Monday, April 17, 2006

This sucks

Part One

So I have this kid that works for me. His name is Little Sam. Or actually Lil' Sam. He fights for the gym. I have known the kid since last summer. He is very friendly, a fairly good charmer and has a real go get'm attitude. He is in the eighth grade.

Sam is a particularly persistent and positive kid. It is hard to say no to a kid like that. I saw him once on a Tuesday last fall. He told me he wanted to know when he could come in and interview.

Huh. This kid must really want to prove himself. So I tell him to come on Friday at 4.

He shows up at 3:30. He took the bus. He said he doesn't want to be late.

I like that. He doesn't want to be late.

I didn't really need anyone. I was covered. SITF Pete was taking all the hours at that time. I told him I didn't need anyone, but to call me back about every week and I would let him know when something opens up. I did have him work that day to see how he did and I paid him some cash and sent him on his way.

He called me back the next week. I told him not yet, but to call me back. And then he called the next week. Again I told him the same thing. And again and again. Then he stopped calling. I didn't see him over the holidays. Then I saw him in February and I told him to keep calling. So he did. A couple weeks ago he started coming in. I talked to his mother Marsha and she is very supportive that he had a job offer and thrilled that he is working after school.

He is great. He busts it hard every moment he is there. And he is funny on top of it.

"Excuse me sir, can I get you a glass of water?"

He loves to do that when he washes the glasses.

He jumped from around the corner with the big flashlight, shined it at Jessica like it was some top secret weapon and said "My name is Bond. James Bond."

Everyone loves Sam. Jessica loves Sam. Allison loves Sam. Sarah loves Sam. Michelle loves Sam. Rose loves Sam. My mother loves Sam. Work is fun.

So he called me on Wednesday.

"I can't come in."

"Why not?"

"I lost my tax papers."

"Don't worry about that."

I had given him his tax forms and all the forms he needs to fill out to give to his mom.

"Sam, I still need you to come in today. I need to get you paid properly with a check and payday is Friday. We will fill out the tax form here. I will give you the copies to give to your mother. Some come in now."

No big deal. He came in to work that day. I needed him to come in to work that day. He needed to come into work that day.

****

I worked at a big Italian restaurant when I was thirteen My sister worked there. It was my first paycheck job. I had already been selling newspapers for cash and had been a helper for an old man named Mister Connely who lived in a big house down the alley.

My sis Jenny was working in the deli side of the restaurant and was also waiting tables. It was a lot of fun. I still see people around who I worked with. Tim Bishop. Pete Bold. It was a lot of fun. It did suck too. I got yelled at for sweating too much. I had to wash dishes in the hotbox basement room and come out into the front of house, stomp up a flight of stairs to the first floor and run bus tubs. What was I supposed to do?

But it was fun. I remember clocking in for the first time. I remember having to wear a uniform. I learned how to work with very different people. I remember having to ride my bike and rush to work. I remember being tipped out. I remember breaking down boxes and jumping up and down in the dumpster to get everything to fit. I remember the smell of the chemicals from the dishwasher. I remember taking the bus. I remember riding to work with my sister. I remember a lot of cussing. I remember asking for rides home later at night. I remember getting my paycheck. I remember the smell of the food in my clothes and hair. I remember some guy at a table giving me two bucks for pouring his table water. I remember my mom and dad picking me up. I remember the manager crabbing at me and the waitresses shouting orders at me. It was funny though. Most of the people were actually fun most of the time. Especially on the deli side.

****

Part Two

Sam came into work that day. I didn't get a chance to talk to him for I was busy. I noticed after a while, the kid was clearly gloomy. It was unlike him. I asked him what was wrong. He shrugged his shoulders and continued in his despondence. I noticed about twenty minutes later he was nowhere to be found. I looked around and found him sitting on the basement steps. This was definitely unlike him. He usually is constantly going at it and working. He is the kind of kid that asks for more shifts. He usually asks everyone if they need any help and loves to provide any assistance.

But he was all out of whack. Apparently he was worried he wouldn't get paid. He didn't know how to cash a check.

I laughed. I told him not to worry about it. I told him we would get him a savings account and he could go to the bank and cash his check. He seemed skeptical and confused. I was beginning to lose my patience, for we had a lot of work that needed to be done. I don't hire the kids to do busy work. I have real work that needs to be done, and if it can't be done, I can't keep the employee. I called in Pete to finish up some work, for we needed to set the house to get ready for the night. I told Sam to think about how I would take care of everything to get him his pay, but I needed to know in five minutes.

I went out into the patio and talked to my friend Eve while I put up some new lighting. Sam came over about a minute later and told me softly "what do I need to do?"

"Just work hard like you have been, and you will be fine. But you can't mope like this on the job. Other bosses might fire you on the spot for that. Everyone loves having you work here, and I am confident that will continue. So lets get to it. Now go help Jessica and I will get your tax forms and we will fill them out for you after you are done."

I went and got the tax forms and came back out to the courtyard and chatted with Eve. She is a high school teacher in U City. She is very in tune with the kids. I spoke with her about Lil' Sam's situation. She smiled. Sam came over and Eve and I sat down with him to fill out the forms. John Moore, a friend who is a contractor came out to talk. He also sat down with us. We all talked to Sam about taxes.

They are no fun. But get used to it. They screw you and get used to it. The taxes go to get you paid when you retire. In theory. We will see. I pay even extra money for his taxes. The roads we use, the bus he takes to work, the school he goes to, the fire department, the library all are paid in part by that paycheck. The feds take a cut, the state takes a cut, and even the city gets a taste.

He still looked confused, but he filled out his name and address. He had no idea about the exemptions. I asked Eve and John, and we figured that he should claim 1. After we finished with the forms, I went to go upstairs to make copies for his mother Marsha. I asked Eve to go over each job she had to Sam. Eve smiled and cocked her head to think of all the jobs she had. She started at her first real job when she was 14.

I came back down and I think she was only to a job she had when she was 19. She has worked a lot. Sam seemed to be more at ease.

"Payday is on Friday."

****

I remember when I was younger than him. I had a savings account. I was a paperboy. I would save all of my cash and put it in the bank. I didn't have a piggy bank. I had a bank book. I found them recently. United Postal Savings. One of the S&Ls that did not go out of business. After finding these bank books, I realized I had really saved a lot of money. I was a really good kid. I pretty much spent my extra money on baseball cards. My father was also on my account, but I really learned a lot about banking, checking and financial quirks. My father explained to me how the FDIC worked and what it meant to put the money into the bank. How it was safe. I would often go to the bank with my father, but I usually rode up their on my bike myself.

The ATMs had just started up. I learned how to deposit my cash and paychecks at an ATM when I was 15. I would do that every Sunday morning at 5am after working overnights for the Post. It was a bit overkill to go directly to the bank, for it was only $45-60, but it was a big deal to me that I was paid and that I secured my money.

By the time I was 14 I had gotten a checking account in my name (father had co-signed) and by the time I was 15 or 16 I got a credit card (also co-signed). I paid my credit card bill in full with my own checks every month. I rarely used the card, and it was tough to get people to take it for I was so young. That is understandable. Most kids if they had money, had cash. And most kids would just blow every penny they would make. I was able to save enough money to buy my first car, a 1975 Delta 88 Royale for 700 bucks. I kept working and was able to pay for the insurance which was more expensive than the car. That car was where I got the name for my business.

I remember going to SLU in my first year and being hounded by these hucksters with cheap t-shirts and bags of M&Ms to lure you into signing up for a credit card. I didn't need one from them. I already had one. I still wasn't sure how it all worked, but I was ahead of most of the kids. I was establishing good credit. Many of the kids who signed up never had a bank account, much less a job. They got these credit cards and went promptly into debt. Ignorant kids. Predatory lenders sanctioned by the Univesity, but we were adults. Fair game.

****

Part Three

Sam called me on Friday after he got out of school. Payday is Friday. He wanted to know if he could pick up his check. I usually don't get the checks until 5pm. I told him to come on down and I would make sure it was ready. He came down on the Kingshighway bus and patiently waited downstairs as I prepared the last bit of payroll. I thought about that moment I would give him his check. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was a lot of money for a kid. I decided I would personally take him to the bank that day to set it all up.

We made a big deal giving him the check. We drove up to the Bank of America in the West End close to his house on North Euclid. I figure Sam should have a bank he can walk to with a lot of locations. On our drive I repeated to Sam how the money in the bank was his, not anyone else. Never pass out your SS# unless you are at a bank or dealing with the government. I pointed to the guard at the door and told Sam that this man would protect his money. His money was important, safe and protected. Deposit your check and only pull out what you have to. Save up for something big. It is okay to spend money, but be sure to hold onto most of your money unless you absolutely have to spend it. It is your money and no one else's. He is responsible for what he does with money and the bank just holds the money. He can get it whenever he wants. I repeated myself a lot to him so Sam would remember.

I have a few accounts at Bank of America and was familiar with one of the bankers named Kelly. He was in his mid 20s, from north county and had wrestled at Pattonville. I had a conversation with him the previous week about him boxing and the program at the gym.

On our way into the bank we grabbed a Saint Louis American and signed in to speak to the bankers. We read up on the Golden Glove fights. His eyes lit up at the pictures. At the end of the article he was mentioned. He is fighting in the upcoming Junior Olympic local championships. The smile on his face for this recognition was unforgettable.

We eventually got called on in this busy Friday afternoon by Kelly. He was happy to help us out. We both went back to his desk. I explained to Kelly how I needed to get the kid a savings account. Sam showed Kelly his paycheck with a smile. Kelly smiled too. We went through the whole process. Sam knew all of his pertinent information. The kid is prepared. We called his mother so she could be set up as the custodian for the account. Marsha, Sam's mother, had an account at the bank at one time, so it was a seamless signup. I then asked Kelly how we were going to cash his check that day and how he would deposit and withdrawal. I felt it was important that Sam knew how to do all of these things from someone at the bank. It is important that Sam knows someone he can talk to at the bank.

But there was a problem. Sam can't withdraw any money. Payday is not a payday if he uses the bank. He can only deposit his money. He can't even cash his check against the account. Sam has to bring his mother to the bank if wants to withdraw his funds. This does not exactly teach or encourage a kid how to save money in a bank. This encourages a kid to cash his check. This encourages the kid to cash his check at a check cashing joint. This will encourage him to run his finances in a cash basis. This does not bring value to working hard. This is not a healthy start to his financial education. I was hoping to teach him how to save. How to bank. How to establish credit. How to pay his bills.

I told Sam this was a bad deal. I advised him not to open a savings account at Bank of America. I think I may even pull my accounts. The only reason I bank there is that the bank on Jefferson and Gravois is stately and I can go bank and look at a cool mural.

I had Sam sign over his check and I gave him cash. This is not good. Not good at all. This sucks. Sam smiled. I am not sure he really cared. He got paid. But I don't know if he is going to really learn how to handle his paycheck. How to handle his money.

I am not sure what I am going to do. I guess I am going to have to call around to the banks to see if anyone really gives out real savings accounts to kids anymore.

****

I am on the board at the Claver Works. It is a non-prof that is set up to work with at risk teens for job placement, training and financial education. I just joined and we are working together for the kids at the Panda Athletic Club. I went to the first meeting on Saturday morning, at 9am I might add. I noticed when I pulled up to the building on Kennerly over by the old Homer G. Phillips Hospital a large group of kids. They had already been working all morning and the previous day. Brian Christopher, a Jesuit Scholastic who is the head of the Claver Works, was out there talking to the kids. He was paying them cash. He would go through there job performance with each kid before paying them. It was good to see. I could only think of my experience with Sam the day before. We need to do something about properly paying these kids. One of the points someone else brought up at the meeting was getting these kids on a proper payroll. I brought up the experience I had the previous day at Bank of America. There was no immediate solution at hand. I need to find something else out before the next payday. I want the kids to get into good habits.

I really hope we get this start up grant funding for the Panda AC youth program. This would really help out all of this. We just turned in the proposal last week. That was nerve-wracking. Now I need to do a thirty minute presentation with a power point and Q&A. I haven't felt pressure to produce content in such manner since college. It was different than the business plans I put together for the Royale. That was business. This is a lot more in many ways that are less exact. I did a lot of research. The need is overwhelming. We have been doing quite a bit, but there is so much more we can do. It is exciting. I am meeting with a professional in the mentor field tomorrow on how to tweak our program. It seems to all be falling together. It is just a matter of when. The sooner the better.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Linda B said...

You may want to take Lil' Sam to St. Louis Community Credit Union.
There is a branch on south Gravois, one on Forest Park Blvd near Grand. They have a kids' savings program. I'm not sure about the rules, though. If you deposit it, you should be able to withdrawl it!

2:33 PM  
Blogger Maire said...

Steven:

As always you have shown a lot of charm and character. This was a good piece--a publishable piece. You're right that more young ones need to know the power of good credit and to have good male role models like you. Thank you for that. Also, good plug for Brian Christopher--what a fantastic guy!!

---maire

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve,
You say that things must be done to properly pay these young people. So true. We must find a way to properly pay everybody in America. We should be ashamed that the minimum wage is so low and hasen't been increased in 10 years or so. One of the major reasons is that we have people who are willing to do this job for less, I'm speaking of the illegal aliens who who take these jobs. I'm not advocating rounding them all up and shippng then out. We need to find a better way of letting them in.
The ones who are here and established are here so let them be, regulate the ones who want to come in in the weeks years to come.
There is no way a family can survive working for minimum wage. The guy who made that documentary about McDonalds spent a month trying to do it for a t.v. show and it just wasn't feasable.
With everything becoming more expensive wages need to match that increase in expense.
I hope your guys get a fair shake, they probably do.
Just don't let them follow your fashion sense.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was young, I had a passbook account at Farm and Home Savings. I remember early on not being able to withdraw money without parental consent, but at some point...I am not sure if I reached a certain age or not...I was able to have full access to my account. I almost want to say that my parents needed to sign some sort of waver for me to access the account. The bank at Chippewa and Grand has a sign up that says "We have passbook accounts" or something along those lines. I remember thinking "how antiquated" but it may be just what you need. I think it is Pulaski Bank. Maybe give them a call.
Nice Move on your part. Financial Responsibility is an important thing to teach a young man.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Libby W said...

Thanks for being good to the kids. It is something many MANY people overlook. I work at a before and after school program in Affton--it is hard work, but they need us. People outside of their family to trust--trust is an important thing for children to cultivate.

I just came home from work tired after a long week of working with children, and your post gave me my energy back.

Thanks for being good to the kids.

They need us.

5:51 PM  

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