If you're a big comedy fan you've probably seen every episode of the classic TV show, “The Honeymooners,” over and over again — particularly if you grew up in the New York City area, where the old kinescopes have played in perpetual syndication for the past 44 years. Amazingly, the “Great 39” episodes of this pioneering sitcom, which were all broadcast live in front of a studio audience, still stand up to repeated viewing.
For me, one standout “Honeymooners” finds ne'er-do-well bus driver Ralph Kramden going through a self-improvement kick to “hit the high note” of life to better his lot and impress his wife, Alice. Ralph recalls a schoolboy inability to play high notes on his cornet as a metaphor for his whole life. So, taking a page from Ben Franklin's book, Ralph makes a list of strengths and weaknesses. (CEE News' Paul Rosenberg writes a similar list for contractors on page 24.) Ralph's pal Ed Norton adds “can't speak French” to the weaknesses side and then — before Ralph's temper explodes — “sweetest guy in world” to the strengths side.
“The Honeymooners” was a simple, brilliantly funny sitcom that often managed to be poignant without being preachy. At the risk of sounding preachy myself, I think hitting the high note (or hitting one out of the park, if you'd like) is a good idea — whether you're a comedian, a musician, an athlete, an electrician or a business owner.
It's easy to get caught in a rut, to feel like a dray horse or another beast of burden, wearily plodding along on your well-worn routes, with the baggage of life and work always weighing you down.
Electrical contractors bear more pressure and more responsibility than most professionals. Deadlines always loom; payment, material and personnel problems always pop up. Considering all these steps that can make you stumble and fall, it's fair to say that a good contractor hits the high note just doing a good installation on time for a fair price.
Still, following Ralph Kramden's one-episode self-improvement example (he reverts to loudmouthed get-rich-quick-schemes for the rest of the season), everyone should strive to improve performance.
Woody Allen, an avid “Honeymooners” fan, said “90% of life is showing up,” but it takes a tad more than that to hit the high note. How about: showing up when you say you will, finishing a job on time, calling your customer when you can't finish on time (it's easy with a cell phone) and treating your customer with respect.
The contractors we profile in CEE News all hit high notes because we only profile exceptional contractors. For instance, in last month's cover story, part one of “This Old House,” Amy Fischbach asks Allen Gallant advice on successfully running an electrical contracting business.
“It's not hard,” Gallant said. “I didn't always do it, but I learned over the years. Call people back, do the job the day you say you're going to do it or call them a day in advance to let them know you won't be able to make it. If you do a good job, you can make a good living.”
Sometimes hitting the high note is simple. Other times, you need to have delved into life's dank, dark low ends before seeing the highlights. A recent Parade magazine story profiled Dominic Giles, the founder of Hire A Husband, who told how he hit his high note after sinking to rock bottom. Newly divorced and penniless, he posted Hire A Husband fliers on car windshields in the parking lot of a meeting for newly divorced women. He started his business empty-handed — he didn't even have a ladder — but he made it his business to be polite, friendly, competent and dependable. He defied the notorious reputation handymen have for being unreliable. And, believe it or not, the customers seemed to go for his positive, can-do attitude and quality workmanship for some reason.
Please don't get the impression that I spend all my free time watching 1950s sitcoms (I try to catch the new shows, too), but I happened to recently catch an episode of “Father Knows Best” that sort of applies here. A handyman uses a better-quality paint than Jim Anderson (who usually knows better, if not best) specifies for his house. The Andersons suspect the handyman is trying to pull a fast one because he's a grumpy old guy who doesn't talk much (and when he does it's in that vague Maine accent that TV-land handymen use) and just diligently does his work. Don't worry — everything turns out OK with everybody learning lessons by the end of the program. Now, no one is saying contractors should ruin profit margins, but sometimes it pays to go beyond what a customer expects.
By the way, in case you haven't seen the episode, Ralph's self-improvement phase doesn't get him promoted. But that's OK: After some practice on the cornet he finally catches a piece of the high note. More importantly, he wins Alice's respect. At show's end, Alice says, “I like the new Ralph Kramden and if the old Ralph Kramden ever shows his face around here again, I'm going to hit him right on top of the head with this cornet.” Ralph says “You know something… I did hit that high note once. The day I married you.”