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OPENING PLENARY, A Story

Lawrence Bush
August 30, 2017
by Lawrence Bush HELLO, EVERYONE -- is this mike working? . . . Okay? . . . Good morning, everyone, I'm Joseph Cropsey, Jr., president of the New York Chapter of the Society of Sadistic Contractors. (Applause) I'm glad to see that two many of you could make it here today -- and I'm confident that each of you left a dozen clients wondering where the hell you've disappeared to! That's what I call genuine sadistic contracting, and I tip my hat to each and every one of you. (Applause) This year we're giving special honor to the "Downstate Contractor," sadistic contractors living within two hours of the George Washington Bridge. We want to commend these remarkable men and women, by whose calloused hands are shaped the destinies and characters of so-called "weekenders" from New York City. I'm talking about clients with hopelessly skewed values, my friends: fancy people who think of themselves as experienced because they've all survived a brownstone renovation with some "carpenter" type who does business under a name like "Inner Space" or "Sacred Sanctum" and likes to discuss the niceties of his "craft" while sipping herbal tea. (General disapprobation) It takes an extraordinarily skilled sadistic contractor to shatter the dreams of clients who've been handled by one of these indulgent fools. But thanks to the verve and skill of our Downstate Sadistic Contractors chapter, the job gets done. (Applause) Usually the process begins when our weekenders make a few "antiquing" expeditions. That oak rocker that your Uncle Harold painted so many years ago is pirated away to a New York townhouse and stripped stark naked. Soon there's too much booty from these raids to fit into one apartment; or maybe the clients spot some mangy deer nibbling at your lettuce plants and suddenly find religion. Next thing you know they're poking around in the real estate listings, trying to buy their way into a style of life that's taken us so many years of sacrifice and so many, many cans of beer to cultivate. And then it's our turn -- to strip and refinish them! (Applause) To demolish their expectations of quality, civility, and performance. To counter the influence of their vile stimulations, their chunky Jewish ice cream, their mail-order bird feeders. Those who can't take our treatment can just pack up their Nike bags and drive their Japmobiles right on back to the GW Bridge! (Sustained applause) But those who have the vision to see through the rubble to the simple charm of their new lives -- why, those good people have our respect, to say the least, our respect, our neighborliness, and, if they pay their bills on time, the SCS will throw in a bug zapper for their patio and a Doberman on a four-foot chain. HERE I'D LIKE to give full acknowledgment to the fact that in this business of human renovation there is no one with greater potential for success than the woman contractor. In the past I've gotten into trouble for mentioning our sisters -- last year I was very nearly run off the stage for introducing them as "ladies." As Marge P. of Troy pointed out, the sisters might put on the charm to land a job, but when push comes to shove there's not a man in this hall who's got more petty court actions pending against him than Marge! (Applause) By the way, Margie, I did manage to collect Workmen's Comp for the twisted ankle, so no hard feelings. Margie herself presents a fine example of what I mean. When some city weaklings come to her for plastering and ceiling work in their 300-year-old landmark stone house, they think they've got a good thing going. After all Margie doesn't look so tough, she can talk without mumbling she's got nice hair -- hell, she's a woman! The clients figure she's new to the business. They figure she needs the business. They figure she'll take special care to protect those hardwood floors and preserve those precious, detailed appointments. So when Marge screws them -- in a manner of speaking -- they stay screwed! The first half-dozen of her abuses are treated as "accidents." By the time the clients get up the nerve to say something, Marge has done irrevocable damage, to the house itself, but more importantly to the unrealistic expectations of her clients. In more ways than one, Marge has placed a ceiling over their heads! (Applause) Marge has given new and wonderful resonance to that banner you see hanging there behind this podium: Vincit Somnia Labor -- work conquers all dreams! (Applause and cheers) SINCE I'M PROBABLY going to be too busy to participate in workshops this weekend -- though I do hope to make time for the septic workers' affinity group -- I'd like to use the few minutes left to me to share some personal reflections: As your president, I've been troubled by the record number of lawsuits brought against our membership during the past year. This indicates a lack of subtlety in our professional strategies. Let me say right now that a small-claims action should not be counted as a mark of virtuosity for the sadistic contractor. The very fact that the client is pressing suit shows a lack of submission, a lingering arrogance and, worst of all, a remaining shred of faith that there is justice and fairness in this world. This, my friends, is the essential illusion that must be hammered out of your clients if you expect to be considered master craftspersons. There can be no expectations left standing at the end of a job but one -- that you're going to leave and never be seen by that client again, no matter what the warranty says. It is when the client pleads with you to "Go, don't even clean up, just get out of here" — and then proceeds to pay your bill — that's when the job is truly finished and your contribution to the American way of life is complete. (Applause) Sometimes this requires a little restraint and subtlety on the part of the contractor. A recent job I did offers a clear example of what I mean. The client was a weekender from Brooklyn who handled his own moving job and was stupid enough to drive the truck onto his lawn. The ground gave way and the truck sank, cracking the lid of his septic tank. Of course, the guy panicked, and within a few hours I had ripped open his front law, laid in a 1,000-gallon tank, left two coffee cups hanging off his rose bushes and received a $4,000 cash downpayment. (Applause) Sure, it served him right -- this macho business of avoiding professional movers tends to reinforce all of the worst tendencies in our clients. In fact, I hope to move a resolution this weekend during our Executive Board meeting to initiate discussions with the Sadistic Movers Society about the possibilities of cooperation or even merger. (Applause. "Get back to the story, Joe.") All right. So I'm asking myself: How can I best minister to this client? Wha are his innermost needs? Then, while I'm deliberating, the guy offers me a cold beer! A beer at the very start of the job; a beer to a man you've just paid $4,000 cash! Obviously the client was looking not only for a septic system but for a friend! (Laughter. Marge P: You must've been wearing your shitkickers, Joe!") That's right, I was earring my work clothes, and he thought I was the "genuine article." A true "local." (Applause) He thought we might "connect." He thought he might finally understand the inner workings of a Trump voter! (Raucous laughter) The man obviously required a heavy dose of realty. However -- listen closely, my friends -- I actually chose to do the job in a minimal kind of way that very afternoon. I made sure his toilet was flushing, with the run-off going into an open trench beneath a picture window. I accepted his mini-brewery beer. I asked sympathetic questions about his life in the city. By the time I left, he was telling me about how grateful he was to find people who treat each other as human beings. (Raucous laughter) "No problem," I said, and assured him that I'd be back first thing in the morning to lay in the leach field, restore his landscaping, and clean up. (Hoots and hollers) I said I was glad I could get the job done for him, especially seeing as we were nearly neighbors. Well, from that moment on, my friends, I have refused to give him the time of day. I have not come, I have not called, I have hardly given him a thought. If he happens to phone and catch me at home, I simply tell him . . . (That you're on your way over!) Yes, I'm on my way over -- to someone else's house! I'll be there in five minutes — biblical time! (Applause) Meanwhile, that little trickle of sewage outside his picture window reminds him each day of the universal value of the human promise. It is this quiet, efficient betrayal, rather than some more dramatic villainy, that will lead him to understand, deep in his bones, that there's no such thing as friendship, neither in the city streets nor in our upstate pastures. There's a herd mentality, yes, but let's not call that intimacy; there are a few lonely predators, but let's not pretend they're heroes. In short, he's on his own. On his own and ready to begin a new life — with a Doberman on a four-foot chain, compliments of our Society. (Applause) MY TIME seems to be running out. Let me thank you all for making this the first convention in memory at which our members showed their faces before lunch! Our Planning Committee has kept the schedule loose enough for you to enjoy the facilities, the pool, sauna, and so on. Please, my friends if there's anything, anything at all that's not working to your satisfaction this weekend, don't hesitate to bring it to my attention and I'll pass it along to the hotel management and staff. I won't let them out of my sight until they do the job they've been paid to do. Thank you, and have a nice day. Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and is author of BESSIE: A Novel of Love and Revolution.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.