I had two first jobs. The first customer who hired me had a small two bedroom, cinder block construction house with steel window frames and sashes with single pain glass. It was a building more than a house. It was built just after the second world war along with a dozen others on a piece of land that opened up in the middle of a suburban neighborhood – in nineteen forty something. In September of two thousand it was owned by my customer and between occupants. She hired me to shoot some trim in the kitchen, clean up and improve a floor drain where the washer went and a couple other things. I had to buy a portable compressor on the way to the house because it was my first day self employed. The woman changed my life by hiring me. She knew this, but really just wanted to get the house ready for the next family. We also knew each other as neighbors and she was supportive. People are nice this way. She was painting one of the days I was working at the house. She cut in a room with a four inch brush like a draftsman – woman. The whole time she told me a couple stories and laughed the day away. I finished the job and collected a check. She hired me for several years following that first job, she was a great first customer.
The other first customer lived across the side street from our house. She was single, raising two teenage kids and thought tearing the house to smithereens would help. I was glad to be of service. I went to work there the day after the cinder block house. This was the first job that was big enough to get me over the financial thirty day hump. That sink or swim trick you play in your head to go for it. A room addition had been added to the back of a nineteen twenty-seven two story. The addition was done in the seventies and never finished on the inside. We chatted a little, ball parked some numbers and shook hands. The job was great. The addition had to be drawn to scale for a permit that was needed, then another permit was pulled for some changes my customer wanted. Paperwork, footwork downtown, then get to work. We replaced some floor to ceiling window sashes with insulated glass panels and vinyl sashes. A closet was added and a bathroom was finished that had been rough plumbed thirty years before I ever saw the place. We framed and lighted the original exterior wooden doorway. It had a great transom window at the top. It was one of those doors that people loved. The inside of the room was all studs so we did everything. Pulled electricity, insulated, foamed, sheet rocked, and flooring. The trim was the best. We matched the trim in the antique house, eleven cut pieces to case a door, one side. Antique houses keep things interesting. The woman fed me fresh coffee and fruit or deserts almost every afternoon when she got home from work. This is another way people are nice. About half way through the job during what I remember being one of the dirtiest days of my life I stood and turned around to see my father walking through my customer’s patio toward me. He’d snuck from Oklahoma all the way to my house without me knowing he was coming. We were the best of friends. I showed him the job sight, we talked for a few minutes and he headed back to my house. It was late afternoon so I only had a couple hours to go then I’d be done working and hang out with my dad. My customer sent me home right then. Self employment was starting to feel like a good thing. Finally we built a pretty stair case off the side of the addition where we added some french doors. All along, for weeks, this is how we did it. We’d drink coffee and decide what we’d do next, change some things and agree to keep going. She paid me a check every Friday. By the time I finished her job I had sold more work and was thrilled to be moving along.
I’ve had a lot of first jobs since September of two-thousand. First tuck point job. First lost job. First spray gun job. First snowed out job. Being someone’s first job takes a great customer. A great customer expects professionalism and decides when and how long the coffee and snacks go on. A great first customer asks for and expects a service person to be accountable for the billed hours and expenses. Don’t torture the guy, just ask some fair questions and review receipts. Trusting someone doesn’t mean allowing them to run amuck. In the future more new customers will be hiring me. Between the variety of houses and the curiosities of customers the jobs always seem to stay fresh. More first jobs.