was loading chicken parts. "Excuse me, sir. Do you know where I might find Saucy Susan?" I asked.

            "Who's she?"

            "It's a sauce," I said. "Like duck sauce. It's old-school."

            "I don't know, man," he said. I sort of expected that, but then he said, "Let's go look."

            Really. He left the chickens out in the aisle to fend for themselves and then led John and me back to all the places we had already visited.

            "We've looked here already," I said.

            "You sure you got the right name?" he asked. I nodded. "Saucy Suzzie?"

            "Susan."

            "Yeah," he said. I followed him over to the deli counter. "Hey you know about Saucy Susan?" the butcher said.

            "Yeah," the deli guy said, "but I haven't seen her since high school."

            "No, fool! It's like duck sauce," the butcher said, laughing. I mean you just had to at that point, right?

            But here's where it gets even better. The deli guy left his customers and came out from behind the counter to go search with us. The ham and the cheese and the customers on line were all on their own. The four of us wandered the aisles until we found the store manager. "Hey, where's the Saucy Susan at?" the deli guy said.

            "What's that?" the manager asked.

            "It's like duck sauce," I said, showing him the photo on my iPhone. Amazon sold the stuff by the case.

            "We ain't got that," the store manager said.

            "You should check the computer," the butcher said.

            "We ain't got it."

            "You sure?" the deli guy said.

            "Positive."

            "Okay guys," I said, "but let me explain what's at stake here. We're going home to the ladies without the Saucy Susan. They're going to tell us we didn't look in the right place. That's trouble, right?"

            "Damn right," the butcher said. The other two guys nodded.

            "So can I get your word as foodstuff professionals that we all looked far and wide for it and it is absolutely not here?"

            "You got it," the deli guy said. The store manager nodded. The butcher slapped me five.

            "Thanks, guys." We picked up a bottle of ordinary duck sauce to replace Susan (as if anyone could) and headed for the register.

            On the way there, I thought of how those guys were perfect for our industry. They dropped everything to help someone on a hopeless quest. Even at the expense of other shoppers. So what if those people never return to the store. We all had fun desperately seeking Susan. It sure beat working.
             So we get in line to checkout. The cashier is young and pleasant. She also weighs about 300 pounds, which is okay with me. After all, this is America and she works in a food store. It's all good.

            John precisely loads the vegetables onto the conveyer belt. The cashier picks up a cucumber and stares at it. Above the register is a picture book with photos of dozens of fruits and vegetables. One-year-old Ava has a similar book at home. Beneath each photo is a name and a code. She flips through all the pages and stares again at the cuke. Finally, she turns to me, holds it out and says, "What this?"

            "Cucumber," I say. John's jaw goes slack. His eyes go wide. He stifles a giggle. "It's on page two." I point to the picture book.

            She looks again. "Oh." She punches in the code and moves on to the three avocados in the plastic bag. She pokes at them and tries to read the tiny labels through the plastic.

            "Avocado," I say. She looks up at me. "Page one." I point. She nods.

            Next comes the cantaloupe.  She's palming it like a basketball and flipping through the book. She looks at me, smiles, and says, "This a coconut, right?"

            John absolutely loses it.

            "Cantaloupe," I say. "Page three. You really should get to know fruits and vegetables.  They're healthy."

            John nearly wets himself.

            "Huh?" she says.
            Once again, I think this person is perfect for our industry. Just consider her willingness to learn and explore new things. She's not afraid to ask questions, and she takes instruction beautifully. Hire that woman!  

            The Lovely Marianne and I were at some airport last year. I went into the men's room, where I spotted a paper-towel dispenser mounted directly above one of those Dyson Airblade dryers. The Dyson, to my delight, was stuffed solid with soiled paper towels and going berserk. Hey, it does look a bit like a waste bin, doesn't it?          

            Perfect, I thought. Such forethought. Such planning. Such special reasoning.  And the installer is already in our industry. That's a relief, isn't it?

            When I left the men's room, TLM was waiting for me. She stood next to a water fountain. "How about this?" she said, pointing at it over her shoulder with her little thumb. TLM is five feet tall. The top of the water fountain was level with her chin. "This must be the gate for the N.B.A. players," she said.

            Our industry also has All Stars, and one had shown up here to install a sky-high fountain. We welcome the world to our industry!

            I once went to the big ISH show in Frankfurt, Germany with three friends. We were sitting in the lobby bar of the Intercontinental Hotel. It's a fancy place. The waiter took our drink order, which was for three beers and one Jameson Irish whiskey. He left us to our conversation and returned a few minutes later with the three beers and the whiskey on a tray.

            "Who ordered the beers?" he asked.

            "This guy could work for us," one of my buddies said.

            "Yeah, he'd fit right in," his brother answered. "We hire the unhirable."