Curious accounting

I must say that I can remember equating expenditures to how many sheets of watercolour paper I could purchase. It gave rise to this kind of outcry:

“A pair of shoes at a hundred dollars? Do you think I’m crazy? I could buy ten sheets of 300 pound Arches watercolour paper with that! I’ll go barefoot first!”

I will also admit that the idea of counting in values other than currency really hadn’t occurred to me as a phenomenon until Dara commented on an e-mail from nephew Hugh.

Hugh has an opportunity in front of him. Proud aunt that I am, I am sometimes marveled by his ability to find and seize opportunities and then to make them happen. He’s done very well with his studies and has been asked by the Director of School at the University to carry on to his Doctoral degree. In the course of his research which he does during the school year as a part time job and now during the summer as well, he found a course that was being offered in California that was exactly what he was studying. The course would bring together a number of the most important scholars studying the non-proliferation of nuclear arms. Hugh, needless to say, was elated at the idea of joining the course.

Sometimes dilemmas arise when we are presented with such opportunities. He would have to find some way of missing three weeks of his research job. He would have to find money to go there. He’s a student, not starving, but not earning big bucks either, and the travel costs alone would be daunting, but the cost of the course was three thousand dollars plus. Hugh was drooling over the computer keyboard in anticipation as he read about the course. He just had to attend it!

In his excitement he sent out an e-mail to a few friends telling them about his absolute joy in knowing that such a pithy course was available somewhere in the North American continent. All the longing and desire was wrapped up in this comment that he finished his e-mail with:

“I’d love to go, but the course is worth at least two brand new, top of the line Mac laptops.”

I could just see him weighing the course in one hand and holding up two Mac laptops in the other. Neither was tipping the balance. If only he could have his course and his laptop too! But in fact, he could probably have neither unless…..

He’s a smart fellow. I knew I’d be hearing more from him. His e-mail must have been sent to me and his friend Dara and maybe others because she “replied all” with a light hearted comment about him being the only guy in the world that she ever had met who measured the worth of something in units of new laptop-ness.

He’s a computer nerdy type of guy and he knows his equipment. As an annual activity, he covets the newest computer hardware offerings. Like clockwork. If there is something new and better, he wants it. Of course, he’s the kind of person who will do it justice.

And so there he was stuck on the horns of a dilemma. And there I was, toying with a new concept of worth, value, an equal trade off, and quid pro quo.

The idea was settling in my brain and having a comfy go-around when the phone rang. It was nephew Ron, Hugh’s brother, who was calling.

Now there’s a miracle. In two days, I’d heard from them both. I keep in touch with Hugh very often. Our academic leanings gave us a somewhat more common ground for bonding while Ron had had more difficulty in accepting his relationships with anyone, not just me, and was more distant. I only heard from Ron about every three months, and even then, it was often due to a prompt from me – like a message left on his cell phone which he never answers. He screens his calls.

Ron announced that he was working in the community next door to the one I’m living in. Ron works in construction as an apprenticing mason. He’s graduated to this state after a number of years of being a reliable and dedicated labourer. Ron never liked school; in fact he hated it, and nothing could persuade him that he would be better off with some post-Secondary education and that education in the trades could triple his salary if he could only make himself go back to school. Sometimes, one just has to let a person find his own way. Ron is one of these.

Ron has tremendous talent and intelligence. He’s mechanically inclined. He learns more aurally and kinetically than in other ways. He learns by trial and error. He figures things out. Don’t expect him to do any reading for pleasure unless it’s a mechanic’s manual to fix a car or an explanation of a diagram accompanying a piece of machinery.

Add to this that Ron is a hard worker with a great work ethic. He’s up at five in the morning to start work at six, hauling cement and mortar, rocks, bricks and other materials pertaining to the masonry trade. He’s muscular and active, a bundle of youthful energy.

So it was no surprise when he said to me in a very short phone call:
“I’ve got fifteen minutes for a coffee break. Can you meet me at Tim Horton’s?”

“Which Tim Horton’s?” I asked. There were at least two I was aware of.

“The one up by the highway into Maple Ridge, whatever it’s name is. You know. It’s the highway coming off the Pitt River Bridge. Tim Horton’s is up by the Silver Screen there,” he added.

Fifteen minutes to see Ron wasn’t much; but I haven’t seen much of him since we all moved away from Mom’s house last year. Ron was one of the first to go but he was always back and forth, in and out, coming to repair his car in the back or borrow the rug cleaner or catch a hasty snack on the run. Now I didn’t see him at all and I missed him and his exuberance.

“I’ll be there,” I said and rang off. I was in the car within five minutes and down to the cafe in another seven. Ron and a friend were already there. He came out, tall and atheletically gangly still, his shorter friend following close behind. In one hand Ron was carrying the tallest coffee you can buy at Horton’s and in the other, he held a glazed doughnut with a healthy bite out of it.

“Hey, Auntie Kay!” he greeted me in his husky voice. “We got here before you!” He had a huge grin on his face and he came over and hugged me. “This here is Manuel.” Manuel, it turned out, was a Mexican lad of about the same age who had come to work for the summer. There were so few labourers available in this hot job market that the Canadian Government was relaxing its rules to allow some foreign workers to come fill the vacancies.

“Are you working as a mason too?” I asked. But Manuel was just starting, at the bottom of the totem pole. He was lifting, carrying, and transporting bricks and mortar around each job site. When the summer was over, he would return home with enough cash to buy a small business and go to school. He wanted to be an Electro-mechanical engineer. I could tell he wasn’t the normal labourer. He knew two languages, for instance, and I never heard a swear word out of him, although I could imaging that Ron and his cohorts were probably completing the slang language part of his education for him with glee.

“We’re working just down there on Harris Road” Ron explained. It’s just down by the Subway.” He looked at me expectantly. “Y’know where I mean? I looked a little blank. I’d been in the community for nine months now but I had no idea where he meant.

“It’s down by the railroad track. It runs right through there. I thought it might be fun to take the train one day, but the train only goes one way in the morning, so it doesn’t work for me. The train station is right there on Harris Road. It’s right where MacDonald’s is, on the highway. ” He was now peering at me, wondering whatever had happened to my education. Didn’t his Aunt know where the fast food places were?

‘Yeah, yeah, I know where you mean” I said as it clicked in that he was talking about Subway the food place, not Subway the rapid transit train station though it really was the West Coast Express out here in the burbs.

“Well our construction site is the first one just after the railroad tracks.”

A light bulb turned on in my mind. Hugh might equate values with laptop computers. Ron equated location with fast food outlets.

I’ve got a date on Tuesday with Ron. He’ll come up and see the house, but not for long, he made it clear. He’s on the fly.

I’ve got an update on Hugh. He took his dream to the Director of his School who agreed that the course was just too juicy for Hugh to pass up. Of course Hugh could go! He could make up the time he missed some other way and they would figure that out together.

Hugh has also inquired about the hint of a scholarship in the course prospectus that seemingly was proposed for tuition, room and board. It was probable that he was exactly the kind of candidate they were looking for. If that were so, then the only thing he needed was airfare and he thought he could manage that himself.

They’ve both grown up to be independent and useful citizens. I’m proud of them both and I’m a happy Aunt to have had a hand in getting them to this point; and a happy Aunt, to have heard from them both in just this one week.


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4 Responses to “Curious accounting”

  1. bluedragonfly Says:

    I’m think I tend to equate things by where they’re bought – you’ll get twice as many lemons at HEB as you will at Whole Foods…I’m trying to think if someone told me a certain item cost $100 what I’d think it was worth — I know my boyfriend would probably think of it in terms of cars and car parts 🙂

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Bluedragonfly.
    It is a curious concept isn’t it. I never had thought in those terms before so it was a revelation to me. Sounds like you are quite cost conscious. Me too. It’s almost a game now, to see what I can obtain of same quality for more advantageous price.

  3. canadada Says:

    Nicely done. Revealing, sensitive and humane.
    It is curious how diverse boys become so different as they grow …
    Sounds like two fine lads, with focus, skill, and aptitude. Boys to be proud of. Young men who will hold their own in life. As for ‘accounting’, ‘value’ is relative. Arches paper, fast food outlets, laptops … We choose as we go, no?

    Do your nephews know you have a blog? Tell them.
    Im sure they’d both be interested.

  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks Canadada,
    They are two fine lads, that’s for sure. They know I blog, but they think that ancient auntie would write anything relevant to them. Well, maybe the academic one is interested a bit, but he, being a computer nerd as well, simply said to me,”Auntie, that’s not what blogs are for. They’re for researching computer problems.” Little did he know that we ancients have hijacked the system for our own peaceful means…..

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