My first job, and arguably the best one ever, was mowing yards. This is what I did for money during the summers when I was a teenager. The great thing about mowing yards is that you can pretty much do it whenever you want.
I think that video games were really the start of my need for money. Before Pac-Man, I really didn’t need money. But when I decided that I wanted to feed quarters into a machine and receive absolutely nothing in return, I found that I needed my own source of dinero.
At the beginning of the summer I’d find maybe 2 yards. I’d do this by riding my bike around the neighborhood and finding the shittiest looking yards. Even at 15 or 16 I was a good analyst of human character. I figured if the yard looked like crap, the owner was probably lazy. To a lazy person, spending $15 to have a 15-year old cut your grass once a week is a pretty sweet deal. And for a 15-year old, getting $15 for about 2 hours work was pretty good, especially in the early 1980s. That’s $7.50 per hour — more than double minimum wage (which was either $3.10 or $3.35 per hour, depending on the year), with no boss, no schedule, and by using the family lawn-mower, no real overhead.
So you’re looking at about $30 a week. Enough for some movies (which I believe were about $5 back then — or $1 at the dollar movie), and a little spending money. Not bad.
Landscaping can be a bit of a pain for the teenaged yard mower. Mowing around fancy landscaping takes extra time. Same with pools. While a pool reduces the amount of grass you have to cut, it increases the pain-in-the-ass-to-cut-around factor by about 300%.
Then there’s dog shit. Yes, some people just leave their dog’s shit in the backyard stinking the place up. As you can imagine, the lazy people I sought out as customers were particularly prone to this kind of sloppiness. There’s nothing quite like running a mower over a nice dog turd, or stepping in a turd while mowing. Yum.
Most of my customers payed me by check, so I’d give the check to my Mom and she’d get them cashed for me at the bank. I don’t think any of them ever bounced.
But even with the small problems of landscaping and dog excrement, mowing lawns was a pretty good gig. Seriously, I should have stayed with it. The next job — the summer before my senior year — was not so great.
Interestingly (to me at least) — as soon as I had to actually earn my own money to waste playing video games, my desire to spend that money on video games decreased by about 100%. The lesson: it is easier to throw away someone else’s money than your own. To this day I stink at video games.