Lester on Efficiency
My friend, Lester, grows ever scarier as he approaches the milestone age of 60. He has no plans for retirement. He has saved not one cent since 1970, preferring to spend his money on bad food, beer, tools and weaponry. And besides, with no customers to hate, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself in retirement. “My plan is to keep working until the day after the funeral,” Lester told me while we were having breakfast in the diner that Gus owns.
“That’s nice, I said.
“I hate my customers,” he said.
“I hope they all die soon, and horribly, but not until they pay me.”
“That’s nice, too,” I said.
“I don’t hate you, though,” Lester said. “You understand me.”
“I try,” I said.
Even up on his toes, Lester stands less than five feet tall, and as he ages, he is looking more rat-nasty – sort of a cross between a beer keg gone skunky and an abandoned artillery shell. Whenever I’m feeling too good about life, I get together with Lester and he straightens me right out.
Lately, I’ve been feeling very positive about our industry because the price of fuel is high, and I figure that tens of thousands of people will soon be calling contractors for help. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor and there really is a positive side to these high fuel prices. I felt good about that. Probably too good, and that’s why I called Lester.
He sat across from me in the red vinyl booth. He was wearing his usual outfit of greasy jeans with no belt, tiny engineer boots, and a faded, “Welcome to
“Have you given any more thought to these new electronic controls?” I asked? “It’s amazing what they’re doing these days. These things can really improve system efficiency, and efficiency is important nowadays.”
The waitress arrived and gave Lester a look I can’t repeat in a family magazine. She dropped his bacon-and-cheese omelet in front of him, placed mine gently in front of me and smiled. Lester snarled at her like a pit bull.
“So what do you think of those controls?” I asked.
“I don’t use any of that crap,” he mumbled through a mouthful of omelet. “All I need is a thermostat to start and stop a pump, and it should be a big pump.”
Lester has these short, thick, pigs-in-blanket fingers that won’t fit inside anything electronic. He hates the manufacturers that make modern controls. He wishes they would all burst into flames, and as soon as possible. As far as Lester is concerned, if he can’t fix something with a 12-inch wrench, it’s just not worth fixing.
“How about these new modulating-condensing boilers?” I asked. “They’re about the same size as you, and they weigh a lot less.”
“Absolute crapola,” Lester muttered. “I’m old school, Dan. Those things don’t work.”
“Have you looked at them?”
“No need to look at them. Nothing that small can heat a house. Case closed.”
Lester likes huge, drafty, cast-iron boilers from the 1950s, the ones that have insides big enough to crawl into and yodel. “The faster the draft, the bigger the burn,” he likes to say. “And the bigger the burn, the faster I get paid.” Lester likes to get paid.
“But what about efficiency?” I said. “I think that with the fuel prices being so high, people are going to be asking about these new technologies. Lots of people are going to be calling this winter, looking for ways to save money. I feel good about that, Lester. Real good. That’s why I called you. I need some balance.”
Lester shook his head. “It’s like this, Dan. I don’t want the customers to save money. I want them to spend money. And on me. If the stuff I give them is big, they’ll figure they’re getting their money’s worth. It’s like getting a big piece of apple pie. Who doesn’t want a big piece of apple pie?” I nodded, feeling more negative already. “Here, look at the size of your omelet.” He jabbed at it with a meaty little finger. You got your three eggs here, my man. What it that bag of a waitress tried to give you an efficient omelet, Dan, an omelet with just one egg, an omelet that didn’t take as much energy to cook. An omelet that was good for the planet. Would you like that, Dan? Would that be acceptable?”
“I guess not,” I shrugged.
“I rest my case,” Lester said, stuffing a piece of white toast into his rat hole of a mouth.
“But what about these new circulators,” I asked, hoping to move away from eggs. “They’re very smart these days.”
“They don’t work either,“ Lester said.
“They’re too small. There’s no friggin’ way a little pump can get the water up to the top of any decent-size house. No way, my man.” He shoveled potatoes down the hole.
Lester likes pumps you could put a saddle on and ride like a Shetland pony. “You want heat, you need a big pump,” Lester likes to say. “The bigger the pump, the quicker the dump. The quicker the dump, the faster I get paid.. The water won’t go to the top floor? Oh, I’ll get it to the top floor!”
“But what about efficiency?” I said. “Oversized pumps waste electricity and cost a lot to operate.”
Lester leaned in on me. I sat back. “Am I buying the electricity, Dan?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Who’s buying the electricity, Dan?”
“Your customers are buying the electricity,” I said.
“And how do I feel about my customers, Dan?”
“You hate every one of them,” I said. “You wish they would all pay you in advance and then choke to death.”
“Exactly! That’s my idea of high efficiency,” Lester slurped the rest of his coffee and scowled at the waitress until she finally slogged over to refill his cup.
“Need more sugar, fatso?” the waitress asked.
“Die,” Lester said.
“You service this place,” don’t you?
“I do,” Lester said. “I can’t stand, Gus, but I’ve been taking care of his rotten diner for years. He pays in cash. This bag of a waitress is his daughter, you know. She used to touch the thermostats all the time. Couldn’t keep her hot-flashing hands off them. There used to be one ‘stat in each section. This joint has six thermostats. I moved them all over there behind the cash register. I told Gus – and may he soon choke on his own souvlaki – that from that day on, he will be the only one touching the thermostats.”
“Which explains why this place is as cold as outer space during the summer,” I said, “and as hot as Madonna during the winter. Customers keep opening and closing the door. The thermostats feel the outside air and respond.”
“That’s their job, Dan. That’s efficiency,” Lester said. “When it’s hot, the air conditioning should be on. And when it’s cold, the heat should be on. Simple!”
“But a setup like that wastes energy,” I said.
Lester looked at me as if I had just burned the flag. “Now watch what you’re saying, Dan. Wasting energy is the right of every American. It’s what makes us a free country. We have the right to waste fuel as long as we can pay for the fuel. If it’s not in the Constitution, it should be.”
“Interesting way of looking at things,” I said, feeling worse by the minute.
“You bet it is,” Lester said. “I was in
“It ain’t waste if you’re enjoying it,” Lester said, dumping another load of potatoes down his neck. “And besides, people don’t like to spend money fixing things they already own – like a boiler. You already got the thing, why should you have to pay again? Look at the way people hang onto their old clothes, even when they don’t fit anymore.”
I looked at Lester’s tee shirt. “So you think maybe people won’t be calling for upgrades this winter?” I said. “You think I’m being too positive?”
“Let’s put it this way. I hope they don’t call to bother me unless they’re either under water or on fire,” Lester said. “And then they better have cash in hand.” Lester waved at the waitress for more coffee. She ignored him. “So how you feeling about all of this high-efficiency nonsense now?” he asked. “Still feeling positive?”
“I feel pretty lousy,” I said.
“Good!” Lester said, grabbing the ketchup bottle by its narrow end and getting up to go see the waitress.
The man completes me.