Sunday, December 14, 2008

A metaphor; moral tale for our current state -OR- The first rule of Fight Club

I had an uncle who ran a Catholic high school cafeteria. (He also had an early morning milk route, coached team sports, was an umpire/referee AND attended night school at Northwestern University. Hard, mostly thankless work and lots of it.) He had a wife and six kids to support, so he did whatever it took. We lived fairly close to the school, so it was common for him to show up to collapse on our couch for a hour or grab a quick bite to eat between gigs. He was a great guy, always giving back far more than he might have. He also told GREAT stories. All true!

For years, he was the lone full-time employee of the cafeteria. Moms and students filled out his staff. Hot lunch for 500 students. 5 days a week during the school year. He worked on a very tight budget.

The pop machines in the cafeteria were never a big money maker, but they were expected to pay for themselves. Shortly after the start of a new school year he went to refill the machines and empty the coins. One of the machines had NO COINS. He had the machine serviced assuming that it was somehow giving free pop. He tried to keep an eye on the machines during lunchtime, but when you're spooning up slop and keeping things moving along, you can't see everything. He saw kids getting pop from the machines and it appeared that they were putting coins in. Problem solved.

A few days later when he went to fill the machines, same machine, NO COINS. Something was definitely wrong.

He again filled the machine and kept a closer eye on things, assigning one of his workers to stand by the machine and see if kids were somehow getting pop without putting money in. The report came back that everything was normal. At the end of the day he opened the machine and found the receptacle half full of change as it should have been. This was just weird.

For a week he was emptying the machines every day. Not a big deal, just another chore for an already over chored worker. At the end of the month, he reconciled the books. Then he went back over the books from previous school years. He started putting things together.

He started staying late, eventually he was sleeping on one of the cafeteria tables. Until one night, after basketball practice, his vigilance paid off. A student came into the cafeteria, took out a key, opened the pop machine and emptied the change AND coin changer into his gym bag.

Uncle flipped on the lights and caught the crook red handed. The student, a senior, over the course of the interogation, admitted BUYING the key from a team mate who had graduated the previous year.
That student was contacted, admitted that he had sold the key, he also said he had bought the key from yet another graduate the year before. When the trail ended, the key had changed hands at least a dozen times over ten years. All the former students admitted that they had used the key, taken a few bucks in change, periodically over the course of the school year.

The last keyholder was either greedy or stupid. Instead of taking some of the change, he took it all, which led to his undoing. If he had brain cell one in his head he would have known better and the "leakage" would have gone on until the machine was replaced. Because he was such an idiot, years of chicanery were exposed. The criminals "voluntarily" offered to make restitution and other considerations to avoid embarassment and/or prosecution. A settlement was reached that satisfied almost everyone. The idiot student (with his dad's support) was uncooperative, "lawyered up", so in addition to being expelled, he was charged criminally.

I suppose there are three morals to this story?

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