I’d like to respond to your dilemma with a true story that happened to me recently.
Our oven died. Yes, I know there are worse things. But as a Sabbath observer, I do a lot of baking. I make my own challah, potato kugel and desserts every week, not to mention nightly suppers.
So you’re getting the picture: My oven and I share an intimate relationship.
It was an ordinary day when my world upended. After the initial shock transitioning to denial when my oven’s breath remained cold (I tried cajoling it, then patting it, to no avail), I checked some references for an appliance repairman who had recently moved into the neighborhood. Emails filled with accolades poured into my inbox.
“Daniel’s terrific; he can fix anything!” one friend wrote.
“Quick, reliable, cost-effective.”
“We had a great experience!”
Three positive comments impelled me to dial Daniel.
“No problem,” he said. “I’ll be there tomorrow, first thing in the morning.”
First thing in the morning came and went. By noon, I called and got his machine. I left a voicemail and did not hear back that day. The next day he texted that he was backlogged and asked whether I would mind if he came a few days later.
No problem, I sighed, casting a longing glance in the direction of my lifeless, square friend.
“We’ll be working together again in no time,” I whispered. “Hang in there.”
Somehow Shabbos happened, but the store-bought challahs and desserts just weren’t the same.
A week into my story, Daniel showed up. He gave my oven a thorough examination, tsk-tsked, and turned to me.
“I’ll need a hundred dollars to replace the broken part and another hundred for the service charge.”
“No problem,” I said, writing out a check. After all, Daniel was Jewish and came highly recommended. Now that the process was progressing, what could go wrong?
Reliable, cost-effective, quick Daniel procrastinated another week. We were up to 14 days of being ovenless. I had had it.
Gripping my rage in a stronghold, I dialed Daniel. I’ve learned there are certain conversations you don’t want to have by text or email. I wasn’t surprised to get his voicemail.
He’s avoiding me, I realized, my jaw clenched and blood pressure soaring. I left him a message, wondering whether I was dealing with a thief. But why had he treated everyone else so well?
“Listen, Daniel,” I told his voicemail, trying to keep my voice even, “we need our oven fixed. If you can’t be here today, please give me my money back so I can find someone else. We need you here today.”
“I am so embarrassed,” he replied via text. “There is a truck blocking my driveway, and I can’t get out.”
He sent me a photo of a large truck across his driveway. Mountains of dirt were piled up on both sides, and his silver Camry sat, a silent observer to the construction scene.
What time are you coming? I texted, mentally waving goodbye to my $200. This guy was unquestionably a ganif. I only wondered why he had chosen to embark on this pernicious career using us as his first clients.
“Home Depot doesn’t have the part for your model,” he wrote an hour later. “Have to go to another store.”
“Stop telling me stories!” I yelled. “WHAT TIME ARE YOU COMING???”
Two more hours ticked by, and I laid down the law, though I am normally placid and unaggressive.
“First thing in the morning or please give my money back,” I texted.
I pictured him laughing at me. Imagine a thief running off with your pocketbook, while you follow him, pleading for him to return your property. Pretty ludicrous, isn’t it?
“I’ll be there,” he promised. “The truth.”
He seemed wounded by my skepticism and anger, but I was beyond caring.
Wonder of wonders, Daniel did show. Two hours and 14 days late, but who’s counting? Although he assured us he would have the oven humming in two hours, six hours elapsed before it whirred to life.
When he was ready to leave, he looked me straight in the eye.
“I’m sorry about all this,” he said.
Relieved that my oven was working and that I wasn’t out $200, I replied, “Well, two weeks is a long time.”
“I don’t like to tell customers this,” he said, “but I have a sick little boy. That’s the real reason for all the delays. We were in the hospital. But I don’t want people feeling bad for me.”
My heart flipflopped.
“You should have told me,” I said, wiping the sudden moisture from my eyes. “I would have understood.”
“Well, I wasn’t comfortable, so I lied.”
“He should have a speedy recovery,” I said.
“Thank you.” He smiled and gave a little bow. And then, in a coup de grace, he told me that the parts costed more than expected, and I owed him another $200. My jaw dropped.
“Show me the receipts,” I said.
“I don’t have them,” he replied. “I left them at home.”
He called home and checked his van, and after 20 minutes of watching him go back and forth, I agreed, against my better judgment but for the sake of peace, to give him $100 more. I wanted him out, and I will not be calling him to repair my appliances again.
Yes, he had a good reason for resorting to white (or perhaps gray) lies. But I need a person I can trust. Now I must end this letter: I have to check on my challah.
Whom Would You Trust?
I have two friends. One runs back to the store when undercharged to pay the difference, leaving a smiling cashier behind. He has also been known to place a note on a windshield after accidentally scratching a car, even though no one saw what happened. My other friend has a habit of fudging the small stuff.
Whom would you entrust with your valuables, be it possessions or confidences? Need I say more?
You never lose out by doing the right thing. Best of luck in your court case.