Lester does ISH
The last time we were at ISH we watched a young man in Tyrolean shorts and climbing boots yank himself up a wall that looked just like the sheer face of a mountain. Belching up a bit of the previous evening's meal, Lester said, "URP! But what's the point, Dan?"
"What's the point of what?" I asked.
"Of that!" he yelped, jabbing a porky finger at the young mountaineer on the wall. Lester was wearing a pair of too-small, green Dockers, dirty white Nikes, a New York Yankees cap and a red-white-and-blue sweat shirt with the slogan, Welcome to New York. Now Speak the Language!
"You mean, why is that guy climbing the wall?" I asked.
"Yeah," Lester whined, rolling his bloodshot eyes. "What's the friggin' point? They're trying to sell heating equipment, right?"
"So they hire some bozo to climb a wall. What are they trying to say? They trying to tell me their stuff will make me climb the waaaaals? I don't think that's a very smart message, do you?" He shook his head and sneered. "I got enough manufacturers making me climb the walls as it is. I don't need another one. I thought they were supposed to be smart over here. Jeez!" Lester let loose a blast of noxious gas, smiled a silly grin and said, "Whoops!" He looked around.
"Some meal last night, wasn’t it?" I commented.
"The beer could have been colder," he offered.
I had to admit, Lester did have a point about the guy on the wall. Lester often sees things the average person misses. Angry people are like that. "I suppose they're using the climber to gather a crowd," I said, noticing the people walking toward us. "See? It's working. Here they come."
Lester looked around at the people. Everyone was taller than him. Even the women were taller than him. "It's just blood lust," he said. "They're hoping the guy falls and dies. Trust me, I know about these things. These people aren't interested in buying heating equipment. They're just waiting for the bozo to crash and burn. I hope he splats soon. This is getting boring.”
Lester reached into his pocket and pulled out a some German currency. He turned to a tall man in a suit standing next to him and said, "Hey, Saussagehead, I got twenty bucks says the bozo makes it to the top before he hits the floor. You in?"
The man looked at Lester the way a waiter would look at a too-small tip. He walked away. Lester growled.
"You like making new friends in strange lands, don't you?"
"That guy's a loser," Lester said waving his pudgy hand. "By the way, where are the babes? A tradeshow this size? There should be lots of babes."
"You'll see them," I promised. "We'll see lots of stuff here."
"I hope so. I didn't come all the way to Germany to look at some guy named Fritz climbing a wall, you know? I wanna see some babes! Oh mamma, take me to Lycra Land!"
We walked on and took in the majesty that is ISH. I was, as always, enormously impressed. Lester's thoughts, however, strayed homeward. "You ever notice how American boiler companies give away coats and hats?" Lester asked.
"Sure," I said.
"Don't you think that's about the dumbest thing a boiler manufacturer could possibly give away?" he continued, all excited by his thought process. "I mean, what are they trying to say to the contractor? You buy a boiler, you're supposed to get warm, not cold, right? And if the boiler's gonna make you warm, why the hell do you need a jacket and a hat?" Lester shook his fat little head. "Makes no sense at all."
I had to admit he had a point.
I was surprised when Lester decided to go to ISH. I didn't think he'd be interested in anything different or even radical, as things often are in Europe. Lester doesn't really appreciate change. He believes in huge baseboard loop systems, big circulators, even bigger boilers, tankless coils and water temperatures that run anywhere between 170 and 190 degrees all year long.
Lester doesn't believe in heat-loss calculations either. He will install baseboard on every available wall, leaving out only the spaces occupied by doors, and that, he once explained, is only because they don't make baseboard radiation with hinges. "If they made it that way, I'd install it!" he said. "You can't have these morons complaining about not enough heat in January."
Lester thinks things are pretty much fine the way they were in the 1950s. So why was he at ISH? Because sometime during the last two years, someone had told him about the young women in Lycra bodysuits that an overweight, and very randy, plumber from New York might find at ISH. And then, of course, there was the beer. These two thoughts made Lester more radical than Karl Marx.
"Change is good!" he insisted one day. "I gotta see what they got to show me over there."
"You're that interested in the new stuff?" I asked.
"I'm interested in everything," he said. "Let's go there, my man. We’ll see and be seen."
"This isn't the cheapest trip in the world, you know," I cautioned.
"Hey, it's a write-off," he shot back, holding up his grimy palm to cut off any further discussion of high finance. "Besides, I think I'm having a pretty good year."
Lester had been telling me this for months. He had plenty of work because he was almost always the low-bidder, and sure, he was losing money on just about every job he took on, but he figured he was making up for it in volume. Busy is good.
"How's business?" I asked when he stopped by the house on a frigid day last winter.
"I'm busy as hell!" he said. "Busy, busy, busy!"
"Are you making any money, though?"
"I must be making money," he insisted. "I'm busy as hell!"
Lester, like most low-bidders, equates sweat with dollars. The more you sweat, the more you should be making. He once told me that it doesn't take a degree in business management to figure that one out. "And besides,” he said, “I don't need no fancy business club that charges dues to tell me that if I'm working seventy hours a week I ain't making money. If I'm working seventy hours a week, I must be making money, right!"
"I hope so."
"Damn right!" he shot back, slamming the tabletop with his meaty little fist.
So, in hopes that he was making money, Lester plunked down his MasterCard and decided to worry about how he was going to pay for the trip later on. Lester never worries about using his charge card for business. "They just look for the interest each month," he told me. "That’s a piece of cake!"
"And the principal?" I asked.
"It never comes due. You just pay the interest. You don't you understand finance, do you?" he said.
"I guess not." I admitted.
That first day at ISH we wandered into a soccer-field size booth that had a stage show going on. Three young woman in Lycra body suits were dancing to a frenzied Techno beat. A young blond woman in a miniskirt and thigh-high boots glided over and offered Lester a frothy beer in a plastic stein. "Bier?" she asked with a smile that might have melted all the snow in Switzerland.
You could have fit a plunger in Lester's open mouth. Temporarily tongue tied, he silently accepted the beer.
I looked at Lester's eyes as he watched the blond weave herself through the crowd of happy and very thirsty visitors.
"You're happy, aren't you?" I said.
"I love this business!" he whispered.
A male announcer on the stage was excitedly speaking in German over a public address system. One by one, the sleek dancers wheeled the manufacturer's products onto the stage. The excited announcer babbled on as each dancer caressed the products as though they were loved ones home for a weekend furlough. None of us could watch this for very long without becoming disturbed.
"Now that's how you sell heating equipment!" Lester said, poking me in the ribs. He took a long pull on his beer. “Forget about giving away coats. This is the way to do it.”
"You think?" I asked.
"Absolutely!" he insisted. "That's what heating contractors are really interested in. You see, Dan," he reached up and put his pudgy arm around my shoulder in a brotherly way, "it don't matter how good the stuff is. All that matters is how you present the product."
"Uh huh," I said.
"I think you're right about these people," Lester continued, taking another gulp of beer.
"How's that?" I asked.
"There's a lot we can learn from them. An awful lot."
And with that, he cut the cheese.