Hey, ‘I know a guy’… four words I should fear, yet like a moth to a bright streetlamp or Trump to his Twitter App, I just can’t stay away. In concept, who does not want to hire someone that comes recommended by a friend or use an inside connection to save a few bucks? In reality, those things don’t always work out as planned.
I was 11 when I had my first ‘I know a guy’ experience through my friend Johnny Yonke. The 4th of July was just around the corner and we had outgrown punks, sparklers and those stinky little black expanding snakes. We wanted REAL firecrackers, but they were illegal in New York City.
Actually, what we really wanted to do was blow-up a couple of old Revell plastic World War navy ship models that I had put together. We thought if we shoved enough fireworks inside them, they would blow-up in a massive fiery explosion. We were going to disprove the old saying ‘building it was half the fun’. We envisioned blasting them into a zillion flying pieces. Yeah, that didn’t happen. They just kinda rolled over and went pop. That airplane glue is apparently very strong. But that’s a different story.
Johnny went to Sacred Heart, the local catholic private school that still had Nuns that walloped misbehaving kids with rulers and wooden paddles. Between his old country German parents and those nefarious nuns, misbehaving Johnny constantly had thwack marks on him.
I imagine it was when he was in trouble, waiting in the Grand Poobah Queen Head Nun’s office, that he met the two-year older fellow troublemaker Anthony Fagalione or ‘Ant-nee’ as he said it. It turned out Ant-nee ‘knew a guy’ at the docks, who for 20 bucks could score us a couple of mats of firecrackers. A mat was a brick of 80 packs of 16 firecrackers. Certainly, we wrongly assumed, enough to sink the Bismark again.
I was stressed. In those days $20 was a huge amount cash for a kid, not to mention it was the first time I blatantly broke the law. I was worried. What if the Fireworks Police found out? And ‘this guy’, was he some longshoreman mob-connected thug that might blackmail me in the future? What if Ant-nee simply screwed me out of my money? I could have otherwise spent it on important things like Wacky Packs or those 2 records I wanted, Kung Fu Fighting and The Streak. Or even more terrifying, what if my Mom found out about the whole shady underground deal?!?!?
But Ant-nee came through and even though I am sure he made quite a few bucks off us, I actually ended up becoming friends with him. While waiting for his guy to deliver the firecrackers, I discovered he had a copy of Elton John’s new album Don’t Shoot Me I’m the Piano Player. I had recently inherited my sister’s old copy of his last one, Honky Chateau, that she wore out trying to learn the chords to Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.
After we closed the fireworks deal, we hung out and listened to the two records several times over. The only bad thing to come out of it was it set up a precedence in my head that the ‘I know a guy’ concept worked.
I’ve had mixed results from my many ‘I know a guy’ experiences since. Years later my friend that worked at a for a stained-glass restoration company ‘knew a guy’ that just got into the country. He was selling Russian requisitioned bicycles out of his multi-immigrant shared Queens apartment, to supposedly pay for his trip to the U.S. My too good to be true deal, soon proved to be just that, as the soviet cycle started falling apart weeks after I got it.
I’ve had various levels of success with ‘I know a guy’ back-yard car repairs, random kitchen haircuts and work employee hires but lately my success rate is falling. Maybe the people I know these days just don’t know the right guys.
Back when we were in our old house, my wife was looking for a handyman to do some things she correctly assumed I was not a handy enough man to do. A realtor friend ‘knew a guy’ that ended up doing great work the first day patching some holes, hanging a new light fixture as well as fixing a few ends and odds. But on the second day when he got to the main task of installing our new kitchen backsplash tiles, it quickly became obvious that exceeded his handy-ness abilities. Since I am not too anal-retentive, the the final results were sorta passable enough, but no better than I could have done… if I was drunk… and had no tools… and mounted them while doing a Bird Box challenge.
While closing the deal on our current house, my wife and I asked if anyone could recommend a pool company since we would not have time to immediately learn how to care and maintain it ourselves. Our mortgage broker that lived in the same neighborhood said he “knew a guy’. Even though pool-boy ended up being flakier than a snowstorm, we used him for over a year but frankly we never really knew what he did. He kinda took care of the basics but his various repairs to our old pump never seemed to work. We finally canned him after he started charging us for weeks he did not show up.
My wife suggested if I took over as pool boy, we could use the saved dollars on a lawn service. For years I stubbornly did it myself but I think she started worrying about old-man Dan trudging away for several hours each week in the 100 degree Texas summer sun. I agreed to the deal but only after confirming that I did not have to strut around the deck in a Speedo when I tended to the pool. You never can be too sure; my wife is a pretty sneaky negotiator.
I had already started researching lawn services when my neighbor mentioned she ‘knew a guy’ that was cheap and did good work. The next time I saw them out there mowing, I zipped outside to catch him. He spoke very little English, had no contact information and only took cash but was almost half the price of everyone else. All season he consistently came every two weeks but never asked for money. If I was home I’d run out to pay him, otherwise he just waited till the next week. Even if it was three or four mows later.
He came once or twice in the fall to deal with the leaves then disappeared. I had three mows worth of cash sitting near the front door for him since October with no way to contact him. The neighbor didn’t have his number either. Not sure if I’d ever see him again, two weeks ago I broke down and did the first mow of the season myself. As expected, right afterwards he showed up. Even though he did not ask, I gave him the money from last year and I guess I still ‘have a guy’.