Thursday, January 21, 2010

Early enterprise

When I was a kid about 8 years old living across the street from the back of a Greek restaurant in Ridgewood- a neighborhood in Queens, New York, I learned how to earn a little money. One of the simplest ways was to stick some chewing gum on the end of a bamboo pole and then lower it into the ventilation chamber on the sidewalk in front of a store. The chamber had a metal grating at the top that allowed daylight to illuminate the basement a bit. The grating had openings big enough for the pole to be passed through it. The openings also allowed coins to fall into the chamber when they were dropped by someone standing on the grate while gazing at the merchandise in the store window. I had a friend named Willie working with me in this enterprise. We would walk along the avenue, stopping in front of each store that had a grating and then, on hands and knees, peer into the chamber looking for stray coins. If we saw any, we would lower the gum-tipped pole so that it would make contact with each one and slowly draw it up until we could separate the coin from the chewing gum. Sometimes the store owner would chase us away. We weren’t discouraged though, we would just move on to the next storefront. We must have been quite a sight, a couple of dirty little kids full of energy and enthusiasm. One afternoon we collected almost a dollar; one of the coins was a quarter. Willie and I would divide the loot.
A steadier, cleaner and more productive activity was newspaper delivery. This I did with my brother Bud who was four and a half years older than me. I was his helper. The newspaper was a weekly and we had a regular route in a section of Brooklyn adjacent to our street. Each Friday afternoon we would go to the newspaper building with a wagon to get the papers (about 200 of them) and then pull the loaded wagon about ten blocks to the first house on our route. Occasionally we would stop on the way at a bakery to buy crumb buns or a fruit store for apples or peaches that we would eat before beginning our deliveries. Bud was a great big brother and we enjoyed being together. On the last Friday of each month we were obliged to collect for the paper; most months we had to do this the next day too. The customer was charged eight cents per month but usually would give us a dime. We would turn in four cents per customer so for 200 customers we would net about six dollars a month. I did this for eight to ten years, first with Bud and later by myself. There were other opportunities to make some extra money by delivering papers to advertisers and sales outlets on Saturdays. We did this too. It became a family tradition; my younger brother, Calvin, did it too.
One day when I was about thirteen a man came into the neighborhood and offered us boys an opportunity to earn money selling magazines. As an added incentive he promised a baseball glove to any boy who would sell twenty-five of them. I took that many and went to the neighborhood where I delivered the papers and sold them all in a just a few hours. I gave the man his share of the money, pocketed the balance and then was given the baseball glove. When he asked me if I wanted to sell more magazines, I turned him down and went off to play ball.
Another short-term money-making opportunity that came to Bud and me involved the introduction of a new metal-cleaning fluid named NOXON. It came in a 12oz. can with a screw cap and was being offered for 50¢. We got 25¢ for each can we sold during the one week introductory campaign. At this time Bud was 15 and in high school; I was 10+. We were living near a rather new development of single family homes called Liberty Park; this became our territory. We would approach the front door of a house and, before ringing the doorbell, we would polish the doorknob with the NOXON. When a housewife showed up, one of us would say to her ,"look at that doorknob, we just cleaned it with the stuff in this can, would you like to buy a can for fifty cents" . More often than not, we made the sale. Unfortunately for us, the introductory program did not continue for long.

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