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Said and Done

Said & Done

The only thing worse than getting egg on your face is having to eat crow at the same time.

Max Zeller once saved us from that embarrassment. You probably did not know Max Zeller. He’s no longer in the land of the living. His kindness years ago is a chapter in our Gill life and worth telling. It’s a chapter with some neck-saving advice in it, so we’ll write about it.

Over a lifetime most of us are tempted to take at least one chance to get rich. We bit once on the sure thing — big money, fast. Lucky for us there was someone to take the bait out of our mouth before our jaws clamped shut.

It was an advertisement that got it going. Raise chinchillas. Minimum investment, no elaborate upkeep, limited cage space required and insignificant maintenance.

The payoff? Chinchilla coats of royalty, surpassing even ermine in the choice of kings and queens.

Pity the ignorant. There’s a long and rocky road from the chinchilla’s cage to the king’s castle. In time we learned that few chinchilla’s coats make it all the way from animals’ backs to the backs of kings.

The ad, of course, didn’t tell you that. You would learn the truth in the School of Hard Knocks.

Some short correspondence followed. Next thing we knew a neat chap in a rented car drove into our yard. From Idaho he was — in his own plane flew all the way out here from his ranch to show us firsthand how his chinchilla program would lift us out of the middle-class commonplace and put us among the rich and rare.

He was laid back and easy to listen to. He was patient and long-suffering. He answered questions as though he was hearing them for the first time. Everything he said pointed in just one direction: You can’t go wrong, there’s a pot of gold at the end.

He had an embossed leather folder with several skins in it. He had us select them according to quality — then showed us how we had overlooked obscure details that separate inferior furs from the prime. We were impressed, felling ourselves improved by his knowledge and blessed in his liberal giving of it.

We did not recognize him for what he was, a super-salesman — a con-man.

He showed us pictures of chinchillas being raised on back porches, chinchillas being raised in garages and cellars.

He even went down cellar with us and agreed after looking around that we had the ideal environment to bring his animals along.

We almost bought it. Lucky for us we were not in a position to put our signature on the bottom line. Our fur farming needed a few thousands dollars to start up.

He encouraged us, urged, recommended, went so far as to offer us a loan. The Yankee trader in us was tempted, but the New Englander demanded cash on the barrel head. We didn’t have it. Our chinchilla rancher expressed disappointment and flew home.

It didn’t take long for us to get a clear head. WE called Max Zeller in Springfield and laid it all out to him. Max Zeller, furrier, had a lifetime of experience in the field. He played us a far different kind of music from the harmonies that had so recently held us so spellbound.

Chinchillas: shy, shy, supersensitive, erratic and irascible parents, are among the hardest creatures to bring to maturity in cages.

They required a controlled environment, one that is private and noise-free. They give up their pelts unwillingly and unless their coats are removed in one whole piece without blemish from a slip of the knife, they are worthless.

We heard once from the Idaho super-salesman. When he saw that someone with expertise had come between him and his game, he laid off and that was that. A near miss.

I met Max Zeller’s son in front of his Springfield store and told him about our experience in the fur business, and how his father had saved us from losing our shirt — and maybe even the rest of our clothes, too, if we’d been conned going that far.

He said it was an old story, told and re-told in every “Better Business Bureau” across the country.

Stick to raising children, he said, or your pet dog or cat.

Good advice!

In semi-retirement after 58 years of writing for The Recorder, Paul Seamans of Gill continues Said & Done on a regular monthly basis. Some of his columns will have been previously published.

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