I accepted the offer for my first internship, despite not knowing who I was or what I wanted to do. “Students are offered the ability to create income, acquire awesome real-world experience running a business and managing expenses, and learn community values that promote integrity and responsibility.”
They trained us to go door to door selling paint jobs. Then you hired teams and trained them to paint the homeowners’ houses starting late spring. Honest blue-collar entrepreneurship. I could be a thousandnaire by the end of next summer, how sick was that?
At the end of our first month, they got the top sales guy from Providence to come up, “build morale,” they said. He built over a $1 million book of business his first season. Outside of the slick suit and tie, he was a pasty, skinny, thin-haired fellow. His LinkedIn job title was simply “President of Pyramid Painting.”
He began his presentation with a contestant video he made for this new TV show I had never heard of called The Apprentice. On YouTube the President could be seen with a helmet GoPro strapped to another guy on a small plane, talking about the fear of starting a business and failing. Without pausing his speech, they jumped out into open air and 18,000 feet of sheer terror. “AND THAT’S WHY I WILL BRING MY BEST TO THE APPRENTICE,” he screamed into the camera, mouth cheeks flapping. His tandem partner pulled the parachute, and the feed went black. My palms were sweaty.
“Where’s the top earner this month?” the President asked the room. We all knew who it was because the numbers got updated every night for every intern. A sturdy dark-haired kid with freckles was soon shown to the front of the room alongside the President.
Then a group of managers rolled out what appeared to be a transparent, upright plastic tent shaped like a telephone booth. It had a leaf blower rigged to its side. Freckles the winner was asked to step into the tent. He obliged with sanguine smiles.
A duffel bag was handed to the President.
“I’m going to make this very short. Here’s the deal.” He began unzipping the bag.
“You are all here today for one reason: to make money.” The President pulled out bricks of $1 dollar bills in rubber bands. Unbanding the stacks with one hand and tossing them into the tent with the other, he finally took out a money clip from his pocket and dropped a few $100 bills for good measure. The money piled up to Freckle’s knees as the President zipped shut the tent.
“The only thing we require is that you work your fucking ass off.” He turned to Freckles.
“You have 15 seconds in the Money House to grab as much as you can carry.” The President leaned down to the leaf blower.
“We reward winners here. And only winners get to stay in the Money House!” A huge climax of cheers went up with the green swath of bills and we screamed at Freckles, our tiny dancer in a money tornado. I imagined all the souls, before and after me, that would experience this unholy baptism.
I never did make it to the top spot to earn my Money House dance. Turns out if you’re afraid of heights, it’s hard to do multi-level ladder painting! Also, don’t hire your best friends. And, don’t sell on what you can’t deliver.
I later heard the President didn’t get into The Apprentice. Sometimes life doesn’t give us what we want. Not because we both didn’t deserve it, we deserved more.