Biff America: Tassels and One-Ply (column)
“From each according to their abilities. To each according to their needs.” (Though Marx made this quote famous, some scholars believe the origin might be from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.)
Willie One-Ply lived in a old mining cabin — no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. He never introduced himself as “One-Ply,” but he did look up when I called him that.
Willie’s cabin was miles from the nearest plowed road and, in winter, he accessed it on skis. The cabin was located on a popular cross-country ski trail. If I was skiing by and saw smoke coming out of the chimney, I’d sometimes knock on his door.
Willie would open his door, make a show of fixing his hair or straightening his sweater and say, “Why it’s Biff America, am I on TV?”
Once, when I was skiing by and he wasn’t home I availed myself with the amenities of his outhouse. Contained in a large coffee can (I’m guessing to keep it safe from critters and moisture) was a roll of thin toilet paper. I’m here to tell you this TP was low-end; it contained wood chips. The next time I was passing through I left him a roll of multi-ply, quilted and scented TP. I don’t buy my coffee in cans (because I’m an entitled snowflake) but I did find a Tuppeware container large enough to protect the high-loft. Along with the TP, I left a note addressed to Willie One-Ply.
It might have been a month or more before I passed by his cabin again and saw chimney smoke. I knocked on the door and called out, “Hey One-Ply, it’s Biff.” When he opened the door I asked if he enjoyed the TP upgrade. He pointed to the same plastic container on a nearby shelf and said, “Haven’t used it, I’m saving it for guests.”
Willie lived simply, wore well-worn clothing and had a fresh smile for everyone. He worked with kids and the handicapped teaching them to ski and snowboard. Sadly, often the only people who can afford to work in nonprofits need a second job or live cheaply — Willie had all that going.
When he began a program teaching snowboarding to needy children and kids-at-risk, he found that the neediest had no transportation. Willie would provide rides using his own vehicle.
Willie died young but left the world a better place.
“To whom much is given much is required.” — Luke
My buddy Tassels lived much higher on the hog than did Willie One-Ply. He had beautiful homes, nice cars, and, though I never verified, I’m guessing he had designer TP in every bathroom.
The name on his birth certificate read “Robert.” Most folks called him Rob, but I christened him “Tassels.”
Once Rob and I were sitting next to each other at a fairly intense meeting. He had laser-like focus and a precise attention to detail. I do not. I was daydreaming and looked down and saw that Rob was wearing slipper-like shoes with tassels on them.
While we all debated and discussed the matter at hand, my mind wandered. I could not get Rob’s foolish shoes out of my mind.
Finally, during a lull in the action I blurted out, in a voice louder than intended, “Hey Tassels, nice wheels. Does your husband golf?!!!” Everyone there looked down at Rob’s feet and the nickname stuck.
Though I gave him the name as a mild rebuff, Rob took ownership and would close his emails to me with “Your pal Tassels.”
Tassels died in Nepal while doing volunteer work after the earthquake.
That quote from Luke, “To whom much is given much is required,” was prominently featured at Rob’s memorial service. His support of the Nepalese relief efforts was simply his last act in a full life of generosity and compassion.
He was incredibly generous with his time and money to a host of worthy causes. There is a street in my town named for Rob; it’s called “Tassel Lane.”
Rob was wealthy, generous and could do and did much good. Except for the wealthy part the same could be said for Willie, he had very little yet still made a huge impact. You don’t need to be wealthy to make the world a better place you need only care enough to try.
My friends Tassels and One-Ply did not know each other. They had nothing and everything in common. Both left this world too soon. If there is such a thing as heaven, I’d like to think they met up there. Perhaps I’ll bump into them again — hopefully not too soon — as it will give them time to come up with a good nickname for me……..
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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