You know, when I was in High School a lot of my peers talked about their allowances. Mostly about how little they got and how much they wanted. In the early days, it was $10 a week, back in middle-school. Then by Sophomore year it was closer to $50 a week. When that wasn’t enough a few people got a job or two, but a few went the other way and started their own business.
The guy who sat in front of me in one of my classes admitted that he made $5,000 a week. I figured that’s a pretty good allowance, so I asked him about it. It was a pretty simple job…buy goods straight from the manufacturer for dirt-cheap and sell it at high-value markup. His product of choice was a mixed-bag of ‘goodies’: Weed, coke, meth, and crack mostly. He claimed he could do even more, but at $5k a week he was making just enough to pay for his own habit, along with enough for a pair of Nike shoes or designer jeans or something.
He’s probably dead by now, but the fact is that he had a good shtick.
I got an ‘allowance’ when I was a kid, too. Until I was almost ten I was paid 25 cents an hour to do household chores. When I realized minimum wage at the time was $4.25 an hour. I negotiated myself to $2, like both of my older sisters were getting at that time, within a few years. Of course by then, minimum wage $4.75 an hour…damn inflation.
I was expected to do an hour a week of free work in chores, then I got paid $1.00 for the first hour and $2.00 for each hour after that. I used to wait a month to get paid, because I didn’t want to have to start over at half-price again.
My mother told me this was not acceptable and I would have to be paid every week. I cried foul and admitted I saw the value of waiting until I had something specific I wanted to spend my money on to collect it. She reluctantly admitted, “I didn’t expect you to catch on to my ploy so easily.”
It was great when my older sisters were both out of the house and I was the sole provider of ‘chore’ duty. It was like I was part of the Union! I got to set the terms of arbitration, now!
I noted that, by this point in time, minimum wage was $5.15 an hour. I recognized the validity of her argument that it was under the table and that my work was for a non-profit organization. I was, of course, providing a slew of services for a cancer survivor. So I agreed to a flat-fee of $5.00 per hour, under the table of course.
This benefited both parties, but I’ll admit I definitely had a much better arrangement than in past dealings with this particular employer. Mother, Inc. needed a lot of work done the company cared only about effort put in, not the ultimate result. So like any other government-funded subcontractor…I did a lot of work, but not much got done.
Mother, Inc. wanted French drains to keep the basement from flooding when it rained. I started digging a trench for the pipes to be put down. I quickly realized the trench had to be over a foot deep and about thirty-five feet long. I also quickly realized that if I dug a shallow trench around the affected area and sloped it to the driveway, the water would run off into said driveway.
My next job was to repair a disaster zone in the driveway area caused by a sudden increase in ground water levels. It was a veritable swamp zone by the time I got my instructions for the job! The little bit of gravel in the mostly grassland area was almost all below ground level, sucked down by the sinking wet mass. Problem was…I was given an infinite labor budget, but no materials budget. I was unable to affect a resolution for the situation immediately.
About this same time I got contracted by Mother, Inc. to demolish an old, unused chimney. I was quoted an estimate of about ten hours of work, total, removing brick and closing down the space. It wasn’t until I got into the job that I found out there was concrete block under the brick façade.
Realization dawned upon the crew and it was quickly decided we’d turn both of the smaller contracts into one big contract. The idea was proposed to Mother, Inc. and they were all for it.
The work on the chimney was mostly hammer and chisel stuff. Break through the mortar and separate the bricks, but as it got closer to the ground it became apparent the structural integrity had been degraded by the work. We were able to haul large chunks of it out by the end of things.
These single bricks and brick chunks were then hauled down to the driveway where I busted them up with a sledgehammer, using it to fill in the sinkhole spots of the soft ground. It wasn’t industrial gravel, but it would do.
The underlying block saw a similar fate. They were bigger and heavier, but they were weak and rotted and came out easily enough. Before long both jobs were basically done, but now the driveway area was pretty rough and jagged and we had a slight problem with uneven driving conditions. A near miss on a flat tire here or there and it became apparent we needed something else.
Then came the word from above…another flood zone. The roadside creek area was beginning to get back up, something about stones washing into the waterway, I guess. Mother, Inc. contracted us to clean it up and we found it a fairly easy, albeit dirty, job.
We cleaned out the debris and found some good, smooth, river rock, too. The sledgehammer at the driveway site made quick work of them and we put them overtop of the rough stuff, buffering it well.
So with the chimney site opened back up to pedestrian travel, the basement nice and dry, and the driveway region built up and levied, we gave our ‘mission complete’ statement to Mother, Inc. on the roadside creek job and were given another task.
Mother, Inc. wanted the hilly areas north of the capital, House, leveled and brought down a bit. It was a cake job, I guess. $5.00 an hour, under the table, to dig out a hill that was so big you’d need a big machine to make a dent in it. I had my trust mattock pick and my shovel, with a wheelbarrow or two to boot.
It was hard work, but expectations were low. An inch here, an inch there, and progress was declared. Any time I started hurting for money…I’d just clear out some recurring brush and dig another inch back, another inch to the side, maybe do some aesthetic work for the public opinion.
By the time I closed up shop and left the area, I’d done about 8 square feet of work. Not bad for a four-year project, I guess. I’ve seen the local DOT construction crews do worse.
All in all it was a pretty successful contract. Mother, Inc.’s doing pretty good these days, even though the new companies in the area are nowhere near as cheap as I bid for the work.
Every once in a while, though, I get a call from the organization and come up to do some pro bono work. It’s for a good cause, after all.