One morning in the summer of 2003, I lounged in the cozy family room of my parents’ house. While my mother, stepfather, and older brother were all at work, I inherited my parents’ Church Hill residence until after 4 pm. Smoking marijuana, listening to loud hip hop music, and watching BET videos on the big screen TV, I was enjoying school break the best way a 15-year-old boy knew how: irresponsibly, immaturely, and recklessly.
As I sat back in my father’s Lazyboy rolling up a J, the cordless house phone rang. I checked the caller ID, but the name and number was unfamiliar.
“Hello!” I said after I lowered the music. “Hey Teef, are you trying to make some money?” my brother Dante asked.
At the time, Dante was working for a small drywall/sheetrock company. Without asking any questions as to what I would be doing, I said, “Yeah, what’s up?” After my brother explained what it was I would be doing, he gave me directions and told me to be there in 30 minutes. I ended the call. “I’m about to make some money” I thought aloud. I was excited. As fast as I could, I jumped on my 15-speed and pedaled to downtown.
When I arrived at the construction site, my brother and his supervisor, Alex, were waiting for me. Alex’s company, A to Z Interiors, were installing drywall for a new shopping center on Broad Street.
“Alex, this is my little brother, Latif ….” Dante introduced us.
Alex gave me a nice-to-meet-you greet and we shook hands. With less talk and work to do, Alex instructed me to follow him. My brother approved with a smile and nod as I followed my real first boss.
Alex took me to what was going to be a Down Town Locker Room (DTLR) store. The moment we walked inside, the dust lingering in the air from freshly cut wood and sheetrock made me sneeze. With each step leaving my shoe print in the sheetrock’s residue, I was already calculating how much money I will need for a new pair of Nike Air Max. Alex – who had a slim built and wild, dark blonde hair – was a cool guy. He led me to a less developed room. There were no walls, just fluffy pink installation stuffed between 10-foot metal studs.
Alex pointed to a side where there were no installation. “I need you to put installation on here. Start from the bottom and work your way up,” Alex said as he illustrated how to hang the installation. He handed me a pair of gloves and safety glasses. “I’m going to pay you $7.50 an hour,” Alex said as if he was asking was that okay.
Elated to have a real job, I flicked up my right thumb, and with no tools, I went straight to work. “Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before you touch your face,” My boss said before he left.
After a few days of proving myself reliable, Alex added me to his payroll. When I got my first paycheck, it felt so good. Although $200+ wasn’t a lot, the fact I could do whatever with it gave me a sense of adulthood. And I loved it.
For the next few months, I caught the city bus every morning to Alex’s house – which was A to Z Interiors Headquarters. Alex liked my work ethic so I worked as his helper. Most of the times we just drove around, listening to 3 Doors Down, checking on his job sites. With ideas of having my own drywall/sheetrock company, I soaked up everything Alex taught me. From hanging half-inch boards to securing commercial deals from general contractors, I had learned enough to be a foreman. Feeling like an independent man, I even thought about dropping out of school and getting emancipated to become a legal under-aged adult.
Unfortunately, my days of walking in my steel toe boots and wearing my suede tool belt came to a halt. Because of the law, I had to go back to school. I was upset. “You can still come work with me in the summer,” Alex said.
As he was with mine, I was thankful for his loyalty. I knew I was going to work again, but school was more important at the time.
The experience was great. Cashing checks on Friday evenings, taking on the responsibilities, getting my clothes and hands dirty, and nothing was better than admiring your work after it was complete. It was my pride and joy. It was what made me a better person. It was what gave me a purpose. It was a valuable life lesson. It was, however, my real first job.
When did you get your first real job, and how did you feel about it?
I’d love to hear your story too.
Leave your story or that you want to tell me your story in the comments. One of my people will send it to me and we can start a conversation with the needed security in place because of my current residence. You will find that even with my limitations, I love conversation.