Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
October 6, 1973
Sitting back in the webbed folding patio chair, Tim finished counting out the money they had collected for the day. It was a substantial stack of bills along with a small pile of change. The gross was a lot better than they had hoped. They had painted numbers on the curbs in front of seventy-six houses. It was their best Saturday, yet.
“That’s good,” Benny said, and swept the coins off the table and into his hand. He dropped the coins into an envelope. He picked up the bills and crammed them into what was becoming an overstuffed envelope. He entered the amount in their accounting book and examined the totals represented there. “We’ve now got $573 and some change.”
The contents of the enveloped represented their cash in hand after three weekends of painting curbs, taking care of the real estate property, and mowing a couple of lawns. Out of the money they had earned, they had paid for printed material, spray paint, paper towels, plastic gloves, and trash bags. They had enough supplies to last another two weekends before they would have to revisit the hardware store. The one thing they hadn’t done, was pay themselves.
“That’s more than enough for us to buy the used panel van.”
Their initial plan to purchase a pickup truck had been revised. They were going to purchase a panel van first, and then a pickup truck, later. The van had several advantages over a pickup truck. It had all of the benefits of a pickup truck, so they weren’t losing any capabilities. It would allow them to haul stuff in rain or shine, such as cleaning supplies for the office cleaning business they intended to start. It would also allow them to transport employees to a job site once they had employees.
“I can’t get my driver’s license until December.”
Benny had been born in December of 1957 and would be turning 16 this year. Sixteen was the minimum age at which he could get his driver’s license. He always figured that Sweet Sixteen was a way of referring to coming of age to drive and the freedom that it meant. He was disappointed when he was told that it was to celebrate the prettiness and innocence of girls who have just turned sixteen. His sister had been the most vocal that Sweet Sixteen was for girls and not boys. Then he heard that wasn’t true, but that it was a celebration of coming of age for boys and girls which took him back to his original beliefs. After looking into it more, he decided that no one really knew what Sweet Sixteen meant. Now, going through his sixteenth birthday for the second time, he had just labeled it ‘liberation day.’
Age was not the only qualification required for him to get a driver’s license. He was also required to have taken a state accepted driver’s education course, which was a class that his high school offered. This was the one class he was careful not to miss too often. Even the second time around, he had to admit it was an interesting class. The school had a dozen car simulators. Admittedly, they were pretty poor when compared to some of the computer arcade driving games that came out later. Still, they were fun to play around in. There were also the educational films they were required to watch. They may have had real titles, but it wasn’t long before the students came up with their own: Death on the Highway, Highway of Blood, Joyride to Hell, and other such gruesome titles. During the second half of the semester long course, they would drive a real car for the practice part of the class. They would put three students in the car and take them out for forty-five minutes of driving around giving each student fifteen minutes of operating the car.
Much to the instructor’s consternation, Benny had shown up the first day of class with a learner’s permit in hand. Since the material necessary to pass the written test for the learner’s permit was the subject of the first half of the course, Benny was at loose ends. Still, he did show up to watch the films and to listen to the safety material.
One would think that with forty-six years of experience driving a car, that he would have no need for a driver’s ed class. That might be true, but he did have a lifetime of bad habits to overcome. One of the hardest was driving with his hands at ten and two rather than one hand at twelve. There were the exaggerated glances at the mirrors, blind spots, and to the rear when backing up that were necessary to convince the tester that he was actually looking where he was supposed to look.
“That gives us two months to work on it. We can probably rebuild the engine and replace the brakes in that time.”
“I guess we should ask my Dad to take us to the dealer where we spotted the van for sale.”
“How about we swing by the dealership and check it out before getting your Dad involved? It could be a piece of shit.”
“We’re buying a used van. By definition, it is a piece of shit. That’s why we’re talking about rebuilding the engine and replacing the brakes.”
“That’s true, but that’s assuming that what’s broke are things that we can fix. We can’t fix a bent frame or a bad suspension.”
“You’re right. How about we swing by the dealer Monday afternoon?”
“Don’t you have a test Monday?”
Benny swore realizing that he was going to have to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar which had been the subject of his English class for the past three weeks. He had skipped that class a half dozen times and had used what little time he had spent in the classroom reading the Earth Sea Cycle. Ursula K. Le Guin might not have been Shakespeare, but she was an enjoyable read.
“I forgot about that. I guess we’ll have to do it Tuesday.”
“That’s fine. There’s really no rush.”
Tim’s father stepped out of the house and went over to the patio table at which the two young men were seated. He didn’t look very happy. In fact, he looked pretty angry.
“What are you two up to?”
Tim and Benny exchanged glances wondering what the problem was that had upset his father so much. Tim answered, “We’re having a business meeting.”
“Cut the crap. What are you two up to?”
“I’m serious, Dad. We’re having a business meeting.”
“Your mother tells me you’ve been skipping school.”
“Right. We have been.”
“I’m pretty sure you knew that.”
“We haven’t been hiding it.”
“Look, I saw that wad of money you were waving around. Are you dealing drugs?”
Although it was an unfair accusation, it wasn’t an unreasonable one for 1973. With minimum wage at a whopping $1.60 an hour, the only way most kids their age could come up with a wad of cash like that was to deal drugs. At 20 hours per week, it would take a month to come up with $150.00 gross working a regular job. They were waving around a stack of one dollar bills that was much more than $150.00.
With a hurt expression on his face, Tim replied, “No. We’re painting numbers on the curbs in front of houses.”
“We charge $3.00 for a house. Today we did 76 houses.”
“Last Saturday we did 67 houses.”
Tim’s father was mentally doing the math and the numbers he was coming up with were impressive, particularly for two teenage boys. He figured they were making more than $12.00 an hour each. There were very few adults making that much.
“We’ve also been working for a real estate company, prepping properties for open houses in a couple cases where the place is owned by an absentee owner, and is beginning to look abandoned. We get fifty dollars to revive a property and ten dollars a week afterward to keep it looking nice.”
After they had fixed the first property for showing, the realtor rethought the amount he was willing to pay. The amount they could charge had dropped significantly, but it was still better money than mowing residential lawns.
“That’s for mowing the lawn, edging, and trimming hedges if necessary. We air out the house and straighten things up. We do minor cleaning and all of that kind of stuff, to put a nice last minute polish on the place.”
Tim’s father couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This didn’t sound like his son. Tim wasn’t exactly what he would call a hard worker or self motivated. As much as he hated to admit it, he had come to accept that Tim was ‘slow.’ To call him mentally retarded wasn’t accurate, but he did have problems learning things. At least, that’s what the school said about him and they were the authority on such matters. In those days and times, one didn’t really question authority all that much.
“You interrupted us while we were talking about purchasing a van for our business. It’s a legitimate business expense, and will reduce our tax exposure.”
“We found one at a local used car dealer. We were just deciding whether or not we should check it out on Tuesday and see if it is actually worth buying.”
Looking at Benny, Tim’s father said, “So you’re buying a van for your use.”
“No. We’re buying a van for the business.”
Tim’s father said, “It’s not that simple. You have to have a company.”
“We know. We filed for an LLC, three weeks ago. We got the answer back from the state earlier this week.”
“The name of the business is, Two Guys Working, LLC.”
“How did you...”
“We went to the Small Business Administration office. They have an office near here, so we went there and explained what we were trying to do.”
In actuality, Tim went over and explained what they were trying to do. Benny didn’t say anything. He was there to fill out the forms.
“I guess the guy was impressed. He helped us file all of the paper work.”
Benny said, “We’ve been very careful to do everything we need to do, to be legal.”
“We’ve been busy getting permits, incorporating, getting insured and bonded. That’s why we’ve missed so much school.”
“How did you learn about that?”
The real answer was that Tim had years of experience running maintenance on large office buildings. As a manager, he had been involved in hiring cleaning companies and other contractors. He knew what building owners wanted and what was required to get a contract. Benny had spent two days in the library cursing the absence of Google while researching how to do what was required. Tim had talked to owners of other small companies to find out what they had done.
Benny was the thinker of the pair. His contribution to the partnership was planning and organizing. Tim was the salesman. He wasn’t a snake oil salesman, but his enthusiasm for what he was doing managed to get people on his side. He wasn’t selling a product or that they would be successful; he was convincing others to want to help them become successful. They were equal partners in doing the physical work.
Tim answered, “Benny spent a lot of time in the library looking things up. I was busy talking to other small business owners about the process of becoming a business. People are willing to tell a couple of kids a lot of things, if there’s a real interest there.
“When we actually sat down and figured out how much we could make painting numbers on curbs, we realized that it wasn’t just a source of quick cash, but a real business. Taking into account weather and other factors, we figured we could work between eighteen and twenty six Saturdays of the year. That would bring in more than $3,000 a year assuming that we could do $175 a week. With the other jobs we’ve been lining up, we figured we could double or maybe even triple that. With the median yearly income for a household being around $10,000 a year, we realized that we were going to have to take steps to protect our earnings. Last thing we need is for the IRS to come after us, get arrested for soliciting without a permit, or for an accident to wipe out our assets.”
Tim’s father couldn’t believe his son was talking about bringing in $10,000 a year working part-time.
“That’s ... uh ... ambitious of you.”
Tim’s natural enthusiasm emerged, “We’ve been looking at all of this very carefully, and realized that we could grow this business to a real money maker. So we’ve got to go after this professionally. That means real marketing brochures, and using first rate materials. We’re looking at hiring people to run work crews.”
Benny reached into their ‘business box’ and pulled out an example of the advertising envelope they left at people’s houses. He handed it over to Tim who passed it along to his father. “You’ll notice that we have our solicitation permit number on it, the relevant town codes requiring home owners to have their address visible from the street, and how our product meets those codes. We actually got a lot of information on that one envelope.”
Tim’s father wasn’t just saying that. He was impressed. Probably more impressed than most parents would be upon learning what his son was doing. He was part owner of a wholesale electronics supply store, and knew how much work it was to get a business started. He was shocked that Tim managed to do all of that, particularly without the help of an adult, and working with someone else his age. Tim had never demonstrated that kind of entrepreneurial spirit.
What Tim’s father didn’t know was that Tim and Benny were actually men in their 60’s who had each gone through a long slow painful death. Months of reflecting on a lifetime of errors and bad decisions had altered their perspective on a lot of things. They had more experience with life than he did. They had ‘been there and done that.’ They had a much better idea of what the future held than he did.
It wasn’t just a matter of experience. They were re-experiencing the energy of youth, and were now capable of expending it in a direction that was both useful and profitable. Physically, they could do things now that they hadn’t been able to do for thirty years: things like riding a bicycle for hours, jogging, and doing physical work all day. The fact was, that waking up in the morning with an erection hard enough to pound a nail through a board, tended to have a major impact on a man’s attitude!
They were both smart enough to know better than to tell adults what to do. Parents and authority figures, particularly in 1973, didn’t react well to teenagers telling them what they needed to do. Since that didn’t work, it was better to do what needed to be done and let the adults form their own opinion about it after seeing that it was successful. In some cases, it was best to go to the adult and get advice. That built up trust over the long term.
“So what are you going to do next?”
“That’s what we were discussing,” Tim replied after a quick glance at Benny.
“What are your plans?”
Benny said “We’re not going to be able to grow the business until after the first of the year. I don’t have a driver’s license, so we can’t hire people to work for us. Winter is approaching, the weather will be bad, and the holidays are coming. We won’t be able to paint curbs much longer. We figure we’ve got four, maybe five, weekends left. When the grass stops growing, we’ll probably lose the work with the real estate company. We’re going to have to diversify in order to maintain a baseline income that’s independent of season and weather. At the moment, we’re not sure what direction to take things.”
That wasn’t exactly the truth. They knew they were going to go into the office cleaning business, but that was going to take some start-up capital. They were also going to have to put into place a real payroll system. They figured that for now they could get away with paying day labor for the curb painting business, but that they’d have to change that at some point in time.
“In the meantime, we’ll fix up the van, get our ducks in a row, and position ourselves to where we can make lots of money.”
“So you’re after money?”
Tim and Benny exchanged a glance. Benny gave Tim a small gesture to take point on this discussion.
“Not really. We’re after financial stability. At minimum wage, we’d have to work like mad in order to afford a car, car insurance, gasoline, and date money. For all intents and purposes, we’d always be walking around broke. Instead, we want to get ahead of the game by having a higher income than that, own vehicles that are in better shape than an old smoker, and to have a bit of money in the bank for rainy days. With a business, we can spend the business money rather than our money.
“We can pay ourselves that minimum, and still have the business purchase a van, and a truck, pay for the insurance, and most of the gas. Most of what we pay ourselves can go into the bank rather than be spent on paying bills.”
Benny said, “Would you like to hear something really weird?”
“We were checking out car insurance. When I get my driver’s license and purchase a car, the personal car insurance rate will be high because of my age. However, even though I’ll be driving the van and even though business insurance rates are higher than personal rates, the premium we’ll be paying for business insurance on the van is almost the same as what personal insurance would be.”
“Yes. It’s even better than that. When Tim hits sixteen, he’ll be able to drive the van and still be covered by the business insurance since he’s a co-owner of Two Guys Working, LLC.”
“We’re not sure, but we understand that if the business buys a second vehicle that the insurance rate on it will be lower than getting a second policy. So we could both end up with vehicles, but pay less overall for insurance.”
Tim’s father frowned. He was finding it hard to believe that their age didn’t enter into the business price for the auto insurance. He figured that he’d call his insurance agent Monday to double check what the boys were saying. If they were correct, then they were really playing all of the angles right.
“I take it that most of this is your idea, Benny.”
“Not really. This is a real partnership. We have a good balance of responsibilities.”
“Benny is the planner, researcher, and bookkeeper. I’m the salesman, purchasing agent, and manager. He deals with ideas. I deal with people, and we’re both laborers.”
The two young men sat there looking at Tim’s father. They really didn’t want to discuss any more of their business with him, and they still had more business topics to address. It took the older man a minute or two to realize that they were politely answering his questions and were anxious for him to leave.
“I’ll go in the house, now.”
“It’s been nice talking to you, Mr. Blake.”
“It’s been nice talking to you, Benny.”
They watched him go into the house. Once the door closed, Tim said, “I can’t believe he thought we were dealing drugs.”
“Don’t worry about it. If you were to see one of our classmates waving around $228.00 in one dollar bills, you’d probably think he was a dealer. Or, if it was a her, a stripper.”
“Getting back to work. I take it we’ve decided to check out the van, Tuesday.”
“Next item on the agenda, do we want to hire help for next weekend?”
“Have you given any thought to who we can hire?”
“Lana and Katy.”
“We pay them $25.00 for the day. There is no way they can make the kind of money we would pay them by babysitting. They’ll be interested. Not only that, we can make it contingent on the weather, because they are family. Other people we could hire are going to want some kind of guarantee that they’ll get to work and get paid. We can’t make that kind of guarantee, right now.”
“That’s true. The problem is that my sister is a bitch.”
“She can work with me, and Katy can work with you.”
“Katy hates me.”
“She liked you during our first pass through life.”
“I know. She doesn’t seem to like me now.”
“Maybe she just needs to get to know you.”
“Okay. You talk to them. You deal with people.”
Benny said, “Last item. When are we going to pay ourselves?”
“It’s up to you.”
“I don’t need any money at the moment. How about you?”
“I don’t need money right now. I get an allowance.”
A small allowance did, and didn’t, go far in October of 1973. A five dollar bill could buy a soda and a package of small powered donuts everyday for ten days, or it could have paid for one Friday night date to a movie, with popcorn and soda for two. Gasoline was 35.9¢ per gallon. A gallon of milk cost $1.20 while a loaf of bread was 25¢. A fast food hamburger was 55¢. A newspaper was 25¢ while a small transistor radio (AM) was $25.00 and an 8-track tape player was $60.00. A vinyl record was $7.00. Teenagers wanted Friday nights at the movies, transistor radios, 8-track tape players, and vinyl records; which were expensive and meant that a small allowance didn’t go far.
Tim and Benny had different interests than most people their current age. They had seen all of the current release movies and heard the newest songs a thousand times. They weren’t interested in buying transistor radios or 8-track tape players. For them, five dollars could go a long way.
Tim said, “So let’s just keep it in the business for now.”
“That’s fine with me. I guess that’s it for business.”
Benny packed up their business box. He sighed.
“What’s the matter, Benny?”