Trace Mayer writes an impromptu eulogy for the best 80-year-old, clock-repair man he knew.
Trace Mayer owns an antique gallery. Zeke, a good friend and a clock-repair guy from the gallery, passed away last Thursday. Zeke was in his mid-80s, and over the past few years, Trace encouraged him to write down some of his life and career stories in hopes of putting them all together into a book. This is the note Trace gave to Zeke’s family, along with the collection of stories, on Monday, the day of his wake.
I don’t remember the first time I met Zeke. It would have been in my shop, but for the life of me I can’t remember the first time. This is amazing because Zeke was always memorable. His humor was often shocking, frequently entertaining, but always there right below his easy smile. He had a great northern sharpness, and was always ready to flirt in a jovial, playful, and innocent way.
He worked on antique clocks for us, and we gladly referred him to clients. It was rare that we didn’t get calls from those clients thanking us for the referral. He was charming and entertained them as if he grew up on stage. After each job he would explain the thousands of hours it took him to accomplish an impossible task—and then present them with a nominal bill that might have covered the cost of the gas to drive there and back, but not before explaining that anyone else would have charged much, much more.
He was a master of efficiency and common sense. One way we witnessed this was with the lowly penny. Zeke used pennies in all of his clock work—balancing one on an uneven floor, shimming a face so it showed properly through a window—and I’d wager you could find a penny somewhere in every clock he worked on.
Over the years he would visit with increasing regularity. He lived close by, and we became part of his routine. Occasionally he would help us out, and work on a piece, but more often than not it was a social call.
His visits began with a tale. After saying hello and asking if the coast was clear, he would explain that the cashier at Target just said goodbye to him with the phrase, ”Have a good one’,’ to which he replied, ”I have a great one!”
He would settle in the back while we worked around him—and he would recount tales about the war, Lorillard, the Romeos, his wife, family, grandchildren. He never overstayed his welcome, but he also had a way of being just enough of a pain in the you-know-what that everyone spoke open and freely with him. Age and gender differences melted away—and we spoke to Zeke. He wasn’t the old guy killing time; he was our contemporary. At least he made himself that. Had we tried to tiptoe around formality or deference to his age, he would have eaten us for lunch. I think in a way he resented the isolation of respect and distance that his age and stage of life presented. He fought this masterly. His mind was young and nimble—and he provided a good sparring partner. His ability to communicate with anyone was one of his great gifts.
So, after a particularly incredible tale about a drunken Indian during WWII, I asked him if he ever wrote any of these memories down. He was afraid that some of his grandchildren were too young for some of these stories, but I assured him that he too was a grandchild once.
So a couple of years ago Zeke started sending me a story or two every now and then, and I saved them in my files. I haven’t visited these stories in over a year, and am sad for the occasion to be presented with this task. They were definitely much more colorful and animated in person—but nonetheless, here they are.
Also, the stories he sent me did not detail his family, but know that he spent the majority of his time talking about his extended family with deep pride.
Here’s one of Zeke’s stories, dated “23 February 2010” and titled “SALESMANSHIP”:
As a new young salesman assigned to a territory in Manhattan covering the area from 23rd street to 59th street from the East River to the Hudson River, I called on all stores that sold sundries and tobacco products. I got around to each of the stores every 6 to 8 weeks.
One particular store which did good volume also had four or five friends hanging out there all the time. No matter what I presented, I could never make a sale regardless the amount of time I spent there. After a while I realized that the store owner was having fun at my expense. Since his friends all had a big laugh at the end of my presentation he said “No thank you” after making me show him my entire line in which he seemed to show interest in.
As much as I would have liked to skip this account, company policy forbade it. So after several times of getting “no thank you” and listening to four or five cronies having a good laugh, I said “thank you for your time and I wish I had a hundred customers like you”.
With a puzzled look on the shop keeper’s face he remarked “I don’t understand. Every time you call here I make you go through your entire line, wasting your time and not ordering anything you say I wish I had a hundred customers like you. What gives?”
I replied “I’ll tell you why I say I wish I had a hundred customers like you, because right now I have a thousand customers like you.”
A smile broke out his face and said “young man I like your attitude” and on every ensuing call I made on his store he and his pals became friendly with me, but more important, I made sales there on several products even though I knew he had ample inventory on one or two of them.