I guess I came straight out of the womb negotiating. Mom says that at two and a half years old I would ask for “six quwacka fwee cheese” at bed time. When she said no I would say “foe quwacka two cheese”, and so on. I must have liked making sandwiches out of crackers and cheese based on that math.
My “Dear Old Dad” as he is known to all of us 5 kids is a fine example of beating the odds, of an extreme work ethic, and of a genuine, make you cry type of kindness. As a long haul trucker, my Father worked very hard for long hours, and away from home much of the time to provide for us.
When he was home, I watched him wheel and deal on cars that he would fix up and resell. He has built them all and I was there for the lion’s share of them. I also experienced the rest of the deal; the handshakes, the signatures, and the “pleasure doing business with you” at the end. My Dad had one major rule for me and it was to do what you say you are going to do, to follow through and to do so regardless of the relationship you have with the other party, be it a family, a friend, or even a stranger.
When I was around 6 years old, my Grandfather on my Mother’s side began taking me to garage sales. My Grandfather was a man with a great deal of character. He said to me at the end of each of our “business meetings”, (which were small loan discussions) that “a man is as good as his word”, I can really still hear him say it. Grandpa also loved a good bargain and I was eager to pickup tips that could help me in my lemonade business. I had a nearly permanent stand at the north end of my block on 12th Street where it meets College; location, location, location.
My location was actually so bad that during one particularly slow weekend shift things went sideways, real quick like. My younger Brother and best friend, who was about 2 years my junior at the age of four and who I had just hired earlier that morning, threatened to throw a rock at the next car that didn’t stop.
The squeal of the tires braking impressed me as I thought someone was excited about our refreshments. I hadn’t seen my Brother throw the rock but I did see him running really fast in a southern direction down 12th Street. I remember, he was white.
The man that came out of that car was red. I was the only person there, I tried to calm him down. I explained that the boy that threw the rock was a new employee and perhaps his marketing techniques needed work. I also suggested that it would be an opportune time for a cool beverage, he declined.
One vivid memory that changed everything for me took place on one of my tours with Grandpa, another sweet Saturday bargain hunt! We were up early as always, and we were going to get the worm. We must have been to a half dozen sales or so when it appeared. There it was…a pretty, shiny, round, disc thingy. A metal Frisbee?
Grandpa told me to try and buy it for one dollar, the price was clearly displayed at two dollars. He explained that garage sales were unlike the supermarket or corner store and that prices were negotiable. I went on to buy the hub cap for one dollar as instructed.
We went to a few more sales before pulling up to an automotive garage at the NW corner of 10th & College. Grandfather motioned for me to go and sell the hub cap for $5 to the gentleman at the shop’s counter.
I went into the deal with a borrowed wrinkly green bill and had turned it into a crisper, much more impressive blue bill. The die was cast.
The realization that the value of a thing could be changed simply by a seller’s motivation was revolutionary to my young and impressionable mind. It was worth one dollar a moment ago, and now it is worth $5 by finding the right individual without any elaboration? The laws of supply and demand were being demonstrated right before my very eyes and at 6 years of age in an interactive way that provided an intimate understanding without delay, practice, or memorization.
At long last, I had painfully mastered the cheese and cracker pitch with Mom only to discover that all I had needed to do was increase the refrigerator’s cheese inventory by hiding the existing cheese in the back so as to create a re-up come grocery day. A surplus of cheese equals six quwacka and fwee cheese.
The poor neighborhood kids were no match. Marbles, hot wheels, and hockey cards, I was the Tony Montana of 12th Street. If I had only known that all those Gretzky rookie cards were going to be so valuable, I would have never used them in the spokes of my chrome BMX bike for silly sound effects.
The male role models that I was blessed to have near me as a kid certainly shaped who I was then and also who I eventually became in adulthood. Two terrific Grandfathers, four amazing Uncles, and one heck of a hard working Dad, all of them, steering me in the right direction. All of these 7 men made their word mean something, and for the ones still with us, they still adhere to this principle today.
For me it took practice. Grandfather would cut me off from future “business meetings” at one point as I had not made my word count. Cue Lesson; It was hard to hear him mutter as I closed the door behind me, “a man is as good as his word”.
B E G O O D T O P E O P L E