JAFOpinion
Published in

JAFOpinion

Read this Essay, unlock the secret ingredient of the best Guacamole EVER

The Young Entrepreneurs Secret Tree of Gold

An essay about young entrepreneurship

When I was eleven, we lived in a four-bedroom rental house just off of Sunset Blvd. The same Sunset Blvd in Hollywood famous for places like Chateau Marmot, Whiskey, Rainbow Room, Le Dome, Tiffany Theater and many more. If you can imagine, the rent was only two hundred and fifty dollars per month but it was a financial stretch for my parents. I loved that house. I had my room, which I didn’t have to share with my sister and a place to spread out and build stuff. My most prized possession was a collection of LEGOs, those little weird multi-colored plastic blocks were a terrific inspiration.

That rental house and my obsession with LEGOS’ would become the bridge to my first entrepreneurial venture. As an 11-year-old often is; I was fully involved in my fantasies, and at that moment building a large city of Legos was it. There was a problem though; I had run out of those blocks. That’s wasn’t good, I was right in the middle of this remarkable Picasso looking creature and couldn’t finish. I could have started from scratch, dismantled one of my other creations, but that wasn’t how I operated. My vision needed fulfilling and my stubbornness keep me focused. My “city” and ideas required completion. For me to get there, I needed more Legos, a lot more Legos.

After a few days of considering options, I decided to ask my parents for an allowance. A weekly infusion of cash would surely get me what I wanted, but there was a roadblock. In my family chores were a part of life, expected, compensation for doing the expected, never came up. Simply in my home, with my parents, allowance just was not recognized as a legitimate ritual. I honestly didn’t even know what allowance was until some smart-ass friend, Frank, asked me why I was watering other peoples lawns. “Don’t your parents give you an allowance?” and of course the ridicule ensued.

Obliviously Mom and Dad weren’t aware of their failure as parents and needed some correcting. I made up my mind to press the subject of allowance. Deep inside though, I knew my family was different, that we had less. We had just barely managed to move into our middle-class house, which was not owned by us, and never would be. We had always lived in apartments and I wondered, were we different now, richer?

My Mom used to sew our clothes. She would go to Woolworth’s then spend the weekend pinning patterns and cutting cloth. It took her hours squinting with the occasional curse word, but by the end of the weekend, my sister and I had new outfits. The first time I experienced store-bought pants was when I bought them myself with paper route money, levy 501s I recall. We never went out for dinner even when neighbors invited us. My parents always declined, with some excuse. It was just a fact of life; in our family, Mom made our meals, always. Still, that wasn’t a bad thing; I can smell the potato pancakes right now as I type. Enchiladas and rice, mmm so nice. Yes, things were tight, and my parents did not keep it a secret. In this austerity, though, my dad would interject little verbal signs that we were moving up. To me that was a mixed message, and I took it as an opportunity to “pitch” my allowance.

Looking back I remember how I discovered our poverty. It was during a California “cold spell,” we were suffering 50 degree mornings, for us Cali’s that was freezing! On one of those mornings as I was leaving for school, I found a boy’s winter jacket draped over our porch chair. I put it on; fit perfectly, a brand new green corduroy jacket with a lining. I didn’t own a winter jacket and was quite pleased that someone had “forgotten” it on our porch. Do you remember the first time you put on a coat with a lining? That has to be one of the top ten best feelings, the comfort and weird protection of it stuck in my memory. I was confused though; who the heck would leave an utterly new coat on my porch. I didn’t recognize the obvious, why would I at eleven? I just felt lucky, and my Mom said to keep it, “an angel had sent it.” Weird statement coming from my mom, a confused agnostic, but I was warm, so off I went to school.

A day after we found that jacket, I caught my mother crying. When I asked her why, she, of course, told me some lie. Later that night I caught her staring at the jacket and getting upset all over again. What was going on? I started to consider what had happened. It is a strange moment when you realize that your family is short on means. My mother was ashamed, but she knew I was warm, and so she swallowed her pride. Some people would say she was acting practically, but that wasn’t my mom, especially when it came to charity; if she could have provided a winter jacket, she would have. Out of her peripheral vision, she caught me watching her, and the “obvious” became a reality. I never put that coat back on again.

I negotiated two dollars a week for allowance. My leverage was silent parental guilt, and as the closer, I said I would add on to my regular chores, things that my father did. My parents got the better deal. I now had to cut the lawns and clean the yard. It wasn’t in my duties as of yet because all we had was a manual lawnmower and not a good one. My Dad thought it was too much for me at the time. No question the front lawn was work. Three “rolling” hills elevated from the sidewalk up to our front door, no retaining wall just hills. As kids, we would spread out our “slippery slide,” mind you it wasn’t a store bought one but my Dads do-it-yourself slide. That slide was great fun during hot summer months, even with the occasional knee abrasion. I remember those hills being a blast until my new duties included pushing that manual lawnmower over them.

Dad was the treasurer of allowance, and the deal was that every Sunday he would dole it out. The first weekend he missed, then the next weekend came without payment. I was a little bothered about the delay, but I had faith that Dad would make good. By now he knew what my goal was, lots more Lego’s, of course, I reminded him a few times, to leave no doubt.

When I earned enough money, all I could think about was the toy store on Hollywood Blvd, the one right next to the “Hollywood Magic Shop,” I wonder if it’s still there? That Sunday, I kept pestering him to drive me, even threatening to walk by myself. I was bursting at the seams to go. Dad finally promised he would take me after lunch, then out of the blue; he said: “let’s look at your work outside; some things I want to show you.” More delays, I thought. While he was pointing out the missed weeds and uneven grass, we saw a homeless man coming up the street. In those days “bums” made me uneasy, they scared me. In the 70s, we called them bums or drunks without even a thought of the person. It’s a good thing that we see beyond the surface now, at least some of us. Back to my dad, what I didn’t know was the lesson he was about to teach me. He didn’t plan it, but it was a lesson in virtue I still carry. It also set me on a different path.

The homeless man shuffled passed us while we stood on the devils’ strip, his head hanging down, really drooped down. My Dad quietly suggested that I give him my money. “NO WAY,” I replied, “that would ruin everything!” My Dad to his credit didn’t get mad; he just reached into his pocket took out a couple of dollars and handed it to me. “Go catch up to him and give him this; go before he is gone.”

I was scared, but I did it. When I got close enough, the man turned around. He smelled like human waste and wine. His clothes were filthy, and I don’t use that word loosely. The kind of dirt that becomes another color, permanent. The look in his eyes told me this man was in real and dire need. That is the only way I can describe his look; compassion came over me. I reached into my pocket and included my earnings. He never asked for the money; he didn’t respond, smile, or make any gesture. He just took the cash, turned, and walked away. I still remember being pissed off from his lack of gratitude, but I also felt the taste of being human for the first time.

Lego’s would have to wait, yet again.

Something switched in me, after meeting that lost soul. It made me rethink my duties as a family member. I never asked for an allowance again. I did my chores without the expectation of payment. Sometimes Dad would give me a few dollars, sometimes not. I can’t explain it; something got into me and scared me after meeting that homeless man. What was the difference between him and my father? And worse could I end up that way?; it gave me nightmares.

Later in life, a friend explained to me about the experience I had. I listened to her; she had the bona fides. A well-published professor in cultural studies, she told me that many souls in the world are already dead. She called them the “Walking Dead.” Her observation was way before Kirkman’s comic; though she nailed the metaphor. “When a soul enters into the first stage of death,” she said, “they become zombie-like.” That is what I was witness, and activist too, that day, a person entering zombie status. I couldn’t describe it any better, and it forged a connection in my brain.

Let’s get back to the rental house for a second.

The other fantastic thing about that house, other than my private room, was the small orchard that grew in the backyard. On our north wall, which divided our home from a Presbyterian church parking lot, had 300 hundred feet of wild boysenberries growing on it. There were lemon trees, orange trees, fig trees, and more importantly, for this story, four large green leafed trees with strange leathery looking fruits on it. The back yard was large, and those green trees hide in the far west part of it. Our Garage covered two, so all you could see was the tops of an enormous canopy. Those trees shaded the garage roof. I hadn’t recognized the fruit on those trees, so I didn’t pay much attention to them. Strange not knowing about avocados, being half Mexican, but what kid my age would.

As part of my new duties, Mom wanted all of the “fallen rotten fruit” cleaned up. “They bring rats,” she claimed. My mom didn’t pay much attention to the avocados either, being German she didn’t have recipes that called for them. It was years later during her Spanish phase; she would realize the beauty of avocados, for now, “rat bait.”

Avocados reminded me of grenades. My world war two G.I Joe most likely the inspiration, but also my friends in the neighborhood were into war movies. It didn’t matter which one; Tora Tora Tora, Black Sheep, Kellys Heros, Guns of Navarone all of them. One of our favorite games was playing war and soldier, and we took it too far many times. This one time, we had the whole Hollywood police division looking for us, but that is an entirely different story. Suffice it to say police cars don’t like being pummeled with “stuff.” Now with a ready supply of “grenades,” our war games added a new dimension of fun and messy. The “just” rotten ones were the most fun, and the best thing was when you got hit with one; no one could yell “you missed.”

Kid war games have one rule. You hide until the other side makes a mistake, or you can’t stay still any longer, and then everyone gets “shot” with lots of screaming. The rules? NO ONE agrees to play dead.

“Naw, man, you missed me.”

With our “grenades,” our war games got real and sometimes painful. All of this was fun until parents stopped us and made us clean up our mess. I can’t blame them green goo was all over the neighborhood. Soon, playing “soldier” with avocados ceased.

Getting back to work. The fallen avocados were a constant task. I couldn’t keep up with them, and at some point, I just pushed them out of view. Hiding them was essential. Otherwise, my work doubled. The kitchen window, the place Mom spent most of her time, was my litmus test. If I could see them from there, I would move them further. This tactic worked well.

Summer break was close, only a couple weeks till school let out and I still had a city to build. I needed cash, but how?

On my way to school the next day, I kept thinking about how I could earn some money. When I got to class, the teacher shepherded us to the school library; this happened every week, and our final test was at hand this day. We were given a library index card and told to find the book on it. The test required our knowledge of the dewy decimal system, which was a breeze if you spent any time in libraries, and I did a lot of that. This week my card sent me to a book on illustrations. I pulled it from the shelve walked over to the long hardwood table, that all libraries have, and sat down. I flipped through it, page after page then came across a drawing of kids selling lemonade on what looked like a produce crate “repurposed” for its task. The illustration was colorful and cartoon-ish. The adult characters were all flashing money at the three children behind a lemonade stand, things spilling, a dog pulling at a little girls dress. It was a terrific picture, as I remember it. I think it was a Norman Rockwell painting, but I can’t be sure.

The light bulb in my head came on; with free lemons from my orchard, my problem solved. “Sell, lemonade!” I belted out, “Shhh,” the teacher commanded. I got a B+ for my outburst.

The rest of the day at school was a waste of time. All I could think about was building a lemonade stand. I looked and tried to find other library books on how to make one. I ended up finding some pictures, and that was enough. Actually, I learn visually, so the photographs provided me all I needed. When I got home, I gathered the materials I thought would work. Our garage had a lot of remnant pieces of wood from my fathers work. Using his remanent wood, and tools wouldn’t be a problem. He loved seeing me do stuff with my hands. I also understood that it would be good for my dad to “buy” into my project. I knew the construction was beyond my skills. To lock that in I made a “drawing,” gathered tools and spread the materials out across my father’s parking spot. My hope was he would soon get over his frustration of my “mess” once he saw I was attempting to build something, I was right.

My father, you see, a carpenter and designer would have no problem building a lemonade stand of my dreams. When I asked him, he seemed excited to help, but that was my dad, work made him happy. He liked my efforts and the drawing, chuckled, then wrote out a long list of instructions. I paid close attention, tried to do the work but in the end; he built 90% of it. Getting a perfect 45-degree corner wasn’t my focus. He finally stopped me and took over. Perfect was his goal; mine was fast. The faster I was done, the faster I could start selling.

By the time Dad got everything just right, using wood crates and odd hardware, etc.. the day had already come to an end. I had thought it would take no more than an hour, and I would be selling lemonade by lunch, but that wasn’t the case. It became painfully clear that I would not be able to open until the following weekend. My dad pointed out a myriad of other things I needed. The delay didn’t phase me; I still had one more week of school anyway.

Can we set the mood

Picture a typical summer day in neighborhoods around the world. Kids in Mexico selling “Tepache,” or “Banta” in India but the same act of young capitalism being played out. Adults love seeing this kind of spirit in kids; it gives them hope, I guess. I knew that, and I was going to use that in my marketing strategy, of course, I had no idea what a market strategy was, I just knew I needed adults buying what I was selling. Full steam ahead on my first venture, or so I thought. I didn’t realize it, but a better iteration to my plan was about to reveal itself and turn a kids idea of extra cash into a highly lucrative venture. This one pivot gives me the right to claim my status as a child entrepreneur.

The next day after construction, on Sunday, I sat down and penciled out my other needs, a budget. Cups and Sugar. My mom had an excellent lemon juice squeezer and two large glass liquid dispensers. They had these “spickets” at the bottom and sealed at the top with clips. She loved to make sun Ice Tea, and she used them for that. After a few minutes of figuring out the cost of sugar and cups, I realized the little “savings” I had squirreled away from watering lawns would not cover these over costs. More roadblocks, so I figure since my Dad was already “vested” in this project maybe he would lend me the cash. I went into the living room confident and solicited “venture capital” from the “community bank,” my parents.

They turned me down flat and said I would learn more, making it work with my wits. Well, that turned out to be a lousy investment decision on their part. With no other choice, I now had to consider something I didn’t want to do, go to my older sister for a loan.

After taking a minute to finish my soda and more mental debate, I decided, “let’s do it.” My older sister and I had a weird relationship. She is my half-sister, and the jealousy of me being so close to my dad elicited some offensive behavior; Kleptomania. The most crucial thing for the moment, though, was that at this particular time we were good. I had covered for her and her older boyfriend hanging out, so she owed me. It was time to call in the chip.

Loan terms negotiated

I justified her potential investment to the best of my abilities; One, the lemonade stand built; Two, I had free access to lemons and three, how could I lose? Her money was safe! I promised to pay her back first. I had an “ace up myself sleeve,” but I held that information from her, just in case I needed one last push to close the loan. I also wanted to keep that information to myself for reasons that will become clear later. She gave me credit I think out of fear that I wouldn’t help her hide her secret rendezvous. Actually I admit it, it was part of the pitch, though in a roundabout way. Am I bad?

The following Saturday came quickly. I was excited and didn’t sleep for more than a few minutes the night before. I knew that the grocery store opened at 6 am so I made sure to be there at 5:30. Ralph’s Grocery was ten blocks from my house, ten scary blocks from my house. Hollywood was a rough place when I was growing up. Every corner had four or five hookers from Fairfax to Gower, and that was just on Sunset. It was relatively safe at 5 am, by then most of the “johns” were gone, and the ladies had retired. I also had good instincts for danger and knew when to abruptly change direction. It didn’t matter, nothing could stop me, and I was on a mission. I arrived at the store 15 minutes before they opened.

Finally, the sliding glass doors opened. With my list in hand and loan money in my pocket, I was off, literally running through the aisles.

First stop; sugar — next stop; cups and finally, red dye. In the store, I had this crazy idea to add red food coloring to one of the dispensers for pizzazz, maybe even charge a little more. That would make my lemonade different, bring attention to it from the cars passing. ”The illusion of an original thought” drove my excitement. I thought I was a genius like NO one had ever thought of red dye in lemonade; it was a great feeling.

I went through the store quickly, got two pounds of sugar and then the dye, too much dye actually, what did I know. The momentum had set in, and I was feeling like the Incredible Hulk; I wasn’t taking prisoners. All that was left to do was to get the final item on my list, disposable cups.

The search to find the right aisle took only a few minutes. Once there, I realized that I had a lot of choices. There where hideous every day “store brand” Styrofoam cups, smaller Styrofoam cups, plastic ones, on and on. As I saw it each one had a fatal flaw, I couldn’t find the perfect cup for my lemonade.

After ten minutes, I finally fixated on the ones that I wanted. “Dixie” cups, they had different designs on each one. They were waxed for temperature control, looked to be a perfect size, not too big not to small; they fit my vision. The one problem, they did not meet my budget. They were the most expensive of all the choices.

My second roadblock hit me hard; it was decision time, and my heart sunk. The cups I wanted were three times the “cup” budget. I had underestimated my costs. I have to say it wasn’t entirely my fault though; I had engaged a “consultant” to provide me the price of “disposable cups.” “Hey, Linda,” my older sister, “how much is disposable cups?” and as with most consultants, she did not deliver.

What to do? I knew that if I bought those “Dixie Cups,” my loan money wasn’t going to cover it. Which brings us to a valuable lesson on business, give the people what they want, not what you think they want. The red dye was placed on the shelve right next to the cheap cups, and I grabbed the “Dixie Cups”! Executive decision made. I knew the red dye was a risk, but the cups were essential. Now, I had to suck it up and spend everything I had and also dump my idea about the red dye pizzazz.

Have I lost your interest?

You may be thinking that this story is going down a beaten path of kids selling lemonade, granted, not original storytelling and told a million times. I promise you we are coming to the “bridge,” stay with me.

For the first time, I was a little sad — I didn’t like having to choose between “pizazz” and the cups. Somehow I had convinced myself that the success balanced on those “Dixie” cups, but I also knew I wanted to attract people, and the red dye would do just that, especially people passing in cars. Gloom, uncertainty now crept in, what if this doesn’t work. I had borrowed money and used every extra penny I had, actually by this point more than enough to buy the legos I wanted, “why was I doing all of this?” my first experience with bipolar feelings, “I may lose everything.” Though I didn’t understand the word risk, I felt it to my core. With fear, doubts, and anxiety still in my head, I dragged myself towards the cashier. I was deflated, in the way that only a child could be.

Follow your momentum; you never know where it will take you. Mine took me right past the produce section. As I turned the aisle and looked up; there a sign hung from the ceiling in red, green, and fluorescent yellow.

CALIFORNIA AVOCADOS- While they last (4) for $2.50

At that moment, though I did not realize it till I was thirty, I had experienced a pure stroke of perfect spiritual timing and circumstance. I heard a loud voice in my head scream, “people will pay for Avocados, doofus.”

Great gobs of holly vegetables Batman, that’s it. I threw down everything where I stood and ran out of Ralph's. A renewed excitement and passion filled me. I got home, ran to the backyard. I looked up, and there they were, Avocados the size of “Nerf-balls.” All I could see was gold. Thousands hung down off the branches, OK, maybe not thousands but more than enough.

A moment of historical digression

What many don’t know about “Hollywoodland,” before Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, before Fatty Arbuckle and Paramount Studios, all that existed were fields and fields of orchards. The orchards were mainly Orange trees, but cactus plants (yes cactus) and more importantly AVOCADOS. Our personal “orchard” had to be one of them left over from some farmers’ field.

I went to work, picking the lowest hanging ones first. Soon I filled four steel garbage cans to the top. Wasn’t hard they were everywhere. When I finished with the lower branches, I picked up the NOT too spoiled ones from the ground. The trees were huge and filled with avocados. It’s foggy but I remember four or six avocado trees, and I think a couple of them were our neighbors. Those trees were so big that grass did not grow under them for at least a ten-foot radius.

Once done, I decided that it might be smart to put my inventory in the garage, out of the sun. I also remember thinking I should keep my new strategy of selling avocados to myself. For some reason I didn’t want to share in my discovery, OK I admit it greed ugly greed. The way I saw it was simple. Mom wanted me to throw those things away. I was eliminating them before they fell. Wow, that still sounds reasonable. She didn’t see the value in those “grenades” anyway.

It took all Saturday morning to collect and clean my inventory, but I knew I was on to something. I decided to move back my “opening” one more day to Sunday. I figured Sunday would be just as good as Saturday. It turned out opening on Sunday was the best thing that I could have done.

Location, Location and yes Location

Did I mention my location yet? We all know the saying that location is everything, right. I think that was the first business concept I absorbed, from who knows where, but it made perfect sense to me, and it was the “ace up my sleeve,” I mentioned earlier.

From the jump, I had already picked my location, and it wasn’t going to be in front of my house, with my parents protecting me, nope. Since our house was only 800 feet from Sunset Boulevard, one of the busiest streets in Hollywood, I knew my success counted on me being on Sunset. I don’t know where I got the fearlessness from but from the inception of my strategy; Sunset was always my location.

Sunday morning finally came. I woke again around 5 am, no breakfast; In the dark I dragged that stand up to Sunset. My skateboard used in its utilitarian mode. I paid close attention not to make too much noise. I went back and forth until I had the “storage” section of my “lemonade” stand filled with Avocados.

Using my last bit of energy, I finally had my grand opening. There I sat with my newly worded sign, doing what I was born to do, sell.

AVOCADOS- 2 for ONE BUCK- While they last!

Two hours had passed with the sunrise, and I waited. Around 9:00 am a car slowed to see what I was selling but didn’t stop. I started to get discouraged; there were plenty of people walking around. On top of that my focus began to turn to my stomach and the loud growls, I was hungry! Then the voices began; “you should have sold lemonade, give it up come back next week with lemonade.” Of course, the thought of lemonade for breakfast probably not the best strategy but that didn’t occur to me either. All I knew was the doubts were rushing in again.

“Not yet,” the other voice in my head shouted back, but my hunger was getting stronger. I could run home and grab some cereal, but then I would have to leave my inventory, my gold. My paranoia would not allow me to do that. Something also told me this was it; this was the moment don’t leave. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to eat and soon! Then it hit me; “wait a minute, people pay to eat avocados.”

So began my product training.

The good fat source. Those green grenades tasted tremendous and filled my stomach quickly. I ate two large ones with my hands. At that moment I fell in love with avocados, and to this day I eat avocados regularly. Later on, in my twenties, I crafted the perfect guacamole from my passion of them. Devouring those avocados also made me a better salesman; you must know your product. The training period was over. I was now genuinely passionate about my product, which meant I was ready to sell; I only needed customers. The universe had yet to supply those, but they were on the way.

The perfect Guacamole recipe — I kid you not: (8)California Avocados, 1 Lemon, ½ Lime, Cilantro, Chili Pepper Season (the secret ingredient), Salt to taste, Medium Picante Salsa (store-bought), Fresh corn tortillas cut into triangles, Vegetable oil

Those are the ingredients, but the steps are just as essential, give it a try, if it works out great if not email me and I will share the process. Hint it takes 2–6 hours. It is also not just about the guac, you need the perfect chip as well. If I could only package it somehow, I am sure it would be a massive success. The key is in the freshness, so it won’t work as a venture, which means I have to be satisfied with the smiles I get when people devour it in front of me.

Where are the customers?

On Sunday’s something miraculous happens, pun intended. Early mass ends just around 10 am. As it happened, that church parking lot had a church attached to it and what do you know it happened to be directly across the street from my “place of business.” The end of that first mass supplied my first wave of customers.

Hallelujah!

I need to set the time and place in California history for this particular moment. By the early ’70s, the flower children movement that started on the Haight in San Francisco had spread to Hollywood. This particular church, the one across from my stand, had a dogma that catered to the beautiful flower children of Hollywood. My main customer base turned out to be the stereotypical Californian Hippie. Peace & love, but more importantly, they were practicing vegetarians.

My sales rush started with one couple. They came over and asked for six dollars worth of avocados. Man, I could hardly keep from peeing. They left, and minutes later one after another parishioner came over. It seemed like the whole congregation heard about my Avocado stand on Sunset.

Word of mouth!

By 11:30 am, I had sold out but the line kept forming. I told my new customers I had more, to wait that I would be right back. Off I skated, leaving my stand at the corner. I had money stuffed in all of my pockets with no idea how much.

As I skated towards home, I noticed this older man looking at me from the gas station. Without noticing, I had positioned my avocado stand on the corner of his property. I never saw him opening the shop and didn’t care, I mean he didn’t own the corner, did he? Either way, he had an uncomfortable smile about him. I felt some blowback coming but I didn’t pay that much attention; I had customers waiting.

A few minutes after getting home, with my wheel barrel fully restocked, I was on my way back. During my restocking trip, I realized I only wanted to do it once, so I employed our yard wheel barrel. All of Moms planting soil left in a pile. Off I went with the wheel barrel filled up, avocados falling off the side. When I got closer to the corner, I saw that “smiley” was waiting for me. He waved me over. I figured he wanted some Avocados.

More sales!

That delusion got squashed. A couple of guys that worked for him walked up as the conversation begun. I tried to offer some avocados, but he gestured no. They were speaking in an unfamiliar language. I knew they weren’t using Spanish or German because my parents spoke those languages.

“Hey kid, I watching you,” in broken English. “I wish my son smart like you,” a compliment soon followed by the ax. “Thing is kid you are selling on my property. I don’t think it’s fair; what you think?” I had no concept, so I just kept quiet and processed. It took me a minute to focus on his intention. How could he own the corner, I thought. I questioned his authority for a second but figured what did I know. “Well,” I said, “how about some free avocados?” A moment passed. “I will take free avocados, but I think you give me ten percent of your money if you want to stay on the corner.” It felt like a threat.

I remember my confusion being more about the ten percent thing, I wanted to understand what he meant. At first, I thought, “Go get Dad.” Then I asked him to explain the ten percent to me, he did. He started by explaining that every business has to pay rent, that he pays rent to someone else. That made sense we paid rent to live in our house.

Back to the negotiating table

I responded by saying I would agree, but I would keep what I had already made in the morning; he would only get his ten–percent from the rest of the day’s sales. To this day, I really can’t believe I had that kind of savvy, but I did. I also remember leaving out free avocados.

“You going to be rich someday kid” as he smiled.

The conversation took all of five minutes. The lease was “signed” with a nine-year-old shaking the hand of a tough Armenian Businessman. It felt good; somewhere in my instincts, I thought he was right for getting his share; it was a quality location. Now I was really in business.

My day continued, back and forth, restocking until I sold out of all my picked avocados. I “wiggled” some more value from my “lessor” as he agreed to watch my stand as I restocked. Finally, I was exhausted and ready to call it a day. My pockets were exploding with dead presidents, but I had more to do. I still needed to haul the stand back home and then settle up with “smiley.”

My parents did not come to the stand once that day. I like to think they wanted me to enjoy the independence of what I was doing. I, of course, didn’t tell them my change in plans so they must have thought I was still selling lemonade. I know it sounds like bad parenting, but I thank them for my independence. Anyway, it was the 70’s.

Once I got home, and the stand was in the garage, I started pulling out the cash. It was everywhere lots of ones, fives and a few tens, lots of money. I put it in a pile and folded it over. My first “gangsters” roll, I remember it well. I counted out my sister’s loan plus a little extra.

Now the moment of truth, do I keep my word or play hide and seek with my “landlord,” I went back and forth with this decision; the little devil saying “fuck him” and the angel saying “honesty my son.” Then I remembered my Dad giving that homeless man a dollar; I tied it in somehow. My family was financially challenged, but we were honest and caring. My character was on the line. That meant something to me.

I made the right decision and walked up to the gas station with pride and excitement. Going to pay this guy made me feel like a real grown-up. I did make one mistake; in my excitement, I forget to take out the money from the morning sales. Oh well. I got there quickly and walked into his garage bay; I saw the same guys around him as earlier. They all started laughing. “Smiley” turned to one of them and said “you lose! I tell you he comes back!” same broke English.

He took me into his office and asked me how much I made. I took the wade of cash out of my pocket and put it on the table. Then I openly ask him what ten percent would be. He looked ashamed, taken back. To his credit, he shook his head and told me that I had “earned the money” with my hard work; it was all mine to keep.

I stood up and just before I left, stopped, and asked again how much ten percent would be. I was genuinely interested in the math of it. I don’t think I had made up my mind just then to pay, but again, momentum decided for me.

The calculator came out, and he counted the money, punched some buttons, and said what ten percent would be. I counted out the dough and said our deal seemed fair. “Can I come back next week?”

I decided not to tell Mom exactly how much money I had made that day. It was pretty late when I got home, and she asked me how I did. Dad had already left for the night.

Mom and Dad were separated, divorced, or whatever they called it. Dad came by on the weekends and after work to try and keep some kind of family dynamic going, but he would leave after dinner. He must have missed me when I was in the office of my “landlord.” Either way, he wasn’t home.

So Mom got an answer of fourteen bucks. “Wow,” she said that’s great. She then proceeded with, “I think it would be fair if you give me five dollars of your profit.” I guess her point of view was that I had used the lemons on the tree and since she paid the rent…

Blah blah, blah blah.

Her voice changed in my mind like the adults in the Charles Schultz cartoons. All I heard was wah wah, yadda yadda. I agreed to pay the taxation. I didn’t tell her it was avocados or the correct amount, because I certainly made more than fourteen bucks. I didn’t see the harm in my deception. I was proud of my accomplishment and wanted to keep the profits from my hard work.

My sister did, later, tell her about the Avocados, which ended our truce and her silent romance. To Moms credit, she didn’t seem to care about the deception. She told my sister to mind her own business and stop being jealous of my success. My sister lost any chance of further investments opportunities with me. Her lack of discretion sealed that fate.

Next weekend couldn’t come fast enough, though once again I had a problem to solve. I had already picked all the low hanging avocados. The remaining ones were up high in the tree, scary high. I am not sure why or where I got the phobia of heights, but let’s say it’s not my most comfortable place. Today, for the life of me, I cannot go up in one of those scissor lifts. The physics don’t seem to pencil out in my mind. I needed a solution to my inventory deficiency, because I wasn't climbing those trees.

Enter my friend Kim. He lived a few blocks from my house and was my age. My “war games” friends lived east of me, and honestly, I didn’t trust them, they were cheats and made fun of my heritage one too many times. So, I grabbed my skateboard and headed to see if Kim was home. Kim spoke very little English, and I spoke no Korean. For whatever reason, we seemed to have a connection without words. We would play games and not talk, only laugh when one of us did something stupid. He was home, so I asked him to come with me. When we got to my house, I pointed to the tree and asked if he liked climbing. He smiled and took off like an experienced tree trimmer. He kept looking back to see if I was going to follow; I didn’t. When he got high enough, I picked up a rotten avocado and gestured for him to pick “more.” Avocado after avocado fell towards me, and I was back in business.

Friends are more important than money. Kim didn’t know what I was doing; he hadn’t seen the stand because his apartment was below Fountain. A few months back, I had met Kim while walking through Plummer’s Park. He was on the grass, his mom on the bench. I just went up to him, and we started throwing his ball. Later I walked him and his mom home, no more than a few words spoken the whole time.

It took two hours, on that summer day, to fill up the garbage cans. Mom was at work, but my sister kept telling me that she was going to “blow my deal,” “What a bitch, “ I retorted. She was looking for a bribe, one I had to honor. I hate leverage, but why take the chance? Mom could tax me again, maybe even seize.

Once all the cans filled, Kim climbed down, and I handed him something like five dollars. He didn’t want to take it, but I insisted. My insensitivity hurt his feelings that day. He left quickly, and I didn’t see him again for a couple of weeks. I thought I was being a good friend giving him money, but later on, I realized I had overstepped our friendship. I guess I made him feel used. Language, hurt feelings, and cultural differences aside, I had to get to work. I had lots to do.

Two more weekends came and went with the same routine, except I had to climb that tree myself, which was no easy task. I got over my fear, though. With the summer coming to an end, I had only a couple more opportunities to sell.

On the last Sunday of business, I had one final lesson to experience. By now, my routine had become set, and I had expected nothing different. Then out of the blue, a police car drove by and made a U-turn. They pulled into the lot and got out.

My vision of the police up to that point was that of a naïve boy. TV shows such as “One Adam Twelve and ” “Dragnet” formed my perception of Police officers, that of being squeaky clean. To protect and serve. My reality was about to be shattered. The officers got out of their car, pulled out their “billy clubs” (from the doors) and slid them into their belt rings. That gesture intimidated me, as I am sure was the plan. They walked over to my stand, and without a word, one reached over and took a couple of avocados. I kept waiting for him to give me money, but his partner only looked at me. Finally, he said: “this is a city fee.” I felt like I was getting robbed. I looked over to “Smiley” to see if he or anyone would step in, no one did. I was on my own.

The Officers then tried to justify their shame by being friendly and saying I was “cute.” Their demeanor was so condescending I won’t forget it. The thought that they might ask for money certainly crossed my mind. Everyone else did; Smiley, Mom, and my Sister only Kim and my Dad didn’t. So I decided to take the same tact I did with Smiley, and instead of getting angry, I flipped it. I didn’t make a fuss and even asked the other officer if he wanted some avocados. “No,” he said, giving me his best alpha male smile, “but we may be back.”

No problem, sir!

This one police incident helped me erase, in myself, that horrible sense of entitlement. When you feel that things are supposed to come to you, you put aside the desire to achieve. Yeah, people are corrupt or greedy or righteous, so what. I decided then and later in life; you have to navigate it all to win in this world. I didn’t have the luxury, or time, for innocence. In my mind, I was one step away from being that homeless man. I thank those two officers for the life lesson they taught me, though they were horrible role models and did damage to a prestigious institution.

I believe in balance, so I want to say that I have the most profound respect for dedicated civil servants. In my adult life, I have worked with many people in law enforcement, 99.9 percent of them honest. That day it wasn’t the police that abused me; it was two men wearing police uniforms, abusing their authority. Which is potentially in all of us, it is a choice.

When an honest man makes a mistake he either stops making that mistake or, he stops being Honest.”

- Stoics circa 30ad

The fact, at the time, was that we lived in the most corrupt police district in Los Angeles, Hollywood Division. It is well documented and not disputed that that division was evil. I can remember at one point Sunset Boulevard overrun with hookers, ten or so could easily be found on each corner peddling sex. Later it was proven the cops in that division ran the prostitution. Growing up in the streets of Hollywood, contrary to belief, was just as tricky as any other large city.

I paid my “city fees,” and the police left.

The end of the day came quickly after that experience. It had become work, and the fun was over. I hadn’t sold out of Avocados yet, but I was tired and ready to go home. I started to pack things up when a “flower child” walked over to my stand. He told me he hadn’t eaten for a couple of days, and didn’t have any money. After a minute he said he had something better than the money he could trade for some avocados. He opened his hand; there lied what resembled a homemade cigarette, only fatter and twisted at the ends. He asked if I had ever gotten high. I got very nervous and just wanted him to go.

That was my first and only drug deal. I gave the flower child the rest of the avocados; he handed me the joint, and the transaction concluded. I knew this adventure had come to an end. To be clear, I did know what that “joint” was, kind of hard not to from all the propaganda and drug movies school had us watch. I didn’t care much for smoking, anything. The act was disgusting to me. My mom and uncle were chain smokers, and I hated how it smelled, and got into everything. I figured I would give it to her. I was soon to learn that trafficking in drugs, gets you to shut down.

Three things ended my avocado venture; I was tired, that joint, but more importantly, the trees had been picked clean. My parents, after showing them that joint, decided, no more ventures on Sunset Blvd. The funny thing was I never saw it in the trash, and I looked.

It was no matter; I was ready to retire and play for the rest of the summer. I took Kim to Okie-Dogs on Santa Monica Blvd. I remember giving him a playful punch in the chest; all seemed forgiven. Later he told me he was pissed because I didn’t offer him a partnership, that I just wanted him to do the climbing. Well, he wasn’t wrong, I guess.

I hide the rest of my money in a coffee can, cliché but true. Folgers Dark Roast. When I wanted money, I was careful not to be seen withdrawing. I never bought anything extravagant, except for those Legos, but that was a small debit from the ledger. This experience was a right of passage for me; it inspired ventures throughout my childhood and teenage years. I learned valuable lessons, of course; how hard it is to make your own money and many more. I liked the feeling of having money in my pocket more than the stuff in my bedroom, and so the nest egg would remain, and conservative spending was my new philosophy.

It wouldn’t be until 14 that I would attempt my second real venture. Sure I sold chocolate bars and subscriptions for my school, but my heart was never in it. The math didn’t work, and I had had a real taste of entrepreneurship.

That summer, I had come up with a business plan and persuaded a charitable donation from my dad. That stand stayed in the garage for many years. I projected my P&L, found a suitable location, and negotiated a lease. I corrected my business plan midstream, handled cash, paid my taxes (mom), bribed a government worker, and hired an employee. I lost an employee and learned about FIFO inventory; I stayed calm in the face of authority challenges and finally came full circle by donating to someone who needed to eat, even if it was just for the munchies.

I never told anyone how much money I made that summer. Maybe someday I will, but what is more important is that I found my calling, never have looked back.

Look Closely at the Nerf Balls

Went back 40 years later and looked over the fence. The trees were still there and still producing large avocados, but were much smaller than I had remembered.

Footnote- Want to know how much I made that summer? Email me, JAFOpinion@protonmail.com and I will tell you and the story of what I did with the profits, hint it was my next real venture.

--

--

We all have opinions, sourcing them makes for a better blog.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store