“Isn’t that funny?” I said.
“What?” Lester asked.
“That a company specializing in making heating equipment more efficient should arrive at a trade show about efficiency in this beast.”
“It shows they got chops,” Lester said. “I’d love to have one of these. I could use it for collections.”
I’ve known Lester for as long as I’ve been working in the heating industry, which is a good long time. I met him when I was a kid salesman. I was the first and only salesman to ever call on him. I knocked on the door of the tool shed he calls an office and brought him black coffee, a dozen donuts, and free samples of what I was selling at the time. Lester likes things that don’t cost him any money so he let me in. We’ve been buddies ever since.
Lester has always run a one-man shop because he hates everyone in the world, except me. He would murder any employee within a week. If he could avoid it, he wouldn’t have any customers. Lester hates customers. He thinks they should all pay him on time with good cash money and then go swallow razor blades.
I always call Lester when I’m feeling too good about life in general and the heating industry in particular. Lester straightens me right out. He is the yin to my yang.
This trade show was for the locals and they were expecting about 600 contractors, mainly because most of them had no work. The show was all about being green and saving the planet. Hence, the Hummer in the parking lot.
“You think they’ll have free stuff here?” Lester said.
“They always do,” I said.
“I mean stuff I can resell,” Lester said.
“My guess is they’ll have pens and candy and like that. You know, tchotchkes.”
“Anything you want to focus on?” I asked.
“I wanna see some pumps,” Lester said. “I like big friggin’ pumps. They get the air out of the radiators and keep me from having to go back. I hate going back.”
“I know you do, but big pumps use lots of energy,” I said.
“That’s why they call ‘em big pumps,” Lester said. “The bigger the pump, the faster the dump.”
Lester likes to say things like that. He also likes it when people stay out of his way, which is a problem at trade shows because Lester is very easy to trip over. He looks a lot like the actor, Danny DiVito, but shorter and not as handsome. Oh, and much more violent. Lester could make a grizzly bear blink.
We went down the first aisle and saw a booth where they were showing a pump that was the size of a carry-on bag. It had three places into which you could squirt oil, and a motor that was as big as a roasted chicken.
“Are contractors still buying this one?” I asked the salesman. “I’m surprised to see it at an energy-efficiency show.”
“This is Brooklyn,” the salesman said. “In Brooklyn, contractors put in what they take out.”
Lester was salivating. “That’s what I call a pump! Got any free samples?”
The salesman frowned. Lester growled. We moved on.
“I think that’s true,” I said. “You guys do put in what you take out.”
“And that’s as it should be, Dan,” Lester said. “If it worked once, it will work again. Don’t mess with success and never take chances on stuff that’s new. Get paid and get out.”
“But what about efficiency?” I said. “Big motors use lots of electricity.”
“Am I paying for the electricity?” Lester asked.
“No, but your customers are,” I said.
“There’s your answer,” Lester said.
We approached another booth where they had much smaller pumps on display. The salesman gave us a smile as bright as a new kitchen sink and immediately dragged us into a snow globe of technical gibberish about Delta-P pumps. This caused Lester to twitch. He reached into his overalls and came out with a three-inch Buck knife. He snapped it open with one hand, twitched, and started prying grime out from under his nails. Then he started to sing Iron Butterfly’s “Inagoddavida.” I took a step sideways. The salesman took a step backward. Oh, and he stopped droning.
“Delta pee, eh?” Lester said. “Sounds like what you do on an airline after too many beers.”
“You really should try one,” the salesman sputtered. “Everyone’s using them.”
“Really?” Lester said. “I don’t see none of them in the field.” He tapped the little pump with the blade of the Buck knife.
“Oh, you will,” the salesman said. “They’re the future!”
“But if I don’t see ‘em, why should I put them in? I replace like with like. I get paid and get out.”
“But these are more efficient than what’s in there now. Do you have any idea how much electricity all the heating pumps in the world use?”
“Do these cost more than the big pumps I see in the field?”
“Yes, but they save lots of electricity and pay for themselves in no time,” the salesman said.
“So my electric bill will go down if I buy these?” Lester asked.
“No, your customer’s electric bill will go down,” the salesman said. “And it’s good for the planet.
“Lester hates his customers,” I explained. “He wants them all to pay cash and then bleed to death in an alley.”
“What do you say to that, Fatso?” Lester asked.
And since the salesman had nothing to say to that, we continued down the aisle and came to another booth were they were talking Delta-T pumps. These, we learned, change the speed of the pump in response to a difference in temperature, rather than pressure.
“What’s for free?” Lester asked the salesman.
“Advice,” the salesman said. “You should try one of these new pumps. They’re really efficient. They work on Delta-T”
“Delta schmelta,” Lester said. “What do you have that’s big and nasty? Something I can put a saddle on and ride like a pony. I like ‘em big. What do you have that can handle the flow when my rotten customers decide to add additions to their lousy houses ten years from now? I don’t care about energy. I like pumps that will keep my customers’ pie holes shut.”
The salesman looked at Lester, and then he looked at me.
I shrugged. “This is Brooklyn.”