Biff America: A little neighborly socialism
Without being, in the least, guilty of self-deprecation, I can say that I’m not good for much.
I will say, I think I’m a pretty nice guy and, if I am in the mood, can be good company – but as far as marketable skills … let’s just say I’m lucky I stumbled into “show-biddness.”
Sure, I’m not without some skills. I can truthfully say some people think I’m funny, I’m a pretty good public speaker and a below-average bicycle mechanic.
The last is a skill based on necessity. I own five bikes and I can do most repairs, at a slower rate of speed, and with less precision than a pro.
Due to that small skill-set, I’m a popular guy around my ‘hood in the summer. We are surrounded by couples and families and most have a few bikes in their garage.
Of course, no one in their right mind would trust me with any major repair, but when it comes to changing tires, adjusting brakes and gears and the like, I’m the go-to guy on the mean streets of Whoville.
This is OK by me; it’s the only way I can give back to my neighbors. Because, though I’m the funniest guy on my street, I’m probably the least skilled.
I am surrounded by lawyers, doctors, computer wizards, horticulturists and contractors who (unlike me) don’t have to read the owner’s manual before operating a wheel barrow.
These last few weeks, I’ve been more than pulling my weight. Just the other morning, Ray brought a bike she bought at a garage sale and I fixed a flat, adjusted the brakes and lubed the chain. Kate just came back from a ride and asked if I could adjust her gearing – it took a couple of minutes. Some of my neighbors don’t bike, but they do have needs.
My neighbor Shawn is a big-time computer geek; over the years he has giving me many hours of help – (I’m as good with computers as I am with wheel barrows). I was finishing a bike ride and cruised past Shawn’s place to find him hard at work laying sod. I owe him big time, so for the next four hours I was getting ordered around by him and his wife, Jen, as an unskilled landscaper. Granted if I had to hire someone to do all that Shawn has done for me compared to him hiring someone to do what I did for him, I would come out way ahead.
It’s a lot cheaper to hire a grunt than a programmer, but Shawn doesn’t think that way (luckily), and neither do I.
I’ve also been a hero to my neighbors Will and Allie. Last night I captured and removed a chipmunk that somehow got into their house (Will was out of town and Allie is not fond of rodents). Will is also a computer geek, but I don’t ask him for help for fear of making Shawn jealous.
I should mention that Shawn and Jen often feed me when my mate is out of town and have us over for wine and whisky when she isn’t. I don’t think we have ever offered them booze – mostly because I buy cheap whiskey and Shawn likes the good stuff.
I have not been arrested in more than 20 years, but occasionally my friends are. Ray’s husband, Todd, is an attorney. Just after I fixed up her garage-sale bike, I called him for a free consultation to advise a friend of mine who was framed (I don’t really believe he was framed; my guess would be he was guilty as sin) but at any rate Todd recommended an attorney who might be able to help. I took about 20 minutes of Todd’s time, which was about how long it took me to work on his wife’s bike.
All the above-mentioned bartering of labor have taken place within throwing distance of my home. The exchanges are seldom even – because we all have vastly unique needs and skills. The net result is we all do what we can, even if what we can varies, yet all seem to go away happy.
“From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” That was an old socialist slogan popularized by Carl Marx.
Communism and socialism have gotten a bad name in this country and much of the rest of the world. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I do think that we have never seen a true communistic country. Most like, USSR, China, Cuba are a totalitarian form and not what I think Karl Marx envisioned.
But all that aside, I do believe Marx’s “each according to his abilities …” idea is a worth one, and I’ll even go so far to say it is reminiscent of a Christian idea from Luke: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
That is how our neighborhood works, and I would suggest it would be nice if the country worked that way as well. Yes, it is tempting to complain that “I’m giving more than my share” rather than “I have more than I need and can afford to give to those who need more than they have.”
But that’s easy for me to say – the only thing I’m good for is fixing bicycles.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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