Back in 2006 I spent a couple of months in the French Quarter of New Orleans. While I was there I involved myself with a locals bar called Evelyn's Place. Click on the link and you can see what I wrote about the place.
I kinda "worked" at Evelyn's while I was there. Not for wages of course, every once in a while Evelyn would split tips, but things were slow so it was never much. This was the summer after Hurricane Katrina. Business was slow all over the quarter. Nobody was making any money, I had a fortunate housing situation & I got a free bowl of Mister Frank's gumbo for my efforts. I was there pretty much from 5pm until closing. Pulling beers, pouring shots, dishing red beans & rice and bowls of gumbo. Closing time was anywhere between midnight and when people stopped drinking. After closing I would walk with Miss Evelyn across the quarter to her corner bar where she would have another white russian or two before she walked the few doors down to her apartment.
Eventually, Mister Frank, who was 81 at the time, asked if I could come in and help out in the morning. Of course I agreed I wanted to see more of what and who was about. So I showed up at 10 am, banging on the locked front door. Shuffling steps approached. Mister Frank's visage appeared from the gloom.
"Whozzat? Wha' d'you want?"
"Mister Frank, it's me, Grant. You wanted me to come in and help you out this morning."
"Who? What? Who are you? Wha' d'you want?" His eyebrows lifted in an expression of bewilderment.
Aw gee, poor old guy, he completely forgot I was to come in this morning. "Mister Frank, it's me, Grant. I'm here help you out this morning." I suppose I was beginning to look as bewildered as he.
Mister Frank's face cracked into a smile as he opened the door. "Ha, fooled ya, didn't I?" I guess he got to pull that trick once with everyone & he relished it.
There wasn't that much to do A bit of scrubbing and fixing things. The motor on the ventilator fan died at one point so I got to climb through the ceiling, then through the empty upstairs, then up to the roof to replace it... that was fun. Mostly, I think, Mister Frank wanted someone else to be standing behind the bar in case a tourist came in. He enjoyed sitting by the fireplace with his cup of coffee trading tales with his cronies that would come in.
"I like to get here early and sit and listen to the whispers coming down the chimney." Back in the early days of the French Quarter the Powers-That-Be decided it would be useful to have a chimney tax. One of the results of this is that there are a number of structures where more than one building shares the same chimney. It just so happened that Evelyn's place was attached to one of these. One of the businesses that shared the chimney had been a place called the UpStairs Lounge. It had only a single entrance and in 1973 someone torched the only entrance at the bottom of the stairs. 32 people died that day. Mister Frank said they would whisper to him in the mornings.
Occasionally he would wave me to sit down while he told me some of his tales.
"Did I tell you the story about the the Jewish guy who taught me everything I know about business?
"I was seven at the time, This was during the depression when a penny meant a lot more. I was a scrawny little kid and I was selling newspapers. It was the Lindburgh kidnapping and I was selling extras. But like I said, I was a scrawny kid. But this old man, Mister Goldstein, had been watching me. I was coming out with my load of newpapers and Mr Goldstein waived me over. I walked over to him and said 'Yes Sir,' — You always show respect. He said, 'is that all of the newspapers you are selling?' There were only ten papers there, I was a scrawny little kid...
"'Well, Yessir this is all I can carry.'
"'Tomorrow you are going to find as many customers as you can.'
"'But sir, this is all I can carry…'"
Mister Frank abruptly holds up one finger… silence carries the moment as both his and my attention are drawn to it.
"That means 'pay attention' Whenever he held up his finger it meant pay attention.
"'Tomorrow you will find as many customers as you can.'"
"'Yessir, I will.'
"'How much do you get paid for selling a newspaper?'
"'Three Cents, sir."
"'Tomorrow, you will find as many customers for your newspapers as you can, then you will pay your friends a penny a piece to delever them for you…'
"That was my first lesson in business.
"A few days later,Mister Goldstein motioned me over again.
"'What time do you wake up?'
"'I wake up at seven, sir.'
"'Tomorrow you will wake up at six.'
"Now down the street there was a bar, Rudolfo's that was open all night and they offered all kinds of free food to bring people in. at six in the morning the guy would be closing up and would throw out everything that was left, they kept nothing left over.
"'Tomorrow at 6 am you will go by Rudolphos and get all of the left over pastries.'
"'Oh, but sir, my sister is a good cook, she makes me a good breakfast…'
Mister Frank pops his finger into the air.
"'Ah!' He put his finger into the air.
"'Tomorrow you will wake and Six and get all of the paistries that they are throwing out at Rudolfo's and you will take them to your school and sell them to your schoolmates for a penny each.'
Mister Frank loops at me significantly. "That's one hundred percent Profit."
Sure enough it is.
Another day Mister Frank waived me to sit down.
"When I was fourteen they were starting a big construction project. All of the older guys were going over there to look for work… I tagged along, I wanted to work too, they all laughed at me. I was a scrawny little kid they laughed at me and said there would be no work for me at a construction site. But I tagged along anyways, I wanted to see what I could do.
"Well I get over to the Job site and the boss guy gives jobs to all of the big guys. When he gets to me, he kinda looks down at me and my size as if wondering how many bags of cement I can move.
"'Sir, I know I'm small, but do you have any work for me?'
"He sat and stared at me a second then said 'follow me'
"He sat me at a table and I checked off every bag of cement and other that other item that the older, bigger fellows were hauling into the job site. I was getting the same pay and not sweating at all!
"Did I ever tell you the story of how I started out in the clothing business?
"I was working at ___ with my friends. We were making $7 per week. It was hard work. One day I was walking down the street and I saw these guys. They were dressed nice, looked good. They weren't sweating. 'That's what I want to do.' I went to my friends and said: 'That's what I'm going to do.' They all laughed and made fun of me. But the next day after school I got dressed up and went over to the store. It was owned by Mr. McKowen a Scotsman. I went up to him
"'Sir, I was wondering if I could work here?'
"'Sorry kid, I'm not hiring anybody right now. I can't afford it.'
"Well, sir, If you can't hire someone, would it be OK if I came in every day and vacuumed your floors and cleaned your windows and did the chores around your store?
"'Sorry kid, I can't hire anyone right now.'
"'That's OK sir, you don't have to pay me, I just want to help out.'
"So that's what I did. Every day after school I went into his stored and did the chores and when I was done I would sit in the back with the salesmen and listen to them talk. I was learning.
"My friends were all laughing at me. 'Ah what do you think you're doing? You're working for free.'
"I didn't listen to them.
"Then it came up to Easter time. It was a Friday, Everybody was wanting a new suit. The shop was very busy. And people were walking out because they couldn't get helped. I went up to Mr McKowen.
"'Mr McKowen, sir, would you like me to take a person?'
"He looked at me and then at the crowd. What the hell, it couldn't hurt, they were walking out anyhow. 'Go ahead, kid, take one.'
"So I took a couple. I sold them the suit and then a shirt. I wrote up the order and had the tailor make his marks and took their money. Then I went back to Mr McKowen.
"'Mr McKowen, sir, would you like me to take another?'
"'What happened to the last one.' He thought they walked out.
"'Well, sir,' I explained, 'I sold them a suit and a shirt, I wrote up the order and had the tailor make his marks and took their money.'
"He looked at me a little surprised and said, 'Sure go ahead, take another.'
"And it went on that way until the store closed. At the end of the day Mr. McKowen waived me over, 'You did good, kid. Let me pay you for helping out.'
"'Oh no, sir, You said you couldn't afford a new person. I don't work here, I was just helping out.' Then I turned around and walked out of his office.
"The next Monday when I showed up after school He waived me into his office. 'Look, kid you want to work here? I have a job for you.'
"'Oh yes sir. I would like that very much. Thank you very much.'
"'Don't you want to know how much money you will make?'
"'Sir, I know that whatever you pay me will be fair.' You know how much he paid me? Sixteen Dollars a week. Boy, did I have something to tell my friends. I was making more money than them and I wasn't getting all sweaty. I could dress nice and had more money for the girls.
"But that just shows you, You don't get something without giving something.