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[In anticipation of my editor’s familiar question: Yes, it’s all true.]

Where I grew up, everyone had an angle. I don’t mean physical angles, like crooked noses and curved hips, although that describes my entire high school graduating class. The angles I’m talking about are all business.

Example: I knew a kid, Richie, whose mother managed the local bowling alley. She charged $1.50/game. Bargain, right? The required shoe rental: $8. Another example: My Uncle Charlie was the only carpenter who agreed to work on my neighbor’s kitchen on Thanksgiving. Nice, huh? Then he billed them for, “Holiday Pay: double time.”

There were no accidents, coincidences or free lunches. In retrospect, most of the people I knew were honest and hardworking. Nevertheless, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst was tradition, except for the first part. Preparing involved doing one of the following in an attempt to get a fair shake:

1. Tipping. My parents tipped everyone from mechanics to x-ray technicians. Sometimes the tip was cash, other times a carton of cigarettes – it was the ‘70s, when kids made ashtrays in art and ads read, “It Makes Good Sense to Smoke Kent”. The tip acted as a gentleman’s agreement: let’s agree you won’t rip me off. When my sister recently flew here for a visit, I mentioned the memory to her. Apparently she is continuing the tradition: “Are you kidding me? I tipped the pilot!”

2. Having a guy. Need your house inspected? I know a guy. Need someone to look at that mole? Same guy. If a friend vouched for a guy, you were fairly certain (a) you’d get a bargain (b) it would be done right (unless you hired my Uncle Charlie) and (c) the friend and the guy were in on it together. My sister knows a guy who does swimming pools on the side. What’s the other side? Fences. Two completely different skills until you look for the angle: “When I was installing on your pool, I couldn’t help notice your fence needs to be fixed.”

As a born and raised cynic, I’ve got an acute sensitivity to angles. I don’t mean to brag, but I could spot a string attached by Geppetto. Whenever possible, I share my awareness with the angle creator in a move I call, “Don’t Kid a Kidder,” or words to that effect. Proudly revealing my discovery not only acknowledges the angler’s business savvy, it establishes my role as partner/accomplice and serves as a preemptive tip (see above).

A few weeks ago, my husband and I visited a winery. We’ve been to many local wineries over the years, but never one so crowded. My angle radar lit up as we walked into the tasting room, where I immediately spied bowls of water on the floor and jars of dog biscuits on the counter. The angle: dogs. The place welcomes dogs. Not dogs that drink wine, but ones owned by wine enthusiasts. Dog-owning wine lovers make up most of Northern Virginia! Brilliant.

Pleased with my discovery, I fell into a chair near the fireplace and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who turned out to be the owner.

Me: “So you own this place?”
Him: “Yes, I do.”
Me, smiling conspiratorially: “The dog thing? Quite a racket you got going.”
Him: “Excuse me?”
Me, thumbing toward a nearby beagle: “You know, letting people bring their dogs.”
Him: “We like to think of everyone as family.”
Me: “Yeah, you don’t have to sell it to me. All I’m saying is the dog angle is a stroke of genius.”

I was pretty sure that my intended compliment was transmitted through the awkward silence. Even so, I played it safe: I tipped the guy who was pouring our wine.

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