A couple of days ago, my neighbor knocked on the door to tell me he had just hired some guys to take down several trees on his property. Knowing I wanted several knocked down, too, he thought I might be interested. I said 'sure', but was on the way out, though I'd listen to their spiel and an estimate when I got back.

There were three guys, a father and son and a friend of the father's. These were 'natives' off the 'rez' about 50 miles away who were driving around town looking for dead trees, then approaching home owners about cutting them. I had no problem with that, they said they'd been doing this all their lives and showed us an insurance cert. It seems the father and son had their own company and the friend had his, but they collaborated.

Upon return, they had taken down half the neighbor's trees and he was satisfied to that point. We watched them take down the rest of neighbor's trees and found them quick and very deft at the task, scampering up and around the trees with lineman's spikes, ropes and saws. They cleaned up the property, piled the wood and brush for removal and basically did everything they said they would.

While the son and friend worked on my neighbor's property, the father popped over, took a look at my trees, described how they would take them down so as not to destroy anything else, said they'd cut the trees into nice firewood, and he gave me a quote that was 1/10th of what I would expect to pay a more high-powered company for the same work. Cash, of course. Given what I had seen, I gave him the ok and he said he would return the next day to cut my trees.

Several times as we talked, he mentioned that if his friend came over and approached me, I should not listen to him, because while they were life-long friends, the friend was the kind of guy who frequently would try to cut the father/son team out of deals. I told him not to worry, we had a deal. Later, with his friend out of earshot, he reiterated several times the complaint about his friend to both me and my neighbor.

Nonetheless, early the next morning, the guy gave me a call to let me know they were on the way and to ask if the friend had called to try to weasel the business. I said no, we had a deal. He replied that if the friend just showed up, I should not let him cut anything. I said fine.

After our phone call, I thought about this paranoia and wondered if it was a cultural thing, natives having been screwed in broken treaties, etc., and wondered why, if this guy was so worried about his friend, he would work with him. No answers, but good to think about, and in the end, not my problem.

When the father and son showed up, the first thing out of the father's mouth was 'did the other guy show up wanting to cut?' No, he hadn't. The father continued on with the stuff about under-cutting, etc., I asked where his buddy was and the father said he had told the other guy not to come because they wouldn't need him that day. In other words, while they didn't 'need' him, they could have used him, but they didn't. They then set about working and did a very nice job.

Now, part of the agreement with both my neighbor and me was they would have a third party come to remove excess wood and brush from both our properties when the work on both was complete. When the work was done, we learned they didn't really have a deal with the third party to remove brush, only the wood. My neighbor talked with the removal guy, who said he'd remove the brush for what amounted to a little extra cash. No problem, we withheld a little money from the cutters, agreed to pay a little premium for the removal, and both my neighbor and I were happy to have the work done.

A bit later, after the cutters had left, the guy shows up to do the wood and brush removal. He, too, did a very nice job and all was well. We talked with him about the job and the cutters and such. As it turned out, my neighbor had known him for some years, so he spoke frankly. He told us, without being prompted, that the 'friend' cutter was a straight-up, good guy, but he thought one ought to be careful of dealings the father and son. While they did nice work at a good price, many around wouldn't work with the father, as apparently, he was the one who had a history of doing to his friends and colleagues exactly what he had told us the friend might try to do to him and that customers occasionally wound up on the short end of the stick as well.

As I thought about this inside dope later, it occurred that we had gotten what had been promised and except for the clugey deal with brush removal, everything had gone off well and we were satisfied. But the truth of the relationship between the two collaborating cutter friends was reminiscent of something learned long ago that applies to contracts, hand-shake deals, boyfriends and girlfriends, car salesmen, politicians, and most everyone else for that matter.

That is, the biggest cheats are easy to spot. More often than not, they're those who are overly worried about someone else cheating them, even those they call friends.

And, that also reminded once again of the truth in Anais Nin's thought that 'We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.'





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