Monday, October 19, 2009


by Jim Woods

When I was a young boy in Kentucky around the end of World War Two, a man in our neighborhood had a pastry delivery truck. In time, I was to learn that he was an independent operator, a franchise holder, although the truck carried the signage of the commercial bakery that supplied the products he dealt in. I know now that he serviced an exclusive area that he had acquired through lease or purchase. The retail stores within his territory, if they wanted to carry his baker’s brands of cakes, pies and snack cakes, had to deal with him. Although I did not grasp the franchise theory at the time, I did eventually learn about franchises and profit commerce in general.

The unfathomable mystery to me at the time was why, when the route man retrieved the outdated pastries from the store shelves, and replaced them with fresh ones, that he did not give away the day-old or two-day-old pastries. I coveted them, and I was not alone. Practically everyone in the neighborhood was poor, although most had jobs. My brother and I added to the family income by mowing lawns behind a push mower, sometimes for the princely sum of twenty cents. Mostly we got a dime to share. But those dimes could never be spent on a snack cake, but we were tempted.

The pastry route man was one of our lawn-mowing clients, so we had access twice a month to his back yard in order to perform our work. Several were the occasions when we saw him sprinkle kerosene on a pile of mouth-watering but shelf-dated cellophane wrapped pastries, and touch off a match to them. They smelled so good when they burned, and we were confused and angry at what we saw as awful waste. Other times when our lawn mowing didn’t happen to coincide with the ritual cake fires, the circular mound of ashes in the middle of the lawn that we mowed was a reminder of cakes gone up in smoke without sating any sweet tooth. The man did not even tip us with a small snack cake, but paid us our dime apiece. His was a big back yard, thus the double dimes.

At some time in my understanding of ways of the world, I came to realize that if he had given away his outdated pastries, the recipients soon would come to expect the largess on schedule, and the stores would not sell his fresh cakes; the store patrons in the neighborhood knowing that if they were patient, those day or two-day-old cakes would come to them free. The store would lose out on retail sales and the route man would suffer loss of his wholesale business.

Moving on, in my later adult life, I was privileged to hunt in Africa on several occasions. The reasons and conditions don’t matter; I was there. In South Africa, safari operations frequently are conducted on farms and ranches where crops and domestic animals share the land. Those farms and ranches largely are not as mechanized as similar operations in the United States, and for sound reasons in the country’s economic structure. They have large numbers of personnel to serve as farm workers, and the government at the time encouraged the farmers to employ more hired help than they needed, with attendant lower wages spread over more recipients. As might be concluded from such an arrangement, those workers were near the bottom of the economic scale, although part of their wages was basic food rations. Those rations did not include fancy cuts of meat, but may have included the lesser and non-marketable pieces, and even entrails that the workers found acceptable as food.

On one occasion, on a cattle ranch that also was home to a safari outfit, a cow was discovered in the bush, down and disabled with a broken leg, presumably from stepping into a hole or possibly from stumbling during panicked retreat from a predator. Buzzards were chased from the scene but not before having just started to pick on the still-live cow. The animal had to be destroyed. The farmer used the same method of destruction as the cake man. After shooting the cow, he doused the carcass with diesel fuel and ignited it, and we hung around until he was satisfied that the carcass was completely consumed.

Up to that point, I had suggested that since the animal was still alive and meat was still fresh, it could have been salvaged, for workers’ rations if nothing else. But his reasoning was that if he gave the meat to his workers, he would find other cows meeting similar accidents every time they wanted meat. I understood his implication. He was in the beef business. Like the cake man, he couldn’t give away the product without adversely impacting the market value of the rest of his product.

I was witness to almost the same scenario another time and locale in Africa. This time it was a game animal, a wildebeest that was down, and duly reported to the farm owner by one of his black staff that had discovered it. We drove out to investigate and the animal was indeed freshly dead, but without apparent cause. The farmer/safari outfitter performed an autopsy in the field, and pronounced the animal expired of “heart water”--fluid around the heart. According to the farmer, it was fairly common for this particular species in this region, and usually caused by the animal being pursued until it dropped, by man or other predator. So while he had lost an animal for which guest hunters would have paid a substantial trophy fee, he also refused to permit the meat to be salvaged for his crew. To give away his product would have been to invite further animals pursued till their hearts stopped too. Like the other South African farmer, and the cake man, the no longer saleable merchandise was destroyed.

In addition to being a writer and author, I’m also an editor, by a lifetime of education, training and experience. I’ve been around the business long enough to know that independent editors’ livelihood comes from paid commissions for their editing services rendered to private individuals or corporation clients. All too often, the private author requesting editing of his book manuscript or short story is hurt or angered when the editor lays out a fee structure for his editing expertise and work. Those editors seemingly are expected to work for nothing, or for goodwill. But like the cake man in Kentucky and the game farmers in South Africa, most professional editors do not devalue their product by giving it away. So unless the requestor is a very close friend of the editor, or unless that editor volunteers his editing skills, don’t expect them to work for nothing. Their time and experience have value from which they are entitled to benefit, and that’s the frosting on their cake.

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Contributed by Jim Woods, author of Champagne Books Assassination Safari, Parting Shot and Gunshot Echoes.

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