Monday, March 28, 2011

Baby Oranges and the American Dream

By Shane Cashion

Last night I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from my soccer game to pick up "a few items." The list wasn't long, yet the bill was over a hundred and fifty bucks. I couldn't believe it. I carried the grocery bags to my car without my shoulders slumping. When I got home I looked at the receipt (the first time I've ever done this) to see if the cashier had overcharged me. The first item on my receipt was a bag of underdeveloped oranges called "cuties." I don't remember them being around when I was a kid, but they obviously are now, and my family loves them. A small bag of these "cuties" was $7.99. I was shocked. I didn't know they were that expensive. Had I known, I wouldn't have spent the last six months throwing them at the kids in my neighborhood, or the side of our house, or the stop sign at the end of our block. Who knew they were spheres of gold? From now on I'm going to insist that we eat the skin, too.

The next item on my receipt was razorblades. Twelve bucks! Not for the razor, just the blades! No wonder I'm seeing more and more men sporting beards. It's cheaper! If I were single and had a profile on I'd list manscaping as one of my first attributes. If that doesn't scream RICH, I don't know what does. By the second item on my receipt, I'd seen enough. For the first time in a long time, I felt really lucky to have a job and clients, no matter how distasteful I usually find both. As everyone obviously knows, the job market is awful, and for lawyers, almost hopeless. Just this morning I got yet another resume from a kid looking for a job, his dream of working for a large, hidebound firm in an important city doubtlessly dashed months, maybe even years, ago.

I don't have a website for my firm so I'm not sure how these kids find my email address. I of course never have any work for them, but am nonetheless impressed that they find me, and often encourage them to pursue work as a private investigator or Internet hacker. They're usually grateful for the unsolicited advice. I try. As I was considering this particular resume, I couldn't help but think that he'd have been better off skipping college and law school altogether, which is a common theme in my daily ponderings. Could that possibly be true? No one values education for the sake of self-edification more than I do. Heck, I spent nearly a decade hiding out in school. If I thought the federal government would loan me more money, I'd go back, but I also recognize that at some point you have to be able to afford preemie oranges. It's what families want.

So, is an education the path to baby oranges, or is there something else that might be better? What about owning your own business? What if instead of spending $400,000 on undergraduate and law degrees, you bought 80 franchises? That's right, 80! Last year my uncle bought a waterproofing company for five grand, and it's making money. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of franchises ranging from hot dog carts to commercial cleaning companies, all for under five grand. The law of averages almost certainly dictates that at least one of the 80 franchises would prosper.*

I know what you're thinking. There are only so many hours in the day; how could one person run 80 businesses? It's impossible! Au contraire. There are loads of unemployed folks desperate to exchange their perspiration for a piece of the action. Partnering up with 80 hard-working people would be a snap. Spend a morning at your local unemployment office or an afternoon at your local immigration office and I guarantee that you'll find 80 potential partners willing to contribute their sweat.

Now that we've establed that there's a viable alternative path to success, what would you rather have, a fancy education or 80 companies? I know when the time comes for my kids to venture off to college; I'm going to present them with a choice: "Now Hon, I know you're going to do just great in Cambridge. You know how proud we are that you made it to Harvard, and we believe that one day you'll make an excellent attorney. We just wanted to remind you that college isn't the only path. If you'd rather get a business going, your mom and I will buy you 80 companies over the next seven years. Yes, you heard me right, 80. Just think, instead of sitting in a boring calculous class with a bunch of nerds, you could be helping an immigrant family realize the American dream by partnering up with them to run Cashion Cleaning or Cashion Critter Control or just about any business you can dream up. Wouldn't you like to help Uncle Arvon get back on his feet? Well you could! After all, you'll have 80 companies! So it's a lot to think about. Unfortunately, we don't have enough money for you to do both. You're gonna have to pick one or the other. Give it some thought and let us know what you decide."

*I recognize this is a risky proposition to foist upon your kids. If things don't go well, running 80 companies into the ground would likely result in irreparable psychological damage.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I've felt the same way about the publishing business, Shane. I once sat down and totalled the hours spent at the computer divided by the paltry royalty checks I receive and it totalled about 13 cents an hour. You gotta love what you're doing.

Jaden Terrell said...

Shane, that makes so much sense it's scary. Of course, I would be the one to run all 80 enterprises into the ground, but I love the idea of helping a bunch of entrepeneurial souls make their fortunes.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I've spent enough on kids' college to have purchased eighty businesses. I've lost enough on rental property to know I'm not a good slum lord. My only hope is my kids will become successful from the opportunities they were given.

Shane Cashion said...

Jaden, unfortunately I suspect I'd run 80 companies into the ground, too. What's worse, my kid probably would too, then hold it against me that she didn't go to school :).

Jean, I don't know what to make of the publishing business. Write a book, but if you have a full-time job and responsibilities, you don't have time to spend a 1000 hours writing synopsis' and query letters for agents. The alternative, print on demand etc, isn't much better as then you'll have to devote those same hours to promotions. Again, so few have the luxury and resources to take a year off work to "promote" a book. It's tough sledding either way. I guess in the end, you're right in that as long as you love it, you'll find the process alone rewarding, regardless of outcome.

Shane Cashion said...

Too funny, Mark. Just make sure to hammer them with reminders that but for you, none of it would have been possible :)