Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'd always wondered if I had an Evil Twin and, if I ever met him, if I'd be forced to destroy him. The day came a year or two ago when one of my customers handed me a brochure with an advertisement in it. "Is this you?" he asked, and I looked down to see an ad for aluminum patio covers, built to last by Hawkins Construction. Seeing as I had never placed an advertisement anywhere, not once in my life, it came as quite a shock. There it was: my name, my product, a different license number (older than mine) and in Palm Springs. My customer had a second home out there and found the ad, surprised that I would be doing business so far away. Well, it surprised me, too.

That night I became worried and looked up this so-called "Hawkins Construction" on the Internet. It was all true. This other me was out there, and evidently had been doing what I was doing for longer, and more successfully, than I was. I couldn't decide whether I should call him and try to smooth things over between us, change my business name, or just flee the state. A closer look at contractor's law showed that there was nothing illegal about having the same business name and, being in a different county, probably posed no commercial problems. The other Hawkins Construction seemed to be a small business, like mine, and not some power-playing arm of some Eastern Syndicate, so I was at ease. Still, it bends your game a little to be looking over your shoulder, thinking, "Man, I hope I don't end up competing with this guy."

It was only a few weeks later that I was out at the manufacturing plant in Romoland, California -which lands squarely between Palm Springs and Oceanside on a map. Some slow days, if I call in to check if the order's ready, Ken behind the counter will roll out my job ahead of time and have it waiting there at pick-up for me. I had a large job this day, so I was a little concerned about it, and when I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it sitting there immediately. I breathed a sigh of relief and approached the cart of aluminum, all 5 feet high and 25 feet long of it, and gladly noticed the name on order: "Hawkins Construction". But then something struck me. I checked through my own records, looked over the contract... Yes, it was true. Dammit, it was the wrong color.

Going over the paperwork with Ken, he laughed and said "Not yours" and then explained that the job belonged to the other Hawkins Construction. "He's here?" I stammered, and I half expected to look across the yard and see a gleaming white truck with a large lumber rack and a team of overalled "Hawkins Construction" builders hopping to work, quickly and carefully loading each piece of aluminum, taking their orders from a confident, muscular fellow with a chiseled jaw, a tidy clipboard in one hand and a Blackberry on his belt, and a full head of hair.

Instead, I saw a guy about my height walking toward me, hand outstretched. "Terry," he said. "So you're the other Hawkins?" I smiled nervously and he laughed it off almost immediately. This Terry Hawkins was far from intimidating. He wore wire rimmed glasses, had straight hair that blew in the wind every time he turned his head, and a huge grin that stretched across his face and leapt off him, inspiring you to do the same. (John Denver comes to mind.) Terry knew everyone in the place. If you were having a conversation in the lot, it would be less than a minute before someone would pass "Hey Terry!" and he would stop mid-sentence to greet and cheerfully sass them. We chatted a bit that first day. His company was small. His wife sold the jobs and he built them. He had one daughter. He had a trailer near the beach in Oceanside that he went to once a month to surf and read. Let me tell you, it's an odd feeling to meet your twin, and then discover that you were the evil one.

Over the past year we got to know each other a bit, meeting up at the plant from time to time, and it was kind of encouraging to co-exist with this "other" company. He would often show up with a bad shoulder or in crutches, leg in a cast, asking for help loading the truck. He was a motorcycle fan, and spent winter weekends out in the desert, racing around with his teenage daughter. The last time I saw him, he leaned his crutches against my trailer and mentioned his wife, who he said was in the hospital with terminal brain cancer. I didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry... That must be tough... I'm sure you'll have the strength to get through this." But he was as cheerful as ever. "We get her up. I drag her to Oceanside to sit at the trailer with me and she reads magazines. I took the board out last week and didn't catch a single wave, but it was great to be out in the water!"

So imagine my surprise when I heard yesterday that he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Ken told me. He saw my the Hawkins Construction name on the order and asked if I had heard about Terry. I thought he was going to mention something about Terry's wife, but no. Ken said that his brother had come in to close the account, and that it was just too bad. Such a nice guy... Always in good spirits... There was concern about Terry's daughter, and so forth.

He was just an acquaintance, but we shared the namesake. I admired his positive attitude about it all and thought that that was good for the Hawkins name. I figured we'd end up working together on something sooner or later, either he'd have a customer out in my area or I'd have a lead in his. He did always threaten to move to Oceanside altogether, reminding me how lucky I was. I was going to give him a 'Hawkins Construction' t-shirt next time I saw him. I'd been carrying it in the truck, and thought it would make a nice (and funny) Christmas gift.

And now he's gone, I guess. The world turns ever onward, and, awkwardly, nothing much has changed for me, as a result of these loose attachments. Losing an acquaintance is like losing your mailman. "Oh hey, what happened to that other guy? He was nice. He knew my name." But for another Hawkins out there, the world has altered course dramatically, and I can't help but worry about her, this stranger with the namesake. And then there's the disturbing thought that you could be watching death approach someone near you, and then be blindsided by it yourself. It could fill you with fear if you let it, unless you take heart, find hope, and hold on for dear life.

"But now, this is what the Lord says: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze... Do not be afraid, for I am with you."

Isaiah 43