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Tom Grace

June 15, 2010

Upright apes can't see past almighty dollar

COLUMBUS _ "Six weeks till we go to the beach," Uncle Chet said, sitting on the tractor seat on a Sunday afternoon.

"I can hardly wait," I glanced up from the barn floor, then back to the upside-down claw-foot bathtub I was painting white.

"To walk along the shore and sit around and do nothing, except smell that salty air and listen to the waves," he said.

"I love to watch the sound," I said, "the ships, the sailboats, even the jet skis."

"And the swimmers," Uncle Chet said. "You can't keep Buddy out of the surf."

"This year he won't be wearing a life jacket," I noted and began to think of all the gear I had to get together soon, put tires on the truck, borrow beach chairs.

"And hang out in our little shanty for seven days," he said, "eating ice cream every time the truck comes by."

"I hope it doesn't rain," I moved the can of Rustoleum along on the old carpet I'd placed under the tub for padding.

In the glare of the work light, imperfections in the curving front showed up like scars after a bout with smallpox. But when installed right side up in the corner of the bathroom, it should pass inspection, I thought.

"If it rains," Uncle Chet stretched back in the tractor seat, "we'll play pitch on the porch, and you can play your new guitar."

"My new old guitar," I said. "It's probably half as good as yours."

"It better be; you paid half as much," he said.

"I can hardly wait to see it."

"When is it supposed to arrive?"

"Next week," I said.

"I can't imagine buying a guitar without playing it, even seeing it, first."

"I've been doing it with cars," I noted and moved along on the rug.

"That's true."

"And they're still running."

"I guess it just comes down to trust," he said. "You do business with someone who seems honest and candid, but you do some homework, first."

"You have to do that," I said. "I know this is a desirable model because I read a lot of customer reviews. What I don't know is the condition. For that, I'm trusting the seller."

"But you don't know the seller."

"I know her feedback, although she hasn't sold much and never a guitar, so I am a little worried," I said. "She said she doesn't know much about guitars, but the owner, her friend and an old gent, says it's perfect."

"Suppose he's deaf, or prone to exaggeration," Uncle Chet said.

"Then I've got three days to ship it back."

"What if she stole it?"

"I've got the serial number; she didn't steal it," I said.

"I'm only picking on you," he said. "I think it's going to work out, and I'm going to be wishing I'd done it that way, person-to-person. Either way, we're going to have two guitars on the porch this year, serenading the neighbors as they head for the beach."

"And bicycles this year, too," I said. "You can go pretty far on the shore road."

"And from what I saw on YouTube, it looks like the oil slick's going to miss New England," he said. "It going to lubricate Florida and gum up the Carolinas, though, before heading for Europe in the BP Stream."

"Biggest case of pollution ever," I daubed paint along the fluted face of a claw foot.

"Like watching the earth bleed to death," he said.

"Man-made hell in water," I said.

"Makes you wonder what the dolphins think," Uncle Chet said. "Because you know, they know this disaster was caused by us, the upright apes."

"They're just heading away from it," I said.

"And now that Louisiana governor, Jindal, wants the moratorium lifted, so they can poke more holes in the bottom."

"There's the voice of industry," I said.

"When I heard that I realized they'll stop at nothing," Uncle Chet said. "Even if they have another blowout, even if they ruin the Atlantic, there'll still be some who say we can't stop, can't change course now, not as long as there's a buck to be made."

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit

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