I’ve always wanted to be a shrewd negotiator. To get a great deal on something simply due to my slick talking and hardened determination, or willingness to walk away from a deal, hoping the seller would chase me down and beg me to come back. But I suck at bluffing, and my conscience usually gets in the way. I really don’t like burning bridges or cheating anyone. The one time I tried it, I failed spectacularly… and it was well deserved.
When I moved to Omaha years ago and bought my first acreage, I needed a riding mower with a snow blade. And fast. There was a huge storm expected in just a couple days and all I had was a shovel for my 100-foot drive.
Luckily, I found one on Craigslist. A John Deere tractor no less, priced at just $500. I rented a trailer and drove to the guy’s house within an hour of seeing the listing.
He lived in a dated suburb with houses from the 50’s and yards small enough to mow with a push-mower. He looked tired, in his sixties, fiddling in his garage when I arrived.
I kicked the tires and asked the obligatory questions: “How old is it?” – “Can you start it up for me?” – “Will you turn on the mower deck?” – “How old is the battery?”
I didn’t get any responses that I could use to my advantage. The tractor seemed in good shape and it was a fair price.
But then, just as I was ready to offer him the $500, he laid it out there.
“It was my mom’s. This is her house. She just died and I’m trying to sell all her things. I need the money to pay the mortgage till I can sell it.”
The man was as desperate as I was. Even more so perhaps.
I don’t know how I did it, but I told him, “Ah, that’s too bad… Will you take $300 for it?”
He let out a long, defeated sigh that almost took my own breath away.
“I guess I have to,” he said.
Jackpot! I tried to tune him out as I put the tractor on the trailer. He kept going on about his mother and her house. I felt terrible for the guy, but I was broke and a snowstorm was coming.
I got it home and triumphantly took a photo atop it. My first tractor. Secured at a cheap price because I was so shrewd and awesome! That feeling didn’t last long though. I kept thinking about the guy and his mother. It just didn’t sit right.
I let my daughters drive it around the yard and I put in some fresh oil and gasoline. The blade went up and down perfectly and I was ready for the snowstorm.
And then it happened. As I was driving it into the garage for storage, smoke started coming from the engine. Slow at first. Then it was billowing like a fresh leaf fire. I jumped off and ran away. The engine stopped and the smoke kept coming. For several minutes. I was afraid it might blow up. Soon the smoke stopped. I put it on the trailer and drove to my mechanic friend.
I can’t remember exactly what happened but he said the engine was toast. It would cost at least $1000-$1500 to fix it. I told him to keep it. Fix and sell it if he wanted to. Or just scrap it.
The thing was cursed. I had cursed it with my greed and selfishness.
My penance was shoveling 3 inches of snow from a 100-foot drive. Well-deserved.
Ben North lives and writes from a homestead in Iowa.