How I became an entrepreneur
One brisk fall day I was walking home from my grade four class at lunchtime, when suddenly a gust of wind stirred up some debris underneath a bush. A crumpled piece of disheveled paper threw itself in front of my feet. Being rather curious, I stooped down and picked it up. I carefully unfolded it and to my surprise, discovered a much handled, soiled magazine clipping of a naked woman. I found myself uttering out loud, “Wow!” This caught the attention of a big boy in grade five named Murray. Without a moment’s pause, Murray quickly offered me 25 cents for the magazine picture. I knew a good deal when I saw it, so I said, “Sure,” then took the cash and went home for lunch.
Immediately after wolfing down my fishsticks and Campbell’s vegetable soup, I rushed up to my father’s study and found those magazines I remember dad hiding from us kids. I proceeded to cut out some smaller images of those provocative ladies and carefully placed them inside my math textbook. Once back at school, I approached Murray and told him that there were more of those desirable pictures — that is, if he was interested. He asked to see what I had — so I showed him. He said he’d take them all and I told him the original sale was an introductory offer. These works of art were for sale at 50 cents each. He hemmed and hawed, but in the end bought them all.
Word of mouth is a thing of wonder. Within a few days, some bigger boys in grade six approached me for more of my “hard to find” product.
Things were going exceedingly well. I always had enough money for chocolate bars and the latest romance comic; I even bought my baby sister her favourite candy cigarettes. But everything has its season. One day, my dad found major sections of his magazines missing. After cross-examining the other five kids in our household, he narrowed down the culprit to none other than myself. I was in a real predicament — the demand for my erotic nudes was way up, but my supply had suddenly dried up. What was I to do? Thankfully, I was blessed with the ability to draw.
I had been practicing drawing realistic flesh tones from a cartoon at the back of Playboy magazine called Little Annie Fanny for quite some time. I tried out my drawings on the big boys. These were original works of art, so I was able to successfully market them for the higher price of 75 cents — it was, after all, an investment. One fellow wanted me to draw the face of a girl from the class onto the nude body. Since this was a customized order I justifiably increased the fee again. This time to one dollar. The new product was a big hit and I was now making larger purchases with my earnings. I bought good quality papers and paints — all business write-offs — along with a much desired pogo stick and a purple banana seat for my bicycle.
Alas, my return was short-lived. One of the teachers found out about my business and called my parents and me in for a meeting. The worst thing about this gathering was that this teacher, whom I really admired, had torn one of my nudes in half. She had obviously thought twice about damaging the evidence, as she had then taped it back together. Nonetheless, my teacher’s actions made me feel ashamed to return back to school. Most of all, I was sure she no longer liked me.
I felt like a useless, hateful thing wanting to fade into the background of one of my pictures.
My relationship with my mom had not been the best prior to that, but her brave and heartfelt comments cemented our union as mother and child once again. I felt pride rise within me. My dad then added how he would like to encourage my talent, but in a more acceptable fashion. The teacher too had a change of heart. I suggested that I draw portraits of classmates and of their families — for a fee of course. I offered to do a complimentary portrait of my instructor as a way of making amends. She graciously accepted — and my new line of work took off. Being a more respectable trade, I successfully charged and rang in five dollars per portrait. Those early years proved most valuable in my journey to becoming an artist and an entrepreneur.
Art by Barbara Salsberg Mathews