The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Dan was one of the last people left at the construction site. He was cleaning the cement mixer. Despite his best efforts, it wouldn’t ever look like new. It was just another of those nasty jobs given to the new guy on the crew. The day had been filled with lots of those kinds of jobs. Fortunately, he wasn’t nearly as tired by the end of the day as he had been the previous week.
Looking at the mixer, his boss said, “That’s good enough. Why don’t you head home?”
In what Dan considered to be the ultimate in irony, his boss’s last name was Foreman and he was the owner of Foreman General Contracting. While walking over to the water spigot, Dan said, “Mr. Foreman, I’ve got a question for you.”
“What?” Mr. Foreman asked glancing at his watch. He wanted to get out of there to check out another job site.
While turning off the water to the hose, Dan asked, “What kinds of benefits are there?”
“To what?” the man asked glancing over at Dan.
“You know — job benefits. Do we have insurance? If so, what kind? Sick Days? Vacation days? That kind of stuff,” Dan answered.
“You work, I pay. That’s it,” Mr. Foreman answered giving Dan the short answer. Dan was basically a day laborer who he used to fill in on any crew where there was a shortage.
Nodding his head, Dan started coiling the hose at the base of the water spigot. Looking up from his work, he said, “Thanks. That’s what I figured.”
Realizing that he hadn’t given Dan many details about working in the construction industry, he said, “Friday you’ll get paid for last week. It’s going to be a short pay check because you only worked four days out of a two week pay period. If you want health or life insurance, you’re going to have to buy it on your own.
“I hired you as a general gofer to fill in on crews that are short a person. As a result, you’ll move from crew to crew until I find one where you’ll fit. You’re entry level and won’t make much, but with a little experience you’ll settle into a better job. Maybe you’ll be best as a painter, roofer, or carpenter. Once you get some skills under your belt, you’ll make an extra two or three dollars an hour.
“Unless there’s interior work to be done, you won’t work when it rains and that means you won’t get paid. Work slows down in the winter and only the best workers get jobs. We’re in a good area and the winter is short. We don’t get much rain in the summertime, but it’s hotter than hell.”
Dan frowned and said, “It sure doesn’t sound like much of a career.”
“It’s not that bad. You can raise a family on that kind of wage, but it won’t be easy. Your wife will have to work. I know. I was where you are, at one time. I spent a lot of time learning every job on a construction site. I got my contractor’s license and my pay doubled. Now I make very good money,” Mr. Foreman said thinking it was a little unusual for someone Dan’s age to be talking about job benefits and approaching construction as a career.
“You’ve given me a few things to think about,” Dan said.
“If you’ll take my advice, you won’t go out and blow all of your money on beer or drugs like most of the guys. A lot of them are employed about half time. They’re always short of money. Their personal lives are a wreck. They go out and pick up a few cash only jobs to get some quick money, but they don’t really work all that much,” Mr. Foreman said.
A lot of contractors woke late, spent their time in bars, and earned just enough to keep themselves in beer. He approached his job like a professional, and that was why his business had grown.
Dan nodded his head and said, “I’ve already noticed that.”
Mr. Foreman studied Dan for a second and knew that he was going to lose the young man sooner or later. He was a good hard worker, but there wasn’t too much that he could do to make the going easier on him. He said, “Stick with the job a little while and learn some skills. My Daddy always said, ‘a man who knows how to work with his hands will never starve.’ You might not end up doing this for the rest of your life, but you’ll learn some things that will come in handy. One day you’ll own a house. Knowing how to use some tools could end up saving you a lot of money.”
“You’re right,” Dan said. He had already come to the conclusion that keeping the job for a while would allow him to save some money and to learn some things. That day he had learned how to mix cement and take care of the cement mixer. That had been something he had never known and had never thought about learning, but he could see where it could come in handy. The trick in life was to always have as many choices as possible.
“Get out of here. I need to get to the next site,” Mr. Foreman said. He wrote down in his little book that this particular site was shut down for the night. It was a habit that his father had passed onto him.
“See you tomorrow,” Dan said.
Mr. Foreman watched Dan leave wondering why a smart kid like him would bother with a career in construction. He had entered into it working for his father. His dad had taught him a lot about the business and had emphasized that it was a business. A lot of the successful people in construction entered the field that way. Those folks who drifted into it, tended to drift out, too.
Dan pulled the pizza out of the oven and slipped it onto the counter. He took the pizza cutter and sliced it into eighths. His audience watched him working in the kitchen with anticipation. He turned and repeated the process for the second pizza.
Diana could already taste the pizzas. She said, “You make the best pizzas in town.”
Tom said, “You can say that again.”
His mother remembered when making the perfect pizza had become Dan’s quest as a kid. It had started with the packaged pizza dough mix that came with a can of sauce and powdered cheese. Dan had first moved to fresher toppings. Then he had started making the dough from scratch. It wasn’t long after that when he began experimenting with his own homemade sauce. There had been a few spectacular failures along the way, but he now produced a pizza that ranked up there with the best.
She said, “I hate to think of the day when you move out, and we have to start buying pizza from the store.”
“The store bought pizzas aren’t that bad,” Dan said as he carried the pizzas to the table.
Looking like she had bitten into something rotten, Diana said, “I was at a party the other day and everyone was raving about the pizza. The sauce was kind of sour, the crust tasted like cardboard, and the toppings were greasy. I could barely eat it.”
“That’s true. I’ve gotten spoiled eating your pizzas,” Tom said without taking his eyes off the pizzas Dan was carrying. His parents had stopped ordering pizzas because he wouldn’t eat them.
“Well, let’s dig in while they’re hot,” Dan said. He called out to the living room, “Dad! The pizzas are ready!”
Everyone gathered around the table and started reaching for slices of hot pizza. Most of the time Dan made two large pizzas and the family usually ate all of them in one sitting. The chances of having any leftovers were zero with Tom joining them.
Dan’s father took one bite and said, “Oh, this is good!”
“I’m glad you like it,” Dan said tasting his slice. Satisfied with the overall experience, he couldn’t think of anyway to improve the flavor. This was his basic cheese pizza. He had two cheese, three cheese, and four cheese versions that took a little longer to make. He said, “Not bad for a basic pizza.”
Holding a slice of pizza in front of his mouth anticipating the next bite, Tom said, “This is outstanding!”
“You bet,” Diana said reaching for her second slice. She chose one from the half that had pepperoni on it.
“I’ve got to admit that cooking the pizzas on the stone really improved the quality of the crust. One of these days I’m going to get a wood brick oven and see how that improves the flavor,” Dan said looking over at the oven.
His mother could just imagine him going out and having a wood brick oven built just to see how it improved the quality of his pizzas. When it came to pizza, Dan was very serious about making the best pizza in the world. She said, “You and your quest for the perfect pizza.”
“We all have our own little passion. Mine is the perfect pizza. Tom’s is to understand the universe,” Dan said. He was used to getting teased about his little hobby.
Diana raised an eyebrow as she looked at her brother. She asked, “What is my passion?”
“You want to be the smartest person in the world,” Tom answered.
Surprised that Tom answered her question, Diana asked, “How do you know?”
“You spend as much time studying as me, but you don’t have to work that hard. You get straight A’s in school,” Dan answered.
“I notice little things like that,” Tom said. He grabbed another slice of pizza knowing that the fastest eater at the table got four slices instead of just three. It was a little game that they played when Dan cooked pizza. He glanced at Dan’s father and noticed that he was pulling ahead.
Noticing the glance, Dan’s father said, “That’s it. Just keep talking and I’ll get that last slice.”
Tom laughed and asked, “So how was your day at work?”
“That’s not going to work,” Dan’s dad answered before taking another bite out of his slice of pizza. He had fallen for that trick once. Everyone around the table laughed at the exchange.
Tom took a drink out of the ever present can of root beer before attacking his slice of pizza. Diana watched him thinking that Dan was lucky to have such a good friend. She had grown up watching Dan struggle with his school work. After becoming friends with Tom, it seemed to her that it hadn’t been such a struggle. No matter how busy he was, Tom would take the time to discuss the material with Dan and that had given Dan the edge he needed to learn it.
Looking over at his sister, Dan said, “Diana, you’ve gotten quiet all of a sudden.”
“Oh, I’m just thinking about things,” she answered with a shrug of her shoulders.
“What kinds of things?” Tom asked.
Searching for a topic, Diana answered, “I was wondering if you were going to stay in construction.”
“I don’t think so,” Dan answered surprising everyone at the table except for Tom. Tom smiled and nodded his head.
His father asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t see much of a future in construction for me,” Dan answered.
With a worried expression on his face, his father asked, “What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry; I’m going to keep the job for a while longer. I figure I’ll pick up some good skills that I’ll need later on in life, but it isn’t really the kind of job that I see doing for the rest of my life. I think I want something that is a little more dependable,” Dan answered.
“Like what?” his mother asked.
Dan shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. All that I do know is that I have choices. I just have to find out what they are, investigate them, and select the one that is best for me.”
Tom glanced down at his slice of pizza, and grinned as an idea came to him. Sometimes the best choice was right under a person’s nose. He’d wait to bring up the idea until after Dan had finished reading all three articles. He took a bite and listened to the conversation flow around the table.
Interested in what his son way saying, Dan’s father put down his slice of pizza and said, “That’s a very mature way to think about your future. Assess your choices and then select the one that is best for you.”
“Thanks. Earlier this week, I was asking Mr. Foreman about benefits and he told me that there weren’t any. I figure that if I’m going to settle down and raise a family one day, that I had better make sure that I had insurance in case anything bad happened to me,” Dan said.
“You’re already thinking about insurance?” Dan’s father asked in surprise.
“Sure,” Dan said. He gestured over to Tom with his slice of pizza and said, “We’ve been talking about that kind of stuff lately. The decisions that we make today can have long term consequences in life. Tom has decided to go to college. That decision is likely to put him into a pretty good economic bracket. He’ll be able to afford a nice lifestyle.
“Me, I’ve decided not to go to college. That decision is likely to put me into a different economic bracket. It’s highly unlikely that I will be able to afford to live like this, but that isn’t carved in stone. With a few smart decisions now, I can have a much better life later.”
Diana watched Tom eating his pizza. He had a gleam in his eye and realized that he was going to eat while everyone else was talking. Tom winked at her and flicked his eyes over to the slices of pizza on the table. She giggled at the thought of how her father was going to react when Tom got the last slice.
Unaware of the silent communication between Tom and Diana, Dan’s father asked, “What kinds of decisions are you talking about?”
“Well, I guess the first thing that I have to decide is what will make me happy,” Dan answered.
“What has happiness got to do with anything?”
Smiling at his father, Dan answered, “Everything. Is it better to have a career that you enjoy, or to have one that you hate, when the difference between the two is twenty or thirty dollars a week with taxes eating up part of that?”
“I guess I hadn’t thought about it like that.” His father glanced over at his wife wondering what she was making of the conversation. Listening to his son talking about job benefits, taxes, and career was completely unexpected.
“It’s a Fact of Life that we are responsible for our own happiness,” Dan said making reference to one of the sections of the article he had just finished reading. He said, “I have to decide what I enjoy doing. My definition doesn’t have to agree with anyone else’s definition because it’s me that will be living my life.”
“That’s true,” Diana said wondering when her brother had suddenly become so wise.
Tom raised his hands and said, “I got the fourth slice of pizza!”