[March 21, 2020] Before there were government-mandated recycling, sanitary landfills, and rules saying what you can and cannot take to the dump, every community had its Town Dump. As a young teenager, I worked at one to pick out valuable items to sell and reuse.
On my first day on the job, I found a non-working vacuum cleaner. I got it operating by merely cleaning out the hose. Now it was worth $5, and I got a dollar for my efforts. For a 13-year-old, a dollar was like being rich. I ran to the corner 5 & 10 Cent Store to buy candy.
Working as a kid taught me some valuable lessons. There was no minimum wage, so my employer owed me nothing. I made money by figuring out how to make something of value; creativity pays. If I didn’t work, I got no pay; privilege was irrelevant. I was hired based on my ability to sell myself; self-reliance works. And, the harder and smarter I worked, the more I got paid.
Of course, this was not a job anybody could do. It was dirty, disgusting, and dangerous. Almost daily, I had cuts on my hands and splinters in my fingers. There were no safety gloves or protective eye equipment. While safety does pay, it was not our main concern. Safety ranked pretty low on our priority list.
I also learned to be brutally frank but also polite. There’s an old Southern quote that says, “You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.” So being honest and open pays, especially in the long term (for a teenager, the long term is more than a week). Local folks would ask me to look for specific items and gave me a few quarters for my trouble. I told them whether I could deliver or not, and kept my promise. I couldn’t imagine that people would give me money for a future effort.
I learned too that you had to be polite with people. Otherwise, they wouldn’t treat you very well and certainly not give me money. Now, it is important to remember I’m a 13-year-old, and yet I saw it happen. Without this “job,” I would not have made this revelation. If there had been a minimum wage, my boss would not have hired me. He made money because I made money for him. It gave me an opportunity, and not only was it a bit of fun, but I also became well known in my small town.
My boss was the town mayor. He had a son, Randy, who became one of my best friends in those days. So there was value outside work. Later, when I had my first girlfriend, I had a few dollars left over, far more than any other boys my age. We would have married (true story), but I moved away soon after I went to Middle School and later joined the Army.