Friday, November 12, 2010

Kindness gone wrong

My dad has always been a very giving person. Throughout my entire childhood and teen years I experienced his many random acts of kindness and selflessness as he helped both people we knew and also strangers. Many weekends of mine were spent begrudgingly raking an old person's yard and there were countless people who lived with us during stints of distress in their personal lives. This often cramped my life, but he never let me "opt out"....this was what we were doing and I had the opportunity to make the most of it, or to make myself miserable. I often chose the latter...I'd rather be listening to Pat Benetar and dreaming about when John Travolta would finally answer my fan mail. Sadly, he never did.

Even though I didn't always enjoy what we were doing to help someone else, the lesson was not lost on me. I think my dad probably wanted to choke me on several occasions because of my attitude and I'm certain he thought I was a total lost cause, but the seeds were planted. I have a large desire to volunteer and I'm typically thinking of others and how I might help them. I constantly drag my children along on my adventures and chid them when they are less than happy about giving up (insert tween/teeny bopping activity here).

Over the years, I've seen my dad get burned on occasion by an ungrateful recipient. This is to be expected as some folks are looking for an opportunity, not a helping hand. It was something that has turned me into a bit of a skeptic and I've spent a lot of time trying to learn how to read people. I believe I have a knack for discernment after all these years of watching and learning. Yet, it didn't prepare me for my first real encounter with what I feel like is someone trying to take advantage of my family's kindness to them.

Jason is a college senior, I met him when a friend of mine sent him over to our house to move a play structure. We had a big structure and were giving it to her, it required a professional dismantle and a big trailer to haul it, since the structure was not costing money she was paying for the moving fee. She found a neighbor who is very handy and also has a very handy son, in college. What college kid doesn't need money?? Enter...Jason.

Jason spent a day at our house dismantling the mammoth play set and that kid worked his tail off. He was polite, resourceful and seemed to be really handy. I asked my friend how much he was charging her for the work he was doing and it was insanely low. It was a HOT day and I knew that he had overcome many obstacles in getting the set taken apart. I also knew what a big task was ahead of him in trying to re-build the set in her yard. The price was not enough, in my opinion. When he finished at my house I gave him $200 for taking such care with our property and working so hard. My friend couldn't afford to give him more, so I was basically giving him a tip on her behalf.

We used Jason a year later to do some yard work for us, where he once again worked his tail off. We got a great result and I felt that his price was more than reasonable. Since he brought in 2 day laborers to help him I decided to give him another tip. I know those guys get paid in cash and I felt the price wouldn't justify the work with the additional helpers. Jason was VERY happy with the amount of money in the envelope. I was VERY happy with a job well done.

During the yard work, Jason noticed that we had an old truck parked in our shed. He inquired about it and I told him we were probably going to sell it soon - we hadn't had a need for it over 6 months. He became very interested in the truck as he was driving a truck owned by his parents. The value of the truck was $2,400, but the A/C needed a recharge and it had a radiator leak. I offered him to drive the truck for a couple weeks, see if he liked it and then we could talk about it. He jumped on the chance, took the truck that day and said there was no need for a test drive, he wanted it. We decided that we could come up with a project where we buy the supplies and he would provide labor in exchange for the vehicle. We agreed to a price of $1,500 for man hours. Quite a bargain considering the value of the truck. I liked Jason, I respected his work ethic and I remember being broke in college. I wanted to help this kid out.

Today, I feel like I am being taken advantage of. We gave the truck away (kept the title) in June. Jason went to summer school and it was SOOOOO hot that I told him we would wait for cooler weather to start anything. He was thankful, and kept on driving the truck. In September I approached him about a project that we wanted to begin - I inquired about a price for grading with a backhoe (which his family owns) and possibly some plumbing on a water feature we are adding to the yard. I asked him to give us a price on those two items and we could weigh it against the price of the vehicle. Unfortunately, Jason sees this as an opportunity to milk me for cash. We can't reach an agreement on him coming to work without it costing me close to $4,000 in cash. This is down from the $8,000 price that he started with. We approached him with the project that we plan to DIY OURSELVES, we only wanted him to grade and possibly run plumbing. I didn't expect him to do it all for free, but I expected that I could get a price on each part and make decisions based on the $1,500 labor owed. I also offered to pay him an hourly cash rate while he was here - it would be very difficult for him to just work for free. Granted, his lack of cash isn't my problem and he probably should not have taken the vehicle knowing that he couldn't offer labor hours in barter without putting him in a flat broke situation. I've been more than willing to accommodate his schedule and his need for "walking money".

Jason wants a lump sum of cash, he needs it and he is trying to get it from me. There is a huge problem in trying to get him to understand that I have already fronted him $1,500 in the form of a vehicle, I would now like some work out of him. The work should not COST me money, even though I am willing to give him *some* cash. I finally broke it down very specifically and asked him to come & just trim some trees this weekend - what is the price per tree and let's split it between car equity and hourly rate. He still doesn't get it. His offer is this.....tree trimming, eventually doing the grading and the plumbing is $4,000 cash + plus the car title. He wants $750 in cash up front this weekend, then two more installments over two weeks of $1625 cash. And the car title. *blink* I think the kid is smoking crack. We don't even KNOW when we will need the grading and plumbing and he wants to be paid now. I didn't know college kids required retainer fees.

I repeat - what is the price for JUST TREE TRIMMING this weekend and we will address grading and plumbing IF we ever get to that part of the project. He still doesn't get it, his price for this weekend is $750 upfront cash, for yard work. When he owes me $1,500 in labor. The kid wants $125/hr, plus barter credit against the vehicle. I guess he has high expectations for his life after college, but the reality is that most of the population of America makes much less than $125/hr. and get a free car out of it.

This kid must need money desperately. I really do feel for him, but I have extended this more than most would even entertain. I feel at fault for placing trust in him, I should have given more time to get to know him better I suppose. I now face a very hard decision of an ultimatum. I don't want to go there, but it seems like it is the only way he is going to see that he actually owes ME and not that I owe him. I know that this will be the end of the relationship as well and that I could be putting him in a dire situation with no vehicle. Again, not my problem, but I'm not a robot and I don't want to do that to anyone. I also don't want to get screwed. He won't communicate with me by email, he prefers phone calls. At this time I will only respond to him via email because I feel it is the only way for him to see IN PRINT what is really happening. It is also giving me a paper trail if I happen to have to repo the vehicle, at least I'll have my side of the story. What a frackin' shitstorm.