by: Wes Ishmael
Hooter was feeling lucky. He bought the set of calves because they were cheap enough, and he had some wheat pasture for them. But being able to sell them into an up market with solid gain as the grazing ran thin was more chance than plan. He knew that, but he also couldn't help feeling just a tiny bit proud.
“Should've kept them longer,” Peetie told him when he sold them. “Even if you had to stick them in pens, there was trade left in ‘em.”
Hooter knew that, but he saw more net opportunity for turning them now and replacing them. Hooter knew that Peetie would have kept them and bought another set, but Hooter wasn't at a point in his business life to take on as much risk. It wasn't that Hooter was less willing to gamble, but he needed to play at lower stakes tables.
“The hardest part about trading cattle isn't knowing what they're worth, it's knowing what they cost,” chimed in Harold McGiven, a friend of Peetie's, whom Hooter had heard about but never met before.
“It's all about opportunity. For the same amount of money and risk, was the opportunity cost more or less than an alternative? And I'm not talking about trade-offs,” Harold said. He studied Hooter's expression through eyeglasses with lenses about two-Coke bottles-thick.
“For example, you could have put the same money you spent for that load of stockers into some weigh-cows, developed replacements, bought some pairs. All of those are trade-offs in my books.”
“Well, at least I get to play another round,” Hooter said, still not understanding what Peetie's friend was driving toward.
“Indeed, but for how long?”
Trust Your Gut
Though Peetie seemed to respect him and did deals with him, Harold already had a couple of ankle-busting strikes against him as far as Hooter was concerned.
First, Harold was from a few states north, meaning he likely had plenty of Yankee tendencies. Besides, from what Hooter understood, Harold came into the cattle business as a byproduct to his crop holdings, which were in turn the byproduct of money made in other businesses.
Worse, Peetie once mentioned that in his younger days, Harold was a basketball referee for high school games. Hooter had a long history of disliking most of the striped-shirt set that he encountered.
Hooter didn't expect referees of the game he loved to be perfect; everyone makes mistakes. He did expect them to be consistent, and most of all, he expected them to respect the game, at least act like they cared about it as much as the paycheck.
This constant friction between Hooter's idealism and referee reality meant that he had been tossed from more than one game, not as a player, but as a coach of grade school kids and as an unrepentant spectator.
There was a Sunday-School league game the folks around Apache Flats still talked about. These were kids aged 9 to 11. Coaches were assigned teams; at least that was the company line. The notion was to teach the fundamentals of the game, while also sharing Bible verses and Gospel teaching along the way. There were unique league rules, too, such as no double-teaming or screening allowed. At least that's what the rule book said.
By the time Hooter's team—St. Paul's Flying Tigers—was in a close, late-season contest with the Pharaohs, he and his team understood that the rules were often ignored and selectively applied depending on the team. Every week, Hooter argued with the refs to follow the rules.
The Pharaohs were hand-picked, stacked with size and as much experience as kids that age could be expected to possess. Their record was spotless; winning margins canyon-wide.
This was a tight contest, though, only because the Flying Tigers had hearts bigger than the decrepit gym they played in, and the sheer aggression that Hooter coveted.
Hooter drew his first technical foul in the first five minutes of that game, arguing against the double-teaming and screening that wasn't supposed to be allowed. He held his tongue for most of the second half. His face was turning an odd shade between purple and red as he tried to stifle a primal scream. One of the refs came over, stuck his chin out and dared him: “Yes?”
Borrowing from an old NBA coach, Hooter said as calmly as he could muster, “You can't give me a technical for what I think, can you?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, then, I think you're the sorriest excuse for a referee I've ever seen in my life. Your idiot calls are tearing down everything we've been trying to teach for a season, and…”
Somewhere in the middle of that soliloquy, amid the referee's shrill and unending whistle, mixed in with the cheers of the Flying Tigers and their parents, Hooter was ushered to the door. Even Aunt Pinky got tossed from that one.
The plaque awarded to him by that team was one of many that hung on his wall.
Understanding the Game
“What I'm saying is that different enterprises require different levels of equity risk,” Harold was explaining, apparently expecting Hooter to be listening. “Even though you get to play another round, as you say, has your equity position improved? If not, you're taking a step down each time you win.”
Peetie could tell that Hooter was less than enamored with the advice. For that matter, Peetie was starting to bristle at his business associate offering such copious amounts, unbidden and to someone he didn't know.
“All due respect, Harold, Hooter here may not swing for the fences, but his average speaks for itself.”
“But, who wants to be average?” Harold asked to no one in particular. “By the time I retire, in exactly 13 months and 12 days, my portfolio will be robust enough to…”
“Retire?” Peetie and Hooter said in unison.
“Of course. Isn't that the point?” Harold didn't even try to hide his puzzlement.
“I thought the point was to live and do what you can to help your fellowman along the way until it's time to go home,” Hooter said. He set his jaw and fished out his can of Copenhagen.
“Certainly, you want to do what you can,” Harold said with less confidence. “But, at what cost? Surely it's not a sin to take a few years toward the ends of one's life to enjoy the spoils of hard work.”
Peetie, who had been staring off into the distance, turned to face Harold. “We're talking two different languages here.” Hooter nodded.
“Whatever do you mean? Business is business.”
“No, Harold, every business is different, based on the resources and goals of the one conducting that business.”
“You plan to retire, that's fine. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that means you're ready and willing to liquidate parts of your portfolio to pay for your retirement.”
“Of course, but…”
“So, your goal has been to amass equity until you need it?”
“Hooter and I are trying to build equity for the next generation or the one after that. Different language,” Peetie said.
Harold drummed his fingers on a fence post. “Well, I think that I see that I don't see.” He turned to Hooter. “So, what do you think young man?”
“And you can't toss me out for what I'm thinking…”
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