I have had my share of labor days. I worked at a summer camp. I couldn’t swim. I worked at a warehouse. I couldn’t lift. I worked at a clothes store. I couldn’t fold.  And, most of all, I worked in the hardware department of Sears. I was in charge of ratchets and sockets. At the time, I had no idea what ratchets or sockets were. Or what they did. But I knew that I was in charge of them.

Now, I’m here to tell you that Sears had good tools. There was no brand better than Craftsman. Strong as steel, guaranteed for life. I know this because it was a Craftsman hammer my father was using when he put a four-inch nail through his thumb. This is why our basement was never finished. This is why, despite my father’s blood, sweat and more blood, I never became very handy around the house.

But that didn’t matter. Because I grew up to become king of all ratchets. Carpenters, we’re talking professional carpenters here, would park their panel trucks in the Sears lot and come in to ask my advice.

“Hey, buddy,” they would ask me, “I’m looking to retool. What do you think I should buy?”

Now, let me get this right, I thought. You’re a 45-year-old professional, you do this for a living, and you’re asking the advice of an 18-year-old Jewish kid who brought his lunch to work in a sack. “You can’t go wrong with Craftsman,” I would tell them. “They’re strong as steel and guaranteed for life. My father did our whole basement with Craftsman. Well, everything except the drywall. And the tape. And the spackling.”

“Good advice, pal. Load me up.”

I always thought that the greatest thing about your Sears products was the guarantees. It’s also the main reason why Sears is hanging on by its knuckles right now. Here’s how it worked. Let’s say you bought a 50-foot Craftsman garden hose. That should last you a few seasons. Oh, no, not at Sears. Your 50-foot Craftsman garden hose was guaranteed for ten years. And this wasn’t one of those we’ll-give-you-a-couple-bucks-if-it-cracks guarantees. If you brought in your hose nine years, 11 months and three weeks after you bought it, and it had a crack, you got a new hose, no questions asked.

I remember the day that one guy brought his hose in with two days left on the warranty. “Look,” he told me, “my hose cracked.”

I examined the hose in question. Even I knew that the so-called crack was a slice made by a utility knife. The guy used his hose in good health all those years and then slashed it himself to try to get a new one. I showed this mutilation to my department manager. “You want me to call a cop?” I said. “No,” he said, “just give him his new hose. The customer is always right.”

I am here to tell you that the customer isn’t always right. In fact, many times the customer is actually a thief. But not at Sears.

I learned a lot that summer. I learned that ratchets were different from sockets. I learned that a tuna fish sandwich will leak through the bag if you don’t put it in the refrigerator, and I learned that, if you created a system, there was always some guy in a T-shirt and utility belt who would find a way to beat it.

So, I guess I’m lucky on this Labor Day, because I didn’t grow up to be one of those guys. It was this summer at Sears that taught me how to work hard and how to save money. Sure, I would go on to bigger and better jobs.

And I found that you didn’t get anywhere through shortcuts. I couldn’t teach my kids about power drills, but I could teach them a lot of what they know about labor. Always be prepared. And always work hard.

Hard work might not pay, but it sure does pay off.

September 2011
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