Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Do I Look Like I Work Here?

By Cam Mather

Well apparently I do. I have often been mistaken for an employee of whatever store I happen to be shopping in. This all started many years ago. I had worked for a number of different greenhouses/landscaping companies and had started wearing green work pants since they didn’t show the dirt as much. Even when I no longer worked in the field, I would often wear my green “gardening” pants when I went into one of these gardening centres to purchase plants or trees. Inevitably another customer would spot me in my green pants and assume that I worked there and would ask me a question.  I used to fight it and say, “No, I don’t work here.” Eventually I gave in and went with the flow and answered their questions when I could. “Do impatiens grow well in the shade?” “Yes, they love the shade.” Of course if I had been a bad person I could have dispensed bad advice, but I’m not like that.

I’m most proud when people mistake me for an employee of Canadian Tire, (a hardware/automotive supply store). If I had to choose just one store in which to shop, I think I’d forgo a grocery store and pick Canadian Tire. I used to spend a fair amount of time in this store before our hardware store opened in town. Even though I am not usually dressed like a Canadian Tire employee, I guess because of the amount of time I have spent there, I look comfortable and knowledgeable enough to fool other customers!

Then at my recent talk for The Rotary Club of Kingston I took a bit of hit to my ever-fragile ego. Granted I should have seen it coming. Even though I was the keynote speaker, several members of the club came up to me and asked about tables and food. Come on! I’m the speaker! I don’t know where the tables are! But I sort of had it coming. First off, I forgot my nametag. If I’d had my nametag I would have looked official. Secondly, I wore my “black” outfit, which is about the only one I have left that is decent enough for speaking engagements. Well as luck would have it, the serving staff at the restaurant where the meetings are held all wear black. And then of course there is that age thing. While there are many outcroppings of grey hair in my head, people still say I look younger than I am. So while I guess I should be flattered that I’m being mistaken for a college student, I was kind of hoping I’d be over it by now.

Looking young was especially challenging when I first started my own business. Looking young can hurt your credibility. I can remember when Cam Jackson (a politician) was campaigning in Burlington and he knocked on my door. I was about 30, had two kids, ran my own business, owned my own house and two cars … you know, like a real grown up. So when I opened my door he asked, “Is your father home?” So I said, “Yes he is, at this house in Oshawa.” and closed the door.

Shortly after we moved into our Burlington house and were running our business from home, I installed a basketball net in our driveway. I found shooting hoops to be a great stress reliever and it also helped me to avoid backaches from spending so many hours sitting in front of a computer. Several times a day I would go out and shoot baskets for 15 minutes. One day the neighbor across the street came over to introduce himself to me and asked what school I went to. High school? College? Come on! You see those two little girls running around here? They are my daughters. I run a business! I’m a grown up … honest!

I often wondered afterwards if people thought that Michelle and I had been teenaged parents or something. I guess we looked pretty young to have two kids but I believe Michelle was 26 when our first daughter was born!

Thinking about my house in Burlington has reminded me of a completely unrelated story.  It’s one of those “when your world gets completely turned upside down” type of story. It helps me empathize with the incredible upheaval so many Americans are going through with the U.S. housing collapse and the many people who have lost or are in danger of losing their home. It would really be quite devastating. The emotional attachment you develop to a home makes losing one just horrific.

One day we got a package in the mail. It was addressed to a woman we didn’t know, but at our address. Since we didn’t know her, and there was no internet at that time to quickly search for her, and it was our address, we opened it. Inside was a pile of papers – the official paperwork that showed that this woman we didn’t know now officially owned our house. It was the weirdest, more horrifying experience I think I’ve ever had. After a lot of frantic calls and trips to a lawyer’s office, it turned out that some person in the lawyer’s office had transposed two numbers. Our street address was 468. The woman had just bought #486 up the street from us. What was most terrifying though was that no one had caught it. No one in the land registry office or any other level of government had noticed that we, the owners, hadn’t actually sold our house. Nobody thought to consult the current owners if they even wanted to sell their home. In this case, we weren’t even getting paid.

It turned out that the lawyer who made the mistake was a jerk. There was no apology from him and when I requested that he resolve the issue quickly (because frankly I found it pretty disconcerting) he brushed me off. When I called him again to make sure the issue had been resolved he threatened to have me charged with opening the mail illegally, which is a federal office. Ahhh … lawyers. The best defense is a good offence.

Well, I’m off to go work in the woods, where hopefully there won’t be anyone else around to mistake me for an employee!


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