How to Make a Buck

Poor kids sell lemonade.

They set up their parent’s card table, tape a hand-written sign on the front that says something like, “Lemonade 50 cents!” (because they’re terribly uncreative), and sit curbside, waiting patiently for a passing car with the hope that some thirsty bastard will stop and buy a cup. It’s silly, really. They could sit there all afternoon in the hot sun like a couple of hookers, have a max of maybe five cars stop and purchase their watery mess, and make $2.50. Call them go-getters, but they’re morons. I’ve never been great at crunching numbers, but it’s safe to say their income clearly falls below minimum wage. It’s terrible execution of time management.

Like most kids, I had a candy addiction to feed, but hell if I was going to sell lemonade like a sucker. Truthfully, there was no room for wasted hours in my life. I was an extremely busy child, mostly (or entirely) because my imagination warranted me very little time for reality. I blame this inwardness on my siblings, both older than me, who very clearly stated one evening that I “ruin everything,” which was followed closely by, “and we hate you.” Whoa guys, exaggerate much? Ruin everything? If they had ever bothered to enter the haunted house I set up in my bedroom every Halloween, they would think otherwise!

On top of elementary school, eating three meals a day, and bathing twice a week, there was Snyder. Snyder was a merciless Nazi officer who had killed my parents right before my eyes in a Polish concentration camp. Since I was young and agile, he put me to work, along with my best friend Heather, who was my sister in this fantastical scenario. We had since escaped from the concentration camp and were on the run from Snyder, whose sole mission now in life was to track Heather and I down and kill us (because two 12-year-old girls are the greatest threat to the dethronement of the entire Nazi party). We basically ran around for a few hours picking berries and grass, throwing out phrases like, “Snyder’s on our tail!” or “Quick! To the bushes! Snyder’s men are approaching in the distance!”, and lamenting the death of our Jewish parents. We played in this dream world so heavily that to this day, I sometimes think of Snyder and wonder for a brief moment if he’s still after me before drawing the blinds in my apartment.

I don’t think my parents ever realized how lucky they were to have me as their child. Other than occasional trips to 7-11 for a blue raspberry Slurpee, I was a pretty inexpensive kid. Who cares if I was carving swastikas into the tree out back to “set the mood”? Playing Snyder came at zero cost to them financially. While the majority of neighborhood kids were emptying their parents’ pockets with the purchase of Power Wheels and ridiculously large trampolines, I found enjoyment in the little things. (But oh god, what I would have done for a Power Wheels!) For example, I once carried around a water balloon for two weeks straight, bathing it in the bathroom sink and swaddling it in a towel as if it were a baby until it burst in my lap while watching “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” one evening before bedtime. (R.I.P Balloon Child) On another occasion, I stood outside in the rain for hours with a plastic grocery bag over my head, just waiting for someone inside the house to notice and possibly find it as humorous as I did. Again, completely free entertainment.

So as you can see, if I was going to make money, it needed to be fast money. I started with the caterpillar business (an obvious first choice). I collected them in a Tupperware container and went door to door, starting with my grandparents’ (a guaranteed sale), offering one caterpillar at one dollar. A steal!

“Our little Einstein is at it again!” my parents said (I'm guessing they exclaimed this behind closed doors, because I never actually heard them say this, but there’s a lot to be said for raising your child in humility). 

When that business went under after 20 minutes, I was three dollars richer and called it quits. 

From there, I created other businesses. There was the store I set up in our living room, which sold items to my parents that they already owned and the false charity drive, which I campaigned at Riley family parties. 

“What is this for again?” my uncle would ask, reaching hesitantly into his pocket. 

“You know those donation things at the mall where you drop a coin and it spins around until it drops in the hole?” 


And then I would stand there silently until he dropped a few coins into my cup. So, really, I never lied.

My favorite business venture, however, was the miniature golf course I dug out in the backyard. Admission to the golf course cost two bucks a pop. If time is indeed money as they say, it’s possible I actually lost money in this venture, as my mother demanded I fill in all 27 holes with dirt from the random dirt mound on the side of the house. Way to be lame, Mom!  

I literally tried to sell anything I could. This mentality seems to have never left me. I would still do just about anything and sell just about anything for the almighty dollar. Just last year, I sold a framed photo of my sister to a complete stranger at a yard sale for a quarter. I like to think he keeps the framed photograph on his mantle and when rare visitors enter his home and inquire on the high school senior portrait, he tells tales of a pseudo ex-lover and their passionate and creative love-making. And then he picks up the photo and kisses it gently, the 25-cent sticker still pressed to the frame’s back. Kevin Spacey was right. It does feel good to pay it forward!

It didn’t’ take long before I discovered the art of the bribe and everything changed. Though I was a terribly quiet kid, money got me talking. Bribes proved to be the fastest moneymaker of all and my father found that he could speak what was really on his mind through me, his youngest child, without fault. 

“This carpet is disgusting,” he said while waiting with me in one of the patient rooms at our friendly, local podiatrist’s office. I was there to have a large plantar wart removed from the base of my heel. The wart was grotesque and painful and would need to be removed over the course of several visits by use of medication and scalpel. The whole experience was rather excruciating and traumatic for me, but I refuse to give that bitch more attention than it deserves. She is dead to me (but may return as indicated on WebMD). 

Anyway, he was right. The floor was nasty: toe nail clippings, flecks of dry skin, unidentifiable foot juice stains...On top of this (literally), we had been waiting in this room for close to 45 minutes. 

“I’ll give you five bucks if you tell the doctor this floor needs to be vacuumed,” smirked my father. Uh, no brainer! Of course I’ll do it! My heart raced as the doorknob turned and in walked…we’ll call him Dr. Douche Bag. I had to act fast before cold foot set in. 

“This floor could sure use a good vacuuming,” I blurted. Wow, that felt good. And my father, hiding his enjoyment, apologized to Dr. Douche Bag. 

“I’m so sorry for my daughter. You know kids, just saying whatever’s on their mind…” WTF, Dad? Way to throw me under the bus. Give me my five bucks, traitor!

I believe this all fed into my pursuit of untraditional jobs as an adult. For instance, “Mule Barge Worker” isn’t exactly the best resumé-builder. But when you hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Film and Creative Writing and graduate into a recession, these are the kind of jobs that find you and keep Coco Puffs on the table. The Delaware River Canal Boat Company (try answering the phones with this mouthful) was located in New Hope, PA and functioned out of a glorified shack of an office, employing a total of six people. The main function of this company was to provide a relaxing ride down the Delaware River canal while giving historical accounts of the area for visitors. These visitors consisted of large groups of school age children during the weekday and the occasional adult tourists on the weekends. 

When I arrived for my “interview,” the manager, Big Dave, was in the middle of assisting a wedding party, which had rented one of the larger boats for an after-ceremony cocktail hour. 

“I was thinking you could try your hand at the mules,” he said, after introducing himself. Try my hand at the mules? I had no idea what this meant, though it didn’t sound promising, so I said, 

“Okay. Sounds great!” Big Dave proceeded to hand me off to his buddy Thomas so that he could sink himself into a chair and finish a James Patterson novel, which, as he raved, was “just getting too good.” Yeah, okay, big guy.

Thomas was a short and slender man in his late 40s, dressed in suspenders and Benjamin Franklin-esque bifocal glasses. He wore a bushy mustache and hauled a metal canteen strapped to his belt. “Great costume,” I thought, which was quickly followed by, “God I hope I don’t have to dress like Betsy Ross.” I was dressed nothing for the part in gym shorts, a Penn State t-shirt, and flip-flops, and despite Thomas being the only one present dressed like Papa Ingalls, I felt like the odd man out. Merely standing beside this man made me feel like Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Keanu simply because I resemble Ted more than Bill). Perhaps my car had acted as a time machine telephone booth that drove me to this strange location set in the late 1800s! 

We started by walking the mule along the canal path. Easy enough, right? Thomas didn’t say a word, despite my attempts at conversation, and I began to wonder if he was deaf or dumb until this tiny man let out the deepest, loudest grunt I had ever heard. The mule kicked back dust and bolted, nearly dragging Thomas, who maintained a steadfast grip on the harness, along the path with it. For a split second, I didn’t move. All I could think of was the bride and groom 10 years from now celebrating their anniversary and reminiscing on this day:

“Oh, Darling Love of my Life, do you remember how beautiful our wedding was?... until that mule just took off sprinting with that Ben Franklin look-alike chasing after it?” the bride would say. 

“Oh, god. How could I forget? And who was that girl in flip-flops?” he’d respond. 

“I have no idea. How weird was she?” 

“Super weird.” And they'd both laugh. At my expense. 

But then, despite this crystal ball scenario, I realized that I desperately needed a job and sprinted to catch up with Thomas’s wild mule. I nailed the job, and over the course of four months, learned more about Thomas than one person should ever know. For instance, his canteen is filled with straight up bourbon, he ives with his mother in a one bedroom apartment, he’s a virgin, and his attire isn’t a costume at all; that is how he dresses on a daily basis, whether working or not.

One super hot afternoon, Thomas gazed toward the window and said, “Ah, the grass is getting long,” and he disappeared. I thought it was interesting when, after 10 minutes, I didn’t hear the lawn mower. After all, there was a perfectly good mower in the utility shed. That’s when I stepped outside to see Thomas, his thick cotton button-down soaked with sweat, hacking at six-inch grass with a sickle. So I do believe the man was also a wee bit senile.

At one point in my life, I even started my own lawn care business, which I named Lesbo Lawn Care. Yes, that’s right. My business was targeted entirely toward lesbians. You may see such a narrow market as limiting to my seasonal income, but I will assure you LLC, LLC. (In which case both LLCs stand for Lesbo Lawn Care) thrived. Much like the job security of funeral directors, there will always be a lesbian in need of a trimmed bush. Zing!

Then, in college, I worked in one of Penn State’s Dining Commons, which, as it stands, doesn’t sound all that out of the ordinary. Four mornings each week, I would awake at 5am and spend three hours opening Costco-sized cans of marinara sauce for $6.25/hour. Most days, I would have class right after my shift had ended and walk into a lecture hall looking like I had just performed a surgery gone completely wrong with bright red sauce splattered all across my shirt and face. “What are you looking at, frat boy? It's marinara sauce, bitches.” (What I would have said to the staring eyes had my father been there to give me five dollars.)

During the 5:30-9:30am shift, I tended to be only one of two student employees. I worked very closely with Donna, a Central PA lifer, who if placed on the side of a dirt road and steeped in sepia, could pass for a legitimate resident of the Great Depression. Instead, she had her fingers in a bowl of wet noodles and kneaded them like a professional masseuse, pausing only to hack phlegm.

“I’m sleeping with my friend’s husband,” was the first thing she told me. Oh, hi, Donna, nice to meet you as well. No? Okay.  “We do it in my shed,” she continued. She must have seen the discouragement on my face. I hadn’t a clue how to respond. “It’s okay though, honey, because his wife has cancer.” Thank you so much for clearing that up for me. My apologies for my brief look of confusion and disgust.

After a few months of working with Donna and the rest of Central Pennsylvania’s finest, I began to commiserate and accept their topics of conversation as the norm. What’s that, Tom? Your ex-wife’s lover currently has your teenage daughters held hostage in his apartment while you’re trying to be the 9th caller on Froggy 101? Go ahead, boy, win those tickets to the circus!


You’re girlfriend broke up with you, 43-year-old Troy? That whore! Yeah, the fact that she’s 15 may have something to do with it, but you’re a catch! 

If it hadn’t been for college graduation, I may have stuck this job out. Ah, the one that got away….

But much like my childhood businesses, I don’t keep with jobs for very long. Shout out to all my future employers. I get bored. The novelty wears off. I realize the job is a terrible execution of time management. Hey Lemonade Stand Kid, I'm talking to you!  So I cut and run. Perhaps this is an excuse. I’m in my late 20s and still not “settled down.” Part of me desires that 9-to-5 schedule that keeps my friends grounded in one spot. Well, they’re actually not grounded to one spot at all because most of them own cars and can pay for gas and auto insurance…but you get my point. 

And maybe one day I will have a “real job” and own my own car too...

               For now, I’m still waiting on my Power Wheels.