The Squeaky Wagon to Profit

By Ray Ceo Jr. 

When I found myself completely and utterly broken and husband-free, I also found I had a ton of free time.
Not caring for a raging alcoholic and having to spend extra time cleaning up his mess, meant I could explore things I never had the time to do. One of these interests was selling crap to people on the Internet. I had heard stories of people making a living as an online reseller, buying things cheap and reselling them, and I always thought it interesting, and exciting to be your own boss.

When I was younger my dad and stepmom bought a newly constructed house in a suburb of Phoenix. It was at the start of the housing boom that later lead to the Great Recession. As the case maybe, there house was one of about 150 in a ‘tiny’ housing community, and ours was the eleventh house to be built. So, every morning at the crack of dawn during the scorching summer between my sixth and seventh grade years, the construction crews would be out there building homes all around us. 

It was annoying as fuck because they would wake me up with their hammers, and saws but after thinking about it, I realized that these construction workers needed something to drink. 
I don’t know if it was my inner gay boy wanting to be around rugged men in white wife beaters or my genuine entrepreneur mind, but when at Costco with my dad a week or so after moving in, I scrapped together enough money, and bought a case of soda and water. 

When we got home, I made us find room in the fridge, even if it meant shoving soda’s and waters any where I could find space. The next morning, I loaded up the cooler with ice packs or frozen vegetables, and the refreshingly cold drinks plopped that cooler on this little red wagon I think every kid has and took my first step towards running my own business. Immediately, that red wagon’s wheels let out a squeal that pierced my ears and broke through the dull roar of saws and hammers. This wagon’s wheels needed WD40, and it needed it bad. But I noticed that with that first step, the closest crews could hear me. And I decided, this would be my version of an ice cream truck’s little jingle. 
My inner fat kid already knew the food truck that normally fed these construction workers, driven by a Mexican lady with what I thought was a diva complex, charged 85 cents for a can of soda. And she came to this particular complex being built around 10 or 10:30 in the morning.

So I made my way out there around 9 or 9:30, undercut her price charging just fifty cents, and pulled that wheel barrel, squeaking loudly along the recently paved streets, and stopped by each semi-constructed house. I didn’t need to holler at these men, they heard me, or at least my wagon. And their normal instinct was to fix that wagon’s squeaky wheel. But I wouldn’t let them.

Instead, I explained I would sell them a soda for less than what that food truck lady charged. And I’d do it without quite as much attitude. And sure enough, these men, sweaty in their wife-beater shirts and hard hats were interested; and I sold out my first day. I begged my dad to take me back to Costco that evening, and he, impressed with my business venture sort of mindset, did. And the next day, I sold out again. 

I sold out each and every morning that summer.

I added chips to my menu even, sticking them in my backpack, and by the end of the summer, I had made a killing.

It was in that moment I realized, I could make money off people, by providing convenience and being fair. I didn’t need the extra thirty-five cents, I was like thirteen years old, and I didn’t have overhead like the food truck lady did. Instead, I put in the sweat equity, literally sweating through my clothes every day, but doing so meant I made money. And I had learned early on that money is power, at least in this country. 

And there was born my first business venture. And throughout my life, I always dabbled in some sort of business venture. For instance, I once sold my sister’s Halloween mask to a friend for $20. She nearly kicked my ass for that one. And I had killed it in my budgeting component in my high school economics class. You can make a lot of shit with cheap potatoes and use the money to buy things that your classmates wanted. My teacher was impressed with my entrepreneurial spirit, but concerned when I decided I didn’t want to let anyone have anything else, so I hoarded the money and there was no more cash left to be exchanged. I more or less robbed them all and they would have died if it was real food and real money. 

I couldn’t explore my business side when I was married. While my ex had certainly married up when he married me, his affinity for name brand clothing and designer watches and bags, was killing my embarrassing meager librarians salary. Add to that his alcoholism and ridiculous antics to try to soothe his adulterated mind meant expensive rehabs and intensive outpatient treatments that sucked my time from me. I also didn’t want to run a business while married because I was scared, genuinely scared, he would mess it up for me. He did all other parts of my life in a drunken rage. 

But on that horrible Saturday in July, him doing shots of Fireball rum in the bathroom refusing to talk to me, until I made him talk to me pounding on the door like a lunatic, and after he accused me of cheating and asked for a divorce, one of the last things he ever said to me in person, and after he threw me into the bathtub, back first, and I landed on my ass, spraining my spine; and shortly after he went after my mom, and me, springing into action like a sprained spine was nothing, protecting her, as she called the police…it all became clear. 

I could be free. I could explore all the things I wanted and needed to explore. It became so clear in that moment of me holding him back and using my curves gained from a sexless marriage where I replaced food for dick because he couldn’t get it up, just how much he was holding me back. 

And so, he went to jail that night, and that was the last time I ever saw him in person. 

And while I was left broken and distraught and knew I needed something to do, I looked around at his designer watches and name brand clothing, and…

I had an idea.

While I was starting to miss having Mesa’s finest over every other night because my ex would get so drunk he’d throw shoes at our neighbors and then call the police on himself; I wondered if they’d arrest me for selling my exes belongings? Even though we were technically still married, he was in jail and not permitted in my home per a judge’s order. 
He left behind so much. And I didn’t know what to do with it. Furniture, clothing, golf clubs, even though I never saw him play golf, really, whatever he didn’t pawn for booze or take with him, sat there haunted me for months until I got clarity on the legality of me selling it off. 

My sister kept telling me to throw it away and I wanted to, but I sure as hell didn’t want him to show up to attempt to obtain it, or send his family, or worse, sue me for it and me being liable and having to shell out more money for the deadbeat. I got some legal guidance when I read the property laws, and discovered that after the divorce it was mine, legally, all of it; the moment the ink on the divorce paperwork was dry, I could do whatever I wanted to with it. So I went and got myself a divorce, pushed it through as quickly as possible, and buried him in legal paperwork I knew he wouldn’t understand so that he wouldn’t be inclined to try to fight it, and I printed that paperwork with quick drying ink. 

The moment it was finalized, I went through my closet in a fit of rage, fueled by drunken shots I had found that he had stashed away everywhere, and considered my options. While I wanted to really burn it all, like a scene out of Waiting to Exhale, I knew that would force the police out to my neighborhood, and although I did have a crush on one of the nicest officers on my city’s force, I decided I’d rather have money. So I started posting things on the internet to sell. And thus was born my venture as an e-commerce small business owner. 

Now, I didn’t care if I got a dollar for an item, I was just happy to get it out of my life. But in total, I recouped the cost of the divorce. And then I recouped it again when I discovered the dresser, he had left behind was part of the iKEA recall and they paid me cash for it. And ripping it apart and dumping it the pieces into my car trunk, was very therapeutic, as I was just imagining it was my exes body, cut into pieces.

No amount of therapy has ever felt so good, and none of the therapy sessions I’ve been to, and I’ve been to my fair share, ever paid me. But iKEA did.

And so, as I’ve learned many times over in my life, it’s only when you learn into the pain and agony and anger and rage and fear and devastating sadness can you find that thing that saves you. In the darkest hours I took something that was so devastating and turned something positive.

For me, when I was broken and couldn’t sleep, scared of the dreams of happier times that would cripple me in the morning, I would work on my side business. And it was my side business that allowed me to buy a new car, when my old one gave out, and I almost died while on the US60. It was with my side business was I ever able to pay down and even pay off the credit card debt I didn’t know I had but had acquired while married to a stranger. And it helped pay for the actual therapy appointments I went to in secret, ashamed I still missed the man who had done me so wrong and hurt me so much.

And it was my side business that made me feel comfortable with leaving a job I loved in a place I didn’t; knowing I could, maybe, just maybe, make my side business my sole business.  
My business is not something I can do forever. I will likely go mad from it, but it’s grown, and it keeps growing. I work harder than ever, and I am constantly having to learn things I never thought I’d need to learn. And frankly, I am the most vicious boss I’ve ever met (and that is saying something). I hold myself to unreal standards and I swear at myself when I fuck something up. 

But my business is what saved me when I had nothing left. It gave me purpose. Kind of like this blog did when I first started it back in 2007. It fueled the excitement and helped me withdraw from the intoxication of thrill that being married to an alcoholic had made me miss. And it made me not miss the man who’s laugh made me weak, or who’s lies I overlooked, or who’s insanity I made sense of.

Above all else, my little online store was something I could do, because I was finally free from the person who made me believe I couldn’t do anything. 
My business helped to remind me that if I can pull a red wagon with painfully squeaky wheels, a fat little nugget with no understanding of social cues, and fearlessly holler at men I would later be intimidated by, I can do anything.

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