March 1, 2021
As a kid I was always a little "thoughtful" about money – obsessed wouldn't be the right word here. I never had a regular allowance but, if I had a need I would ask whichever parent seemed the most flush and, usually, I'd end up with money for a movie or for some toy I just had to have.
The entrepreneurial spirit, however, cannot abide such a haphazard arrangement, and it all began in Aurora, Illinois.
Regularly I'd been ignoring the ad in my many comic books for White Cloverine Brand Salve. A proven money maker it said, and your supply will only cost you … not a huge amount. Finally, I bit and I begged and an investor was found. A long tube came in the mail filled with maybe twenty tins, each a half inch thick and about three inches across. Door to door I went, my youthful smile promising all manner of healing and perfect skin. Door to door I was politely turned down. I was the poster child for crash and burn. There was an upside, however. My mother graciously forgave my debt and took possession of my inventory. I don't know if she ever tried to sell the stuff, but I do know that, having always had rather sensitive skin, she just loved the product and her son's misadventure may well have given her a lifetime supply.
Next came the greeting cards – again, another comic book ad and, again, one of my parents willing to fund the venture. I think they were far more good-hearted than I ever gave them credit for. A very large box came in the mail filled with twenty or thirty individual boxes of cards. Wanting to have a whole building full of money like Scrooge McDuck, I hit the streets and the streets promptly hit right back. I had moxie, I had grit, I also had no sales. Happily, perhaps, I have no memory of whatever happened to all those greeting cards.
What happened next was more conventional although, like a lot of things, I started low and then went right over the top.
One of my friends told me that a kid was moving and had to drop his Chicago Tribune paper route. Was I interested? Was I! People actually took what you put on their porch and they even paid you money for it. Not only that but it was, like, a real job where you began at a certain time and ended at a certain time. It was also seven days a week. Somewhere around six in the morning then I'd go out to the front of my house where the papers had been delivered, roll them, and then put them in the giant basket on my bike. I won't discount the work here, but there was something rather fetching about being one of the few people out on those early morning streets. It was quiet, you could hear the birds, and even most dogs were still inside.
Then I got greedy.
Through similar contacts in the kids' underworld I picked up two more paper routes: the Aurora (Illinois) Beacon News and the Chicago Daily News. The Beacon News was an afternoon paper but I don't recall if the Daily News was morning or afternoon. I do know that I had over a hundred and twenty customers over the three routes and was pulling in close to $25 a week total – pretty good money for a kid back then. On Thursday nights I'd go door to door collecting the week's fees. Then on Saturday I'd take the bus to downtown Aurora to the papers' local offices and pay my bill. Whatever was left over was mine.
Then there were the Sundays. At least two of my papers had Sunday editions and they were thick. I'd go out to the front of my house and find six or seven fat bundles of the two papers. I'd roll a bunch and rubber band them, throw them in my basket, deliver them and come back for more. Sometimes I'd fill two delivery bags, drape one over each shoulder, and head out, barely able to walk but consoled by knowing that with each delivery the bags got lighter.
I never really thought of that as work, simply something I'd obliged myself to do that offered a decent reward upon the doing. I think I pretty much felt that way about most of the jobs I've had even when that "reward" wasn't so hot.
Following seven years of grad school I always thought we were – financially – about ten years behind our peers in terms of general financial assets and that it would take a long while to get caught up. In fact, during the grad school years we most likely lived below whatever the poverty line was at the time. It never felt like it, however, since I was teaching all over Indiana and Gayle always had a job, and we always had a decent place to live and food on the table. We even had health insurance (Mutual of Omaha, $46 a month).
When we bought our first house (with the help of a parental loan that was, indeed, paid back over time), one of the first things I did was to buy an American flag to fly on the holder on the garage. Even today that strikes me as a little pathetic, but I suppose I was somehow giving the nod to being finally a hard core member of the capitalist class and earning a living with only two jobs between Gayle and I.
Now, in retirement, we kneel (carefully, sometimes it hurts) at the altar of the stock market. It's not a bad church, if a little lean on music. When it does well, so do we. When it doesn't, well, I guess I could always Google White Cloverine Brand Salve and think about a retry. Might take a lot of work, though, since my one customer is long gone and my wife is strictly a Jergens girl.
G.K. Wuori ©2021
Photoillustration by the author