“My First Million” August 28, 2012 Story 10

I made my first million by the time I was twenty-eight.

Unfortunately, I spent $1,200,000 getting to millionaire status.

When I started my elevator business in 1994 everyone in my life thought I had either lost my marbles or just plain had no clue what running a business would entail. I had only been in the elevator business for two months, working for a man who would sell his left fourth toe to the devil for a quarter, when I decided this was my opportunity to stand up, get off the bench and enter the court of business.

In the December of 1994, I left The University of Chattanooga with $35,000 worth of student loan debt and 162 accredited hours.

Unfortunately, two things kept me from requesting a graduation certificate from my soon to be fake alma mater; one, I needed a basic PE credit; two, my overall GPA was a 1.98 and the university required a 2.0 to graduate. Needless to say, my hubristic tendencies combined with my always and forever authority issues told me it didn’t matter whether I actually had an institutional certificate of approval or an acceptance letter from the business world; I needed to seize the day.

My business career started when I was born.

Bartering, bantering, and always negotiating with Christophersteinavensky, my older brother (by ten months and two days), was my career of choice until I turned twelve. At twelve, I discovered the art of paper throwing and the financial reward of “the gift of gab”.

The Johnson City Press Chronicle is where I cut my proverbial entrepreneurial teeth.

Living on Rolling Hills Drive in the Southside of Johnson City, TN gave me the perfect proximity to Garland Acres; a very white, working middle class subdivision; where half the folks were just getting started and the other half were just winding down.

Trevor Gage was my newspaper-throwing idol. I rode my bike in Garland Acres almost every day during my childhood summers and I watched Trevor work his paper route with the seamless ease and finesse of a well-oiled clay pigeon machine operator.

I knew Trevor because his very handsome, always winking, always smiling, very kind older brother, Chad, called the pitches at my Little League Baseball games. Chad died in a car accident not too long after I met Trevor, I can still remember my awkward unfamiliarity to death and the overwhelming sadness I felt whenever I threw the Gage’s newspaper.

The loss of a child in any form, is and always will be my greatest fear in life and my worst, gut-wrenching anguish for my fellow human being who has experienced this loss. I cannot express the palpable grief I felt when the Gage’s invited me in for a sip of Pepsi or just my normal respite as I moved through my newspaper neighborhood.

Mrs. Gage was a very kind Mommy, she always offered to feed me; not because I looked like I needed to be fed but because that’s what Mommy’s did back then; I would often hand off the daily news to my customers only to get back a bible verse, a Little Debbie or a cookie.

It was as if it wasn’t polite to be given something without giving something in return and the monetization of gestures had not happened yet. Some customers never said a word, they’d just nod or fling their hand in the air, but most of my customers were genuinely happy to see the news. I’d often go home and eat my Mommy Gah’s meals after being fed two or three times on my paper route.

This might explain my ever increasing, ever expanding, ever straining rubber band waist belt in my baseball capris.

And most of my older customers would offer to feed me a homemade cookie or Little Debbie if I’d just come in and sit a spell; my Swiss Cake roll customers were always my favorites, and as my Nonnie always said, “you’ve got to get it when it’s available to you!”

I always knew my Nonnie was a child of The Depression. Nonnie is still why I never wait to do anything in life. My Nonnie’s mantra is not too far from my signature personal mission statement that came from my favorite Hollywood movie, Auntie Mame; “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

My daily visits and snacks lasted until I bought my motor-scooter when I turned fourteen; and just like that, my technological advancement started whizzing me past my newspaper gestures.

I know what you’re thinking; “my” and not “my brother’s” Little League games. Yes I played Little League. After all, it’s not 1968 it’s 1979 and in 1979 I was “allowed” to try out for the Little League of Johnson City and unbeknownst to the Little League coaches of the day, my mother thought I should be offered the same opportunities as my brother (I have long since suspected this was my Mommy Gah’s creative timing design of the hour, more than her feministic tendencies. You see, my twenty-nine year old, very wise by then, very efficient, wanna be Domestic Engineer Mommy Gah, could kill two birds with one stone if I played Little League baseball. She could keep one eye on me, as I rode the bench, and the other eye on my Puerto Rican twin brother who played left field).

I was chosen in the eighth round and although I was definitely better than other nine year olds, my baseball skills were not on the same level of excellence as my swimming skills. It also didn’t hurt that my brother had two very accepting, tolerating and warm Daddys who picked me in try-outs over the flavor-of-the-month boy next to me.

Coach Phipps and Coach Foster will always and forever be my two favorite childhood coaches.

I will always cherish those Little League memories, although little boys can be very mean and cruel to the opposite sex when threatened or challenged. I never really thought it was the fault of the boys, but rather an extension of the sexist welfare happening within the more traditional homes in the South.

I remember years later, I was at a cocktail party on Lookout Mountain when a little boy, who wasn’t more than six or seven, approached his Mommy crying profusely because a bigger eight-year-old girl had taken something from him. I remember watching the Mommy kneel down and hug her little boy and very quietly lean into the little boys ear and whisper, “you’re not going to let a “little girl” cause you to cry are you?”  I remember cutting through the hairs rising on the back of my neck, as though somehow the fewer hairs I had the more tolerant I became of ignorance.

The same thing recently happened when my brother and I visited with my Daddy-O on my parents’ deck.

I’m hearing my father, Paw-Paw, chiding my six-year-old nephew into thinking that somehow a good, tired, well-deserved afternoon cry is in someway connected to being a “little girl”.

My brother and I quickly glance at each other and we eye yell, “Wonder twin powers unite,” and at the same time our voices yell, “what the hell do you mean by that phrase, Daddy”?

Now my father who is not the bastion of political correctness but is, after all, the reason I am an observationalist at mind, senses his Puerto Rican twins have spoken at the same time for a reason and therefore something must be wrong. And with his suspicions in tow, he whirls around in his wrought iron Wal-Mart “USA-Made” rocker; leans back in his outdoor easy chair, as if somehow letting the lean speak for itself; flings open his every trusty truck driver’s means of communication Bic lighter; and regurgitates directly from his six p.m. Fox Theatre showing of the long lost 1622 Shakespearean play, “You Know What I Mean”, written primarily in prose.

“He’s not going to be one of those “kind” of boys.”

And as always, I look over at my brother, shake my head, roll my forty-two year old eyes and reach for my next Sierra Nevada while moving on to the next “generational gap” topic of my visit.