The Entrepreneur

‘What do you want to do tomorrow,’ the professor asked me last Friday night. As he does occasionally, to get a sense of my expectations for the day. ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. Because I didn’t. And also I’m starting to learn it’s best to let the day unfold – organically. Having a to-do list and trying to get the troops to adhere to it usually spell disaster.

So I woke up in the morning and, as I went about my morning routine, decided we’d have an art day. An all-day artfest, as it were. I gathered supplies, set up the workspace, and summoned the children.

Well, two of the children. ‘Maybe you and Percy can clean out the car,’ I suggested to the professor. Because art projects with three boys, one of which is two, don’t work out too well. So the professor gathered his littlest assistant and they went to the backyard, embarking on a day-long odyssey of cleaning out the garage (still holding the ruined belongings from our sewer backup….last January) and a small mountain of empty milk bottles and juice boxes.

I sat at the table with the Gort and the Hen, urging them to follow their creative impulses. ‘There was a craft in this library book,’ the Gort suddenly remembered after glueing popsicle sticks onto paper in the shape of a house. He retrieved the book and found the page that contained instructions for how to make…..a newspaper hat.

‘Well, there’s a stack of newspaper,’ I offered, pointing to the six-week-old copy of the New York Times we’d inexplicably brought back with us from our journey to the heartland. ‘Oh great,’ he exclaimed as though the stars had somehow lined up just for him.

He made a hat in record time, deemed it easy, and made another. And then another. And when I looked up, he’d made four. ‘Maybe I should sell these,’ he mused aloud. And I said nothing. Because selling anything is high on my list of ‘things-I-loathe-and-want-to-avoid-at-all costs.’

In high school, we had to sell candy bars for French Club. And I ate 95% of the candy bars. Mostly because I love candy bars, but also because I did not want to actually try and sell them. And, when the money was due, I wrote a personal check to cover the ‘damage’ and submitted it to my teacher.

So I said nothing, hoping the Gort would move on to the next idea. But he didn’t. He made more hats. And, next thing I knew, he’d gone to the basement and found a little IKEA table and two stools. And all of a sudden he was asking me ‘is this how you write cent’ and showing me a sign he’d printed: paper hats made out of newspaper cost 10 c.

‘Yes,’ I gulped. Feeling like things were spiralling out of control.

And, within mere minutes, he’d carted everything outside and was waiting for his first customer.

My day had taken a turn for the (very) unexpected.

It was a holiday weekend, meaning traffic was sparse. And most of the neighbors appeared to be gone. I felt a sense of motherly obligation and posted a picture of my salesmen on Facebook. Heeding my plea, a friend dispatched her husband with their four girls to come and buy some hats.

Meanwhile, a young woman leaving her apartment had seen the heartwarming display of entrepreneurship. She approached the earnest young lad. And, seeing that he had ten hats for sale – priced at ten cents a piece – remarked: ‘so you only hope to make a dollar?! Wow, low goals, I guess.’

She, charitably, handed him a stack of coins and took a hat. And, though I did not know her, I loved her. Shortly thereafter our friends stopped by, and suddenly the Gort was shy. Each girl chose a hat, and upon determining that the hats didn’t actually fit their heads, (‘they fit Percy’s head purrrfectly,’ the Gort explained later), the oldest girl tried to read the newsprint. I crossed my fingers that the content was parent-approved.

Two things surprised me about the experience: (1) I could not believe how long Percy hung out at the little table with his oldest brother, and (2) the Gort remained outside until the very last hat sold. I was sure he’d give up after thirty minutes of sitting at the table, or maybe an hour. But, save the occasional bathroom break, he sat upon his little IKEA stool, waiting patiently for each of his seven customers.

Five hours (!) or so after he’d first set up shop, a young guy on a bike stopped to pick up the very last hat. The Gort had somehow turned ten newspaper hats into $20. (‘It’s a good strategy’, the professor observed, ‘charging so little….then people want to pay more.’)

Still $10 short for the Harry Potter Lego Book he’d seen at Indigo the previous day, he was on the prowl for another moneymaking idea, ‘I wonder what else I can sell….do you think I should make more newspaper hats?’

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