"No, but we'll soon find out."
Suddenly, Mike's dad burst through the rickety screen door and onto the porch. Mike and I jumped to our feet, not out of respect but because we were startled.
"Ready boys?" Mike's dad asked as he pulled up a chair to sit down
We nodded our heads as we pulled our chairs away from the wall to sit in front of him.
He was a big man, about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. My dad was taller, about the same weight, and five years older than Mike's dad. They sort of looked alike, though not of the same ethnic makeup. Maybe their energy was similar.
"Mike says you want to learn to make money? Is that correct, Robert?"
I nodded my head quickly, but with a little intimidation. He had a lot of power behind his words and smile.
"OK, here's my offer. I'll teach you, but I won't do it classroom-style. You work for me, I'll teach you. You don't work for me, I won't teach you. I can teach you faster if you work, and I'm wasting my time if you just want to sit and listen, like you do in school. That's my offer. Take it or leave it."
"Ah... may I ask a question first?" I asked.
"No. Take it or leave it. I've got too much work to do to waste my time. If you can't make up you mind decisively, then you'll never learn to make money anyway. Opportunities come and go. Being able to know when to make quick decisions is an important skill. You have an opportunity that you asked for. School is beginning or it's over in ten seconds," Mike's dad said with a teasing smile.
"Take it," I said. `
"Take it," said Mike.
"Good," said Mike's dad. "Mrs. Martin will be by in ten minutes. After I'm through with her, you ride with her to my superette and you can begin working. I'll pay you 10 cents an hour and you will work for three hours every Saturday."
"But I have a softball game today," I said.
Mike's dad lowered his voice to a stern tone. "Take it or leave it," he
"I'll take it," I replied, choosing to work and learn instead of playing softball.
30 Cents Later
By 9 a.m. on a beautiful Saturday morning, Mike and I were working for Mrs. Martin. She was a kind and patient woman. She always said that Mike and I reminded her of her two sons who were grown and gone. Although kind, she believed in hard work and she kept us working. She was a task master. We spent three hours taking canned goods off the shelves and, with a feather duster, brushing each can to get the dust off, and then re-stacking them neatly. It was excruciatingly boring work.
Mike's dad, whom I call my rich dad, owned nine of these little superettes with large parking lots. They were the early version of the 7-11 convenience stores. Little neighborhood grocery stores where people bought items such as milk, bread, butter and cigarettes. The problem was, this was Hawaii before air conditioning, and the stores could not close its doors because of the heat. On two sides of the store, the doors had to be wide open to the road and parking lot. Every time a car drove by or pulled into the parking lot, dust would swirl and settle in the store.
Hence, we had a job for as long as there was no air conditioning.
For three weeks, Mike and I reported to Mrs. Martin and worked our three hours. By noon, our work was over, and she dropped three little dimes in each of our hands. Now, even at the age of 9 in the mid-1950s, 30 cents was not too exciting. Comic books cost 10 cents back then, so I usually spent my money on comic books and went home.
By Wednesday of the fourth week, I was ready to quit. I had agreed to work only because I wanted to learn to make money from Mike's dad, and now I was a slave for 10 cents an hour. On top of that, I had not seen Mike's dad since that first Saturday.
"I'm quitting," I told Mike at lunchtime. The school lunch was miserable. School was boring, and now I did not even have my Saturdays to look forward to. But it was the 30 cents that really got to me.
This time Mike smiled.
"What are you laughing at?" I asked with anger and frustration.
"Dad said this would happen. He said to meet with him when you were ready to quit."
"What?" I said indignantly. "He's been waiting for me to get fed up?"
"Sort of," Mike said. "Dad's kind of different. He teaches differently from your dad. Your mom and dad lecture a lot. My dad is quiet and a man of few words. You just wait till this Saturday. I'll tell him .you're ready."
"You mean I've been set up?"
"No, not really, but maybe. Dad will explain on Saturday."
Waiting in Line on Saturday
I was ready to face him and I was prepared. Even my real dad was angry with him. My real dad, the one I call the poor one, thought that my rich dad was violating child labor laws and should be investigated.
My educated poor dad told me to demand what I deserve. At least 25 cents an hour. My poor dad told me that if I did not get a raise, I was to quit immediately.
"You don't need that damned job anyway," said my poor dad with indignity.
At 8 o'clock Saturday morning, I was going through the same rickety door of Mike's house.
"Take a seat and wait in line," Mike's dad said as I entered. He turned and disappeared into his little office next to a bedroom.
I looked around the room and did not see Mike anywhere. Feeling awkward, I cautiously sat down next to the same two women who where there four weeks earlier. They smiled and slid across the couch to make room for me.
Forty-five minutes went by, and I was steaming. The two women had met with him and left thirty minutes earlier. An older gentleman was in there for twenty minutes and was also gone.
The house was empty, and I sat out in his musty dark living room on a beautiful sunny Hawaiian day, waiting to talk to a cheapskate who exploited children. I could hear him rustling around the office, talking on the phone, and ignoring me. I was now ready to walk out, but for some reason I stayed.
Finally, fifteen minutes later, at exactly 9 o'clock, rich dad walked out of his office, said nothing, and signaled with his hand for me to enter his dingy office.
"I understand you want a raise or you're going to quit," rich dad said as he swiveled in his office chair.
"Well, you're not keeping your end of the bargain," I blurted out nearly in tears. It was really frightening for a 9-year-old boy to confront a grownup.
"You said that you would teach me if I worked for you. Well, I've worked for you. I've worked hard. I've given up my baseball games to work for you. And you don't keep your word. You haven't taught me anything. You are a crook like everyone in town thinks you are. You're greedy. You want all the money and don't take care of your employees. You make me wait and don't show me any respect. I'm only a little boy, and I deserve to be treated better."
Rich dad rocked back in his swivel chair, hands up to his chin, somewhat staring at me. It was like he was studying me.
"Not bad," he said. "In less than a month, you sound like most of my employees."
"What?" I asked. Not understanding what he was saying, I continued with my grievance. "I thought you were going to keep your end of the bargain and teach me. Instead you want to torture me? That's cruel. That's really cruel."
"I am teaching you," rich dad said quietly.
"What have you taught me? Nothing!" I said angrily. "You haven't even talked to me once since I agreed to work for peanuts. Ten cents an hour. Hah! I should notify the government about you.
We have child labor laws, you know. My dad works for the government, you know."
"Wow!" said rich dad. "Now you sound just like most of the people who used to work for me. People I've either fired or they've quit."