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Authors: Gary Paulsen

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BOOK: Lawn Boy Returns
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“Whatcha doin’?” Kenny Halverson and Allen Grabowksi, my two best friends, came around the
corner of the garage and saw me squatting next to the lawn mower. Kenny was dribbling a basketball and Allen had his head buried in a book. I don’t know how they do it, but Kenny is always bouncing a ball and Allen is always reading and they never trip or walk into anything.

“Hey!” I stood up. “When did you guys get back?”

“Last night,” Kenny said, “and my mother has already told me thirty-seven times to make myself useful, stay out of trouble and stop dribbling the ball in the house.”

He lives across the street and around the corner and he’d been at camp for the past month and a half. I knew from his postcards that he and the guys in his cabin had started a hard-core heavy metal headbanging band they called Infected Wound, had gotten in trouble for collecting leeches and applying them to each other’s butt cheeks to see if they really did have medicinal properties, and as punishment had been forced to play board games with the camp director’s spoiled-rotten seven-year-old grandson. Kenny didn’t say whether they’d been punished for the music or the leeches, but since I’d heard him play bass before and Infected Wound was composed
of him, three drummers, and a guy who made beat-box noises with his mouth, my money was on the music.

I nodded and turned to Allen. “I got here twenty-seven minutes ago,” he said. The thing about Allen is that although he reads a lot, he hardly ever speaks. And when he does, he’s precise.

Allen was visiting his dad two blocks away. His parents got divorced two years ago and Allen moved three towns over with his mom. Now he spends half of the summer, every other weekend, Tuesday and Thursday nights and some holidays with his dad.

I was really glad Kenny and Allen were back. But I wondered if I’d have time to hang around with them, since I was working from sunrise until dark. And how would I explain what happened while they were gone? How do you tell your two best buddies that you’re a hundred-thousandaire without sounding like you’ve got a big head about it?

“Wanna shoot hoops?” Kenny bounced the ball between his legs and behind his back.

“Sorry. Can’t.” I nodded to the mower. “Got work to do.”

“Sweet ride,” Kenny said. “Where’d you get it?”

“Grandma showed up on my birthday six weeks
ago with Grandpa’s old riding mower. I’ve taken on, oh, a few yard jobs since then.”

Kenny knelt on the ground next to me, studying the gas tank and bouncing his basketball off the front wheel. Allen thoughtfully tapped the throttle, where the rabbit and the turtle indicated the two speeds. He propped his book on the steering wheel and nodded. “Good fit.”

“And so, uh, I’ve got this, um, little business now.” I’d ease them into the big picture gradually.

“Need any help?” Kenny asked. “Allen and I haven’t got anything better to do, and it’ll be fun to make a few bucks. We don’t have riding mowers, but our dads have lawn mowers just sitting there in our garages, and I bet the three of us working together could make some serious coin.”

Like four hundred and eighty thousand dollars? I asked him silently. I smiled. “Let’s do it. Go get your mowers and I’ll meet you at the corner of Hubbard and Noble. I’ve got to tighten a few bolts here.”

As soon as they left, I made some calls. I let Pasqual and Louis, one of our most trustworthy employees, who was taking on more responsibility all the time, know that I’d be handling the Gorens’ yard myself that morning. It was the closest account
to my house, and it was an enormous corner lot that I figured would give Kenny and Allen a better sense of the work involved. Plus, there’d be no risk we’d run into any of the guys who worked for me. Introducing my friends to my employees was going to be a seriously weird moment that I’d just as soon avoid for a while longer.

And then I called Arnold to check in. He asked me to swing by the house later that afternoon; he had a few ideas he wanted to run past me.

I figured I’d find the right way to introduce my two best friends to my stockbroker. Arnold was very laid-back and had a way of making the incredible sound almost sane, so I felt good about how that scene would most likely play out.

We had a blast that morning in the Gorens’ yard.

Sure, Allen almost cut his left foot off because he “got to a really good part” in the book he was reading and rammed the mower into some paving bricks along the front path, and Kenny thought it would be fun for us to race each other up and down the hill alongside the driveway pushing the mowers, blindfolded, and he knocked the mailbox down trying to beat me. (I texted Pasqual when Kenny wasn’t looking. Pasqual was in charge of the finer
points of lawn care and promised to come over and repair the damage later that night.) The yard, which would have taken me forty-eight minutes by myself, took us three hours and twenty-six minutes to finish and looked pretty ratty along the fence (another secret text to Pasqual about
that
).

But I remembered (a) how much fun it can be to hang with my buddies and (b) what a great feeling a person gets from good, old-fashioned hard work. Change is good, but sometimes leaving things the way they’ve always been is better.

3
The Methodology of Team Development

After we were done working on the Gorens’ yard, we dropped off the push mowers and drove to the Burger Barn for lunch, Allen and Kenny clinging to the sides of my mower because you’re not allowed to walk up to the drive-through window. No one ever said anything about lawn mowers being prohibited, though. We screamed our orders into the speaker over the whine of the idling engine and, when we putt-putted around the corner to pick up our food, we cracked up at the look on the window girl’s face. She laughed too.

We raced each other to the park halfway between
the Burger Barn and Arnold’s house. Allen and Kenny made better time walking—Kenny backwards and dribbling his basketball and Allen forwards but reading—than I did on the lawn mower. After we snarfed our burgers and fries and onion rings, I told them, “Okay, let’s go meet a friend of mine.” And then we pointed the lawn mower in the direction of Arnold’s house.

When I walked in with Allen and Kenny, Arnold was sitting on his screened-in porch at his round picnic table drinking his hippie tea with four strangers, two men and two women. “Groovy, you’re here. And you brought friends. Far out.” Arnold pulled extra chairs out from the kitchen and practically fell over himself shaking Allen’s and Kenny’s hands, introducing himself and pouring three more glasses of tea.

When Arnold told them he was my stockbroker, Kenny and Allen looked at him, at me, at each of the four people sitting at the table and at each other and raised their eyebrows. Then they sat down.

Arnold began to speak.

“Given the dramatic—and, may I add, unprecedented—expansion of your financial assets and professional interests this summer, which is, of
course, trippy and wild, I think we need to discuss adding to the team. I’ve done some research and found four people I think you should meet.”

I remembered the last time Arnold thought I should meet someone: Pasqual. And then I pictured the other fourteen people Pasqual had brought on board as we had expanded our services from mowing lawns to also doing cleanup at night—because some of our employees worked other jobs in the daytime but needed the extra income—as well as shrub trimming, pool cleaning, sidewalk edging and garage cleaning. I braced myself as Arnold introduced his other guests.

Allen and Kenny looked slightly terrified to find themselves in a business meeting. Kenny patted his basketball nervously and Allen absentmindedly thumbed through his book. Their eyes were fixed on Arnold.

“Savannah’s the best accountant in town,” Arnold said.

Good, I thought, because I shouldn’t settle for second best.

“Lindy is an up-and-coming attorney.”

Well, that’s just perfect, inasmuch as I am up-and-coming too.

“Frank is the most efficient business manager I’ve ever met.”

I nodded. Doesn’t every soon-to-be-seventh-grader need a good business manager?

“And Gib is an administrative assistant without peer,” Arnold finished.

Which is swell, since I’m at the point in my career where I shouldn’t hire employees with peer.

Kenny was sitting with the basketball forgotten in his lap, and, miracle of miracles, Allen had set his book aside. They were both slack-jawed. I remembered feeling like that all the way back in early June.

“I guess,” Kenny finally said slowly, “the butler, chauffeur and personal chef couldn’t make this meeting?”

“No,” Arnold started, before he saw Kenny’s grin. “Oh, right, ha! I guess this comes as a surprise if you haven’t been here since the start.”

“Surprise?” Allen said carefully.

I held my breath and waited to see how they rolled with the idea that the guy they went trick-or-treating with was a businessman who had, as Kenny would put it, serious coin.

Allen leaned forward. “So, Arnold, what’s the next step?”

“And,” Kenny said, “how can we help?”

Grandma once said, “If you have good friends, you can consider yourself truly wealthy.” Of course, she was replying to my question about why we turned the clocks back in the fall.

At that moment, I knew exactly what she’d been talking about.

4
The Prudence of Adding Personnel to Manage Material and Financial Well-being

“I’m glad you asked.” Arnold beamed at Allen. “Since everyone will be, initially, part-time, they’ll set up shop in my house. I’m not a proponent of wasting money on rent. So until we can find a solid building to buy to accommodate the administrative portions of the operations as well as to create equity through property ownership, I think we should keep reinvesting the profits in stocks and focus on expanding the employee base.”

Well, sure, when he put it like that, I could see that I was never going to become a preteen real
estate mogul if I wasted earnings by renting rather than buying.

Like I had a clue.

But Allen nodded like he wrestled with the rent-versus-buy dilemma every day. And Kenny was sliding his chair closer to Savannah.

Arnold turned to them and, as if he’d somehow
known
that I’d be bringing my buddies to this meeting and had a plan in mind, said, “I’m glad to have you two on board at this critical point of the development and extension of the brand. Allen, I’d like you in-house to help me keep things running here at the command post, and Kenny, if you could work in the field with Pasqual and Louis to assist the yard crews, that’d be far out.

“Here’s a laptop.” Arnold handed me a shiny silver rectangle. “I loaded it with our bookkeeping, scheduling, word processing and address book programs. The systems are linked between the six of us and the entire network is password-protected.

“Gib will look after things so you can concentrate on the lawn-mowing operation and, of course, school in the fall.”

He’s right. I can’t worry about the phases of my operations when I’ve got a trig test to study for.
Trig looms in my life like a mathematical predatory beast.

“Savannah and I will set up quarterly tax payments and establish a trust to protect your savings and start your college account. And, of course, a retirement plan.”

I’ve been wondering, at age twelve, about my retirement.

“Lindy’s drawing up articles of incorporation, which will protect your personal assets from any real or perceived vulnerabilities or liabilities of a professional nature.”

Can a seventh grader sign legal documents? My parents won’t even let me buy the super-hyper-energy drink at the convenience store.

“And,” Arnold said, “since you’re a minor, we’ll set up your parents with powers of attorney. I’ve already talked to them about some financial issues and they’re up to speed, but this will legalize the situation.”

I hoped Mom would be in charge of whatever the power of attorney thing was. Dad is great, but he’s an inventor and he’d probably tune out while he sketched gigantic catapults and estimated the tensile strength required for a bungee cord to send a
one-man glider into orbit. Dad gets carried away with his inventions; Mom’s a math teacher so she zeroes right in on things.

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