Thursday, October 04, 2012

Creating Your Own Job: Going Over and Above Doing What Has To Be Done.

Make no mistake, these are hard times. The job market is brutal, worse than I can remember.

For me, it has hit close to home.

Like so many others these days, my son Greg, 48, left, has run into a brick-wall job market after getting laid off from his job as a regional manager at Dunkin Donuts.

 "There are no jobs out there, period," he said.  Certainly not the the high-level, well-paid kind that Greg is used to.

He and his wife Kelly, a nurse, live outside Scranton, Pennsylvania in the little rural community of Lake Ariel.  Scranton is one of the most depressed cities in the country.

In fact, it is on its knees. Above is a headline last week from the major Scranton newspaper. My wife Barbara and I and my sister Ruby were in Scranton to help Greg do something about his joblessness.

He has decided to reinvent himself -- and create his own job.

He's going to set up a real estate company, tentative name: Electric Properties. (Scranton is called The Electric City.) With a small inheritance from the recent passing of his mom, Greg bought a rundown, two-apartment building in Scranton to fix up and rent out. When that is bringing in money, he'll go on to the next rental property, then the next, and the next...

That is the plan.

Meanwhile, for this first property, "rundown" is an understatement. The place, vacant for a few years, was a mess inside and out. The plumbing and electrical system needed major work. The roof and back stairs were falling down. The front yard was overgrown.

To neighbors and anybody driving by, it was an eyesore.  But Greg saw in the property something else: potential and opportunity. This takes imagination of the kind  BNY Mellon Wealth Management offers in the illustration below touting its services.

It shows a driver passing a hopelessly rundown property but seeing something quite different: a beautifully restored showcase. The heading says, "Sometimes opportunity isn't obvious."

The former owner of Greg's new property certainly saw no opportunity. He had inherited the place from his uncle and just wanted to get rid of an albatross.

After holding out, and holding out, Greg was able to buy the place at a huge bargain.  The price was more like what you would pay for a used car than for a house.

Another huge money-saver was that Greg planned to do most of the work himself, including plumbing and electrical. Greg is very handy. He is not afraid of hard work and certainly not when he is working for himself. Only for the roof and rebuilding the back stairs would he hire a contractor.

So all of us -- Greg and Kelly, Barbara and I, and Ruby -- went to work. Above is a photo of the crew working on the front. Here Greg saws away at the overgrown tree that was hiding the house. Ruby came up with a creative way to avoid pulling up the stump: covering it with a wooden barrel (bottom partially cut out) and filling it with decorative rock and eventually flowers.

Inside, Kelly and Greg spent long hours working together scraping paint, taping, redoing floors, painting. In the upstairs bath, Greg holds up the source of a leak that he found and fixed.

Me? I took pictures and ate. Just kidding!

Greg asked me to build a stone wall around the front and side of the house. It was a huge job that would take tons of fieldstone.

The good news was that Greg and Kelly had all kinds of rocks on their rural property. The bad news was that the rocks had to be searched out, dug up, hauled to a truck, and transported thirty minutes to the apartment house in Scranton.

Fortunately, Greg managed to get a great buy on a pick-up truck the day before we arrived. Also, Greg and Kelly both pitched in finding and hauling rocks. Below, Kelly is on a rock hunt, Greg pushes a wheelbarrow full of rocks uphill, and I'm lugging a big one.

Now the wall. Here are before and after photos of the side wall. Digging up those bushes was the hardest part and took up almost as much time as building the wall.

Here is the finished wall:

People noticed that the empty, forlorn place on the corner was not only rising from the dead but  bustling with activity.  The next door neighbor was thrilled. So was the owner of a funeral home across the street, who came over and happily introduced himself.

In a tightly populated community, I got all kinds of compliments on the wall from passersby.  Three people asked me about building a wall for them! As I worked, I was talking to people and making friends.

I heard life stories. Matt, 55 and a former fireman, told me that he was recovering from a stroke, couldn't work, and lived with his elderly and ailing mother for whom he was caretaker. When I met him, he had a cigarette in his mouth.

I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Next time you come by, I don't want to see that cigarette, got that?"

He laughed. "Got it."

The next day he came by with a cigarette in his mouth.

I gave him a look.

He took the cigarette out of his mouth and threw it to the ground. "Sorry, sorry.  I forgot."

For the rest of the time I was there, Matt walked proudly by with no cigarette and we joked and laughed about it. I asked him, "Do you feel better now that I have taken charge of your life?"

"Yes," he said, nodding his head. When Matt and I said goodbye, he spoke seriously for the first time. "I''m never going to forget you. Every time I walk by here, I'm going to think of you."

"A no cigarette zone?"



And then there was the  little old lady who stopped on her way to church. She stopped to tell me how much she liked the wall. "Beautiful," she said. "Where do you get all the rocks?"

I told her. "If you need any more, I got plenty. You can help yourself. I just live down the street."

"Stop by after church and I'll go down with you and have a look."

She did. And as we walked down the hill to her house, I heard her life story. She is 83. Five years ago, she lost her husband of 55 years and now she lives alone.


"None. They all moved away."

Here was a lonely, elderly woman walking down the street talking with a complete stranger about her life and deepest feelings. Not only that, she opened the gate to her yard and invited me in. She was totally trusting -- and vulnerable. 

"Here they are," she said. "Come any time and take what you want."

To hell with the rocks. All I wanted to do was protect her.

"If I need them, I'll come. Thank you."

I left.

Greg began referring to the little old church lady as "my girlfriend."

In between my street socializing and hard work, we took breaks and, believe it or not, had fun and a lot of laughs. Who said that serious hard work has to be all serious and hard?  Here the work crew takes a break and enjoys a hearty laugh.


 I work for food, but I didn't have to wear my cardboard "will work for food" sign. I got fed -- and very well. Ruby, who loves to feed people, brought a huge bunch of her homemade meatballs and deliciously tender steaks, Barbara brought a big pasta dish and desserts, and Kelly cooked her specialty pork tenderloin. Yummy!

Here is Kelly with a great meal she prepared for us after a day of hard work. It was soooooo good!

As you read this, Greg and Kelly are working full steam ahead to get the place ready for rental in the next few weeks. They get to the apartment house as early as 7 am and work until they are ready to drop.

To create your own job, that's what you have to do.

I'm glad Barbara, Ruby, and I were able to help.

So long and keep moving.

P.S.  The next big challenge will be finding tenants who will pay the rent and not wreck the place. Ruby, who owns and manages several rental properties, is advising Greg on how to select good tenants. In her many years as a landlady, Ruby has encountered every rental problem -- including the "tenant from hell." With  Ruby's knowledge and experience behind him, Greg can avoid many problems -- and make success all the more reachable.

 NOTE: George Pollock's novel,  State Kid: Hero of Literacy is now available as an E-book on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble ( Nook).

Billy Stone was a foster child.

He ran away from abuse.

He went to juvenile prison.

He went up from there.

And he did it his way.

 Through the power of the written word. 

         Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

 "State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his  real-life experiences  growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison;  "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life;  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life,"  is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.
   For the Nook:

A Beautiful Story
A Long, Happy, Healthy Life
I, Cadaver
State Kid
Unlove Story

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