Six years ago, I moved into a house on a barrier island off Long Island in New York. It's called Long Beach and you have access to it via a bridge.

Now, my house is situated in an area called The Canals of Lido, which contains eight streets separated by four canals. The water all pours into Reynolds Channel. I am only a few minutes walk from the beach and the Atlantic Ocean so I'm squished between water. Yes, it's a very nice place to live; however, I have begun to wonder whether the founding fathers got in cahoots with the tradespeople on prevailing service rates. I even questioned the former president of the City Council, Joel Crystal (Billy's brother) about this but he just smiled.

Let me give you some instances. My daughter, Michele, who is 36 years old and the mother of two, can still wreck a bathroom. She likes paper and recently clogged up one toilet to the tune of $200, which is what the plumber charged for two minutes labor. Actually, at one point, I had another flushing problem in another bathroom (not Michele's fault but one of my grandkids) and used a different plumber and, yup, $200. He stayed all of 90 seconds.

Then there is the washing machine which decided one day it didn't feel like agitating, so it decided to agitate me. I called an appliance repair guy who talked me out of buying a new machine. "They're all plastic today. This here is made of heavy-duty metal and is at least 20 years old. No, they don't make them like this anymore." I should think not. He changed some part and with labor, another $200. He fixed the problem in four minutes but stayed a half-hour to make sure the washing cycle worked.

Then the gardener told us about a tree in the back that was dying. He pruned it, added some fancy soil, sprayed it, and charged...$200. But at least he was on the premises for at least 20 minutes.

I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe I'm in the wrong profession. Well, the piece de resistance came with our electrician. I say "our" because he seems to spend as much time in my house as I do. The Boss Lady decided that she needed a fountain in the back garden, so she went over to Home Depot and schlepped back a fiberglass fountain in the shape of a pineapple. They don't use flamingos anymore. It was all of $69. Reasonable to keep her happy, eh?

I plugged in to the outlet on the back of the house and the pineapples gurgled happily although it certainly wasn't Old Faithful.

However, the Boss Lady didn't want the fountain there. Does that surprise any man? She wanted it across the patio and under a tree, the same tree that was pruned and sprayed for $200. Well, now, that involved some additional wiring and in a moment of largesse, I called Jack the electrician. He came over, muttered something about an outlet not being up to code (whose I don't know) and proceeded to lay piping, conduits, outlets, wiring, etc, etc, and so forth. When he finished, he presented me a bill for $175. Did you read that? $175. I practically danced for joy. The circle was broken. I was on my way to freedom. Saved $25, the start of an empire.

"Oh, by the way, Mr. Kahan, I had to buy a separate outlet box for the fountain itself. That will be an additional $25."

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