REPOST FROM AUGUST 2012
Last week my wife, Debbie, was working in the yard when two young men approached her and started a conversation. The older of the two did the talking.
“Hi, my name is John.”
“Hello, John” she responded enthusiastically, “what can I do for you?”
“We’re painting house numbers on curbs. Would you like us to paint yours?”
“Sounds good, let me talk to my hubby.” She headed into the house to find me, hearing the boys chuckle at the use of the term.
She found me and reported that there was someone outside that wanted to talk to me about painting our house number on the curb. I stepped outside to find the two standing on my porch. They were Hispanic, looking to be about 10 and 13. One of them had a backpack slug over one shoulder.
The younger boy delivered the sales pitch this time, but it wasn’t necessary. I was half sold before I headed out the door, because someone was showing some initiative. And as soon as I saw these two eager-faced, industrious entrepreneurs, I was theirs’.
My only questions were about the logistics of the job and soon they were headed for the curb and I was headed for my wallet. I walked out to the curb and sat down to watch them work. They had already pulled the stencils from a box, had the house number laid out on the curb and were masking for the background.
I watched them work together. They were good with their hands and had good eyes for what they were doing. I wouldn’t have surprised to find they’d been doing this for years.
“How long have you been doing this?”
“About two weeks.”
“Where did you get the idea?”
“I have a friend that does this as a job,” the younger boy was telling the story. “He told me that I should start doing this, so I asked my uncle,” he nodded at the older boy, “to help me.”
“How much of the money do you get to keep?”
“All of it, we work for ourselves. We get to keep all the money.” I liked the capitalistic ring in his voice.
He bent back to his work, leaving me to notice his dark wavy hair. I watched him give the tape one last touch as the older boy pulled the first spray can out of the backpack and shook it. He then began to apply it in smooth, short passes.
“An adult has to buy the spray paint for you,” I suggested, saying something about the rule designed to prevent tagging.
No, I can buy it,” the uncle looked up as he patted his wallet, “I have a card that allows me to buy it – business license.”
It didn’t occur to me that I had just made a potential PC faux pas. It didn’t occur to them either, because at that moment they were not a couple of Hispanic kids with cans of spray paint and I was not some old white guy worried they would be back after dark. We were men on equal ground transacting a business deal.
I had seen enough of their craftsmanship to know they would do a better job of this than I would have. I stood up, pulled the bill from my pocket and handed it to the younger boy. I thanked them and told them to point to my house when they talked with the neighbors, “tell them you did a great job for me.”
I headed back into the house, but couldn’t resist one more look over my shoulder. As I did, I felt a sense of satisfaction for these two young men. I thought how I would be willing to hire them as salesmen. I wondered how many young men in my neighborhood had this kind of drive and spirit. I prayed that it would be recognized, rewarded and nurtured.
I am tempted to pontificate. I will not. I will just close my eyes and remember the two young men that reminded me of the spirit America needs to regain – and soon.