When I was a kid, being bored was an entry-level crime in our house. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, Mom pontificated. She also kept a pitchfork in the broom closet for those times I either admitted to, or looked like, I was bored.
“Here,” she’d hand me the pitchfork, “if you’re bored, go clean out the horse barn.”
“I’m not bored,” I lied. “I’m meditating.”
“Good. Go meditate with The Horse.”
If you think cows are sarcastic, just walk up to a horse’s barn with a pitchfork in your hand.
“Time for a little road-apple therapy, is it?” The Horse neighed. “Did our Mommy catch us being bored again? Love the smell of horse-hockey on our boots, do we?”
I never did understand why The Horse talked to me in questions. Horses are the most beautiful animals on earth that can kill you with one well-aimed horseshoe. I’d sass back to a cow, but never a horse.
I don’t remember being bored much except during the winter when it was so cold outside I’d wake up in the morning with The Horse in my bed. He put off enough body heat that I didn’t mind, but horses are notorious for flatulence. He’d pass gas so loudly the covers on the bed rippled like a flag in the breeze.
But, again, a horse can kill you with one well-aimed horseshoe so I kept my mouth shut.
Country kids just don’t get bored; there are too many things to explore, blow up, light on fire, tease until they chase you, or tempt fate with to ever want to stay inside and be bored. I see well-padded playgrounds today and think to myself, we’re raising sissies. Atlantic Monthly has an article that agrees with me about why kids nowadays need to be exposed to the Things that Could Have Killed Me as a Kid.
We stayed outside from sun up to sun down because there were lots of adventures. That, and if we went inside, one of the adults quickly made indentured servants out of us. Running from the Cows of Hobson’s Pond was much more fun than doing dishes.
Other than going a few miles down the road to church a few times a week, we seldom made the seven-mile journey to El Dorado, an oil town that carried the rotten-egg smell of crude oil on its boots.
However, we did make it to the County 4-H Fair once a year to check out the exhibits and ride as many rides as we could on the money we collected from 3-cents-a-pop- bottle returns.
I grew weary of the Ferris wheel and tried my luck with The Bullet, a torpedo-shaped apparatus that hung you upside down until all the change fell out of your pocket then loopty-looed you around in circles. Little kids learned to barf upside down riding The Bullet.
Still woozy from that ride, I stumbled over to the Shooting Galley. The straight-shooting gun must have been put there by mistake. Either that, or I was so cross-eyed from The Bullet that the crooked barrel of the gun aimed right where I couldn’t focus. Anyway, in short order, I won a stuffed-animal the size of John Candy with a hair-do like Donald Trump. The carney finally told me, and the gun, he’d had enough of both of us and it was time for me to go barf on The Bullet again.
When I look back on my life to find the moment of inspiration to become an entrepreneur, it was that moment. I enjoyed the shooting gallery so much that I wanted to offer it to others, for a price of course, because that’s what entrepreneurs do: find a way for people to pay for pleasure.
I returned to our five-acre spread in the country along Highway 54 and began The Official Strategic Business Plan for Rick’s Shooting Gallery.
Since I wasted all of my capital at the County Fair, my low-budget plan left me without the option of building a new Shooting Gallery right along the well-traveled Highway. I surmised that since folks in the city would stop at a little kid’s lemonade stand, then folks sizzling by at 70 miles-per-hour would hit the brakes if they saw my cherubic face imploring them to stop and try lady luck with my Daisy Red Ryder.
The next best option was the horse barn. However, first I had to negotiate with The Horse.
“I need you to move out of the barn for a while,” I said.
“Why? You get kicked out of the house?” The Horse asked.
“No, I want to start a business. Can you see it now? In black spray paint on the corrugated-tin side of the barn: Rick’s Shooting Gallery! Kind of like a neon sign only cheaper.”
“Do I get a cut of the profits?” The Horse nickered.
After two hours of hard negotiation, we settled on an amicable arrangement that allowed him go into the barn at night and during thunderstorms, plus gave him a 40% cut on all profits. He was also required to let me paint “Rick’s Shooting Gallery” in big, bold letters on his side; he was a walking billboard in the pasture.
Next, I had to make targets for customers to shoot. Dad had an old pair of tin-snips, rusted sheet metal, and baling wire so I cut out various shapes like stars and ducks. Then I hung them at varying depths and heights in the barn and put a two-by-four shelf in the door as a shooting rest to separate the customers from me, the proprietor.
I had only one granddaddy of a prize I could offer, a giant stuffed animal that looked like John Candy with a hair-do like Donald Trump. But I scrounged around for a while and came up with a slightly-used fishing pole, a metal bait bucket minus a handle, a seine net without poles and an antique tackle box we found buried in the creek bank. At least we called it antique. It’s all about the story.
Next, I asked Kendall and Annie if they had any in-kind contributions to my new startup. Annie came back with an assortment of Barbie and Ken dolls needing surgery, matching apparel, and a Spirograph. Kendall returned with some slightly used cattle ear-tags and an empty paper-towel roll with matches scotch-taped to the end; he said it was a flashlight. At that time, that kind of flashlight had a national ethnicity to describe it, but I wouldn’t dare call it that now less I offend almost everyone in America and half the population of Europe.
I wanted a huge billboard by the side of the road, but all my budget allowed was an old piece of plywood barely big enough to spray paint “Stop Now! Win Big! Rick’s Shooting Gallery.”
The only gun I had was a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I was forced with my first ethical business question: do I keep the barrel straight or bend it like the carneys were inclined to? I chose to be honest mainly because, if the business failed, I could still use the gun.
One of the hard lessons I learned as a ten-year-old entrepreneur was the importance of connecting product creation to product sales and marketing. You can have the best product in the world, but if you can’t find a customer then you’ll go bankrupt. My Shooting Gallery was a great product, but the problem was that my customers whizzed by at 70 miles-per-hour. My cherubic face and the appeal of winning big prizes was not enough for them to slam on the brakes.
Later, when I started my photography business, I asked the most respected and successful photographer what the key to success was and he said, “3 things: marketing, marketing, marketing. I know great photographers who can’t sell postcards because they don’t know how to market. I know mediocre photographers who have learned to market and are making a killing.” As J.B. Clay and Floyd Hammer say, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”
The business went belly up after a few short days. My only customers were Kendall and Annie who wrote me I.O.U.s each time they played. However, they stopped after it dawned on them that they were winning back gifts they had donated.
In lieu of payment, The Horse made me clean his barn every day until the spray paint wore off his side. The cows, for once, expressed disappointment that my business scheme failed. They were much more supportive than I expected, but I later discovered The Horse told them that if I made a lot of money, they were all getting new barns. I may or may not have implied that in my negotiations with him.
Although I failed, at least I didn’t go bankrupt. If I can ever get Kendall to pay me that three-dollar-and-fifty-cent I.O.U., then I can show a profit. But, he doesn’t think he owes me since he gave me another paper-towel flashlight as a Christmas present that winter.
I tried various business opportunities listed on the backs of comic books such as selling greeting cards, raising sea monkeys, starting an ant farm, and x-ray glasses but soon discovered how the heavy-hand of government regulations crush small businesses. The Sheriff stopped by and told me to quit painting signs on the side of The Horse. Apparently, someone turned me in to the humane society.
I’m pretty sure it was the cows.
This is a part of a series of stories under the category The Cows of Hobson’s Pond, which you can find on the menu above.
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