We've set the Wayback Machine for the winter of 1979. Those of you who are old enough to remember this particular winter will recall that it was nasty. Lots of snow and very cold - the kind of winter that makes me think fondly of global warming. I had just turned 15 and was a sophomore in high school. Like a lot of kids similarly situated, I had a paper route, delivering the Bargain Bulletin, a weekly shopper that had little or no editorial content, just a lot of classified ads. Essentially, it was Craigslist on dead tree. My route consisted of approximately 250 homes in my neighborhood, near Alicia Park in lovely Appleton, Wisconsin. For delivering these papers, I received the princely sum of about $10 a week. I subcontracted part of my route to one of my brothers, who was responsible for delivering about 50 of the papers, for which I paid him about $2. At some point, my brother made a discovery; since there was a lot of snow that winter, he could just as easily bury his papers in the park and pocket the money, since most people in the neighborhood considered the Bargain Bulletin to be little more than litter. So that's what he did. Meanwhile, I would trudge through the snow and deliver my 200 or so papers to the rest of the neighborhood.
When the snow melted, my brother's perfidy was discovered and I nearly was fired, although somehow I managed to talk my way out of the problem. I'm guessing that the Bulletin didn't have anyone to replace me, so they put up with me. I ended up quitting that summer when I went to Guatemala as an exchange student, but that's a different story.
Anyway, this experience was my first one in the working world and I learned a few things that still have application today.
- If you employ cheap labor, sometimes you get bad results. I mean me and my brother in this. I should have simply delivered the rest of the papers, since it only would have taken another half-hour or so, but I wanted to make sure I was home in time to watch "Gilligan's Island" reruns or something like that, who knows. Even though I thought I was reliable, I wasn't. As for my brother, let's just say that his work ethic has improved immeasurably since those days, which his wife and children surely appreciate.
- If you think something is important, you better be sure about your sub-contractors. I should have known better at the time; after all, I knew what my brother was like. But I chose to ignore what I understood.
- You don't help anyone by becoming involved with enterprises that have little merit. It was easy to ignore what was happening since I didn't get any feedback on my performance beyond the weekly pay envelope filled with $2 bills.
So what is the point of this tale? I think it has a lot to do with the current state of politics. And I'll explore that in a later post.