J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 11-28-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 11-28-11

J.C. Mattingly Moffat, Colo.

Most species on earth have survived hard times when food was in short supply and hoarding food was a smart thing to do. Perhaps because of this, some species don’t know when to stop hoarding when the food supply is plentiful, as the following story suggests.

The story takes place in the shop of a car dealership in my area. Like many commercial shops, it has line mechanics, each with their own sets of tools and tool boxes. Mechanics are very particular about their tools and very territorial about their working spaces.

This particular shop had an Honor System candy dispensary in one corner. The deal was a mechanic could get a candy bar, or almost anything typically served up by a vending machine, and simply pay for it by dropping the correct amount of money into a jar.

The operator of the dispensary came around once week and stocked the items and collected the money.

During a certain period, a considerable amount of candy and other convenience foods such as Funions, chips, and Lifesavers disappeared. By that I mean, they disappeared from the dispensary without payment. Around the same time, candy and other snack items disappeared from a mechanic’s tool box or bench.

There didn’t appear to be a pattern to the items that were disappearing.

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The first mechanic to be a suspect was Ernie.

“Ernie’ll eat anything,” one mechanic said of him, and the others agreed. This made Ernie a suspect simply because it seemed unlikely that any other thief would be more selective, taking only, say candy, or only a certain kind of candy. That the thief in this case was as willing to take a Funion as a peppermint paddy, betrayed a gross inability to discriminate.

But when Ernie was away sick, the larcenies continued, thus proving his innocence.

The next suspect was George.

“George would sell his mother’s wedding ring for a rolling tool box full of SnapOn tools,” one mechanic said of him. Though this wasn’t exactly a bad exchange in the opinion of most mechanics, it did suggest the character of someone who might be greedy enough to steal cheap food.

For over a month, suspicions and accusations circulated around the shop until one Friday afternoon, an acoustic ceiling tile came crashing to the floor, resulting in an explosion of vending machine artifacts, some partially eaten, surrounded by a stunned but animated pack rat.

The rat frantically circled its bounty, trying to fend off the mechanics who erroneously thought a lot of waving arms would scare it off. Eventually the pack rat was dispatched and the bounty cleaned up, leaving behind the moral: If you take more than you need, it may come crashing down around you.