The Apprentice: A Love Story
opinionChana’s Corner

The Apprentice: A Love Story

The lines between being a teacher and a parent are blurred when learning on the job.

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

My husband’s relatively new elliptical machine needed to be fixed. The warranty allowed for repairs, but after three visits by the company technicians, the problem continued.

After abandoning hope that the manufacturer’s technicians could help, Zvi tried to ignore the irritating sound his machine made as it rotated. But when he couldn’t take it anymore, he resolved to find an independent repair service that could do the job. Unfortunately, no one Zvi asked could give a positive recommendation.

Becky, the owner of the gym in which I pay to be tortured, owns ellipticals like ours. When I asked her which company she uses for maintenance, she gave us the name of an independent worker.

Two weeks after my husband contacted Becky’s repairman, David Williams arrived at our house to take a look at the problem. We were surprised that he brought an assistant with him just to look, but we agreed that it made sense to train an apprentice to carefully assess a job before taking it.

Williams told us that a major part had to be replaced. With the replacement, he assured us, the elliptical would run like new. Zvi agreed to hire them.

The two men returned a week later with two enormous toolboxes and a new wheel.

Zvi, who couldn’t help being curious (skeptical might be a better word) after the failures of the first three technicians, intermittently watched them work. He was grateful that they took their time, and he was especially touched by the care with which the boss enabled and supervised his helper.

After several hours of labor, Williams declared the repair complete. He asked Zvi to watch as the assistant ceremoniously mounted the machine, tried it at different speeds and demonstrated that the disturbing grating sound was gone. The wheel replacement worked! There was joy and gladness in our home.

The men packed up their tools and cleaned the area in which they had been working. Relieved and impressed, Zvi paid Williams and escorted them to the door. “You spent all afternoon here,” he said. “I appreciate that!”

Zvi turned to me: “When the boss himself does the job, it gets done right. That apprentice is lucky to work side by side with him.”

At 6 p.m., Zvi optimistically put on his sneakers and started his exercise routine. After a few minutes, the grating sound began, softly at first, then slowly getting louder. After 45 minutes, Zvi sadly believed that Williams, too, had failed the test.

The next day after exercise class, I complained to Becky, who had praised Williams and had assured me that he could fix everything. “I don’t get it,” she said. “David Williams is the best. Sorry.”

By the time I got home, Zvi had already left a message on Williams’ answering machine. “They thought they were through with me,” Zvi said. “I’ll never hear from them again.”

That evening the phone rang. It was David Williams. “I don’t understand what went wrong,” he said. “You were there when John used it. We’re coming back until we get the job done.”

They took the machine apart and started over, with Williams demonstrating the repair to his helper. When they finished, Zvi got on and used it for 10 minutes while the two men stood ready to make adjustments. None was needed.

Zvi offered to pay the men for their time, but Williams refused. He pulled our original check from his wallet. “I didn’t cash it because I wanted you to use the machine. I meant it when I said we’d stay on the job until we got it right.”

Zvi turned to the apprentice, “I bet you learn a lot working with Mr. Williams!”

The young man beamed, and Williams put his arm around him, “This is my son,” he said. “He’s already good at fixing exercise equipment, and he’s also learning to stick with a job until it’s done right. That’s why I’m teaching him myself.”

Among other wisdom, our Jewish sages counsel parents to make sure their children acquire a vocation. Isn’t it great when the parent is the teacher?

P.S. The check cleared a week later.