Saturday, May 27, 2017

Payment in Kind

Let's be honest: we work for the money. Hopefully there's also some satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie with co-workers and and and. But none of that puts food on the table and gas in the tank. Truth be told, the reason you drag yourself out of bed and head to the store or office or just to the desk in your basement is to get a check to be able to order a new set of steak knives from Amazon.

Of course, there are other ways to be paid. In some areas of the world where physical money can be hard to come by, folks barter goods for services and vice versa. An article in The New York Times told the story of butcher Thodoris Roussos in Greece who needed new tires for his delivery van. Not being able to get the cash he needed, he made a deal with the local auto shop: "Normally, the tires cost 340 euros, but no money changed hands. I paid the guy in meat."

While in my situation the payment was less bloody, and more honorary than compensatory, I am proud to say that I just wrote a speech for an oil change. Actually, a lifetime of oil changes. And flats fixed. And I couldn't feel richer.

As part of my work, I just penned the script for the New Jersey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The Hall was set up by the state legislature in 2005 as a way to honor individuals from that state who have made contributions to society and the world beyond. It includes a diverse crowd of notables from Frank Sinatra to Albert Einstein, as well as regular citizens worthy of recognition.

This year's class included boxer Chuck Wepner, the subject of a new movie co-produced and starring Liev Schreiber. Known as the Bayonne Bleeder, Wepner was a liquor salesman by day and a boxer by night. He is best known for a fight he lost. In 1975, Mohammed Ali, looking for an easy opponent after taking the title back from George Foremen, plucked Wepner from obscurity. Wepner was a 40-1 underdog, but he turned out not to be a pushover. He knocked Ali down in the ninth, only the fourth man to ever do so, and lasted the full 15 rounds, with the fight called with just 19 seconds left. It made an impression on a struggling young actor named Sylvester Stallone, who used it as the inspiration for "Rocky."

As part of the induction ceremony, each inductee gets introduced by someone of their choosing. Schreiber was actually was going to do it, but his schedule pulled him away last minute. In the scramble to replace him, the president of the Board of Trustees stepped in, but Chuck also asked his boyhood friend Bruce Dillin to help out.

Dillin is a true Jersey character. In the movie, he was the little kid that Rocky told to go home and do his homework. Dillin had a million stories, but we narrowed it down to one, and I scripted it out as part of his introduction. He owns an auto repair and tire company, and had gotten Wepner to record a commercial saying "You're not gonna pay a lot for this exhaust system." At the same time, Meineke Muffler had a commercial running with George Foreman saying "You not gonna pay a lot for this muffler." One day Dillin answered the phone to find a Meineke lawyer who said, "Mr. Dillin, we paid George Foreman $4 million to say that. You need to stop running your version." Dillin replied, "Well I gave Chuck a free flat repair and an oil change." The lawyer laughed, but said you still gotta stop or we'll sue. Dillin stopped, but says "I think I got the better deal." He got laughs, and a week later, sent me a note that he was still getting compliments. I joked I should have charged him. He texted back: "Lifetime flats and oil changes."

Mohammed Ali. George Foreman. Chuck Wepner. Bruce Dillin. Me. That's just 5 degrees of separation between me the The Greatest.  But between me The Bayonne Bleeder? I might not be able to last 15 rounds with Ali, but we have the same pay scale. And I didn't need to get hit to collect. I think I got the better deal.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has never boxed. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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