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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Worms 7

“I’m pulling in the dough!”

Then I have another idea.  I’m desperate, I’m digging all Saturday and I must have gotten only about twenty worms.  I’m digging out there and Schwrtz is walking along and he sees me and he says, “What are you doin?”

“I’m digging worms!  What does it look like?  Don’t bother me, I’m in a hurry.“

“Digging worms?  Ya goin’ fishin?”

“No. I’m not going fishin’.  What do you think that sign is out there for?  I’m selling worms.”

“Oh yeah, yeah.  Gee, come on, we’re all going to play ball.”

“I can’t play ball, forget it.  I’m digging worms.”  And it hit me.  “Hey, Schwartz, I’ll give you ten cents for every dozen worms you can dig.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Schwartz rushes home, gets a shovel, and now he’s out back of his house digging worms.  About an hour later Schwartz comes back with a couple of dozen worms, which I pay him for.  The word gets out among the kids and within three days, I have about twenty kids working steadily digging worms.  Bringing the worms home and selling them to me.

I’ve given up digging.  Now I’m just a buyer, which puts me in a totally different category.  So I’m sitting at a card table in the basement, and as each kid would show up I’d count his worms.  I’d say, “Oh man, forget this one.  Look at this—it’s a dead one.  What’re you tryin’ to pull on me here, Schwartz?”

He says, “Well, it wasn’t dead when I dug him up, for cryin’ out loud.”

“I’m sorry, we can’t take no dead worms.  And look at that one!  Little skinny one.  I don’t want no baby worms.  I’ll only give you half price for the baby ones.”

So Schwartz is getting his money.  I had Roper, Jack Morton—I had all the kids.  They’re hitting the jackpot and I’m pulling in the dough!  I’m putting the worms away in the boxes every night. Well, it is now getting to be August and the kids are becoming very scarce because the kids are running into the same problem I’m running into.  That problem is this.  As the summer grows longer and hotter, worms get scarce.  And even a kid who’s getting ten cents a dozen worms has got enough brains to realize that after you’ve dug for two days and you get three worms, this ain’t a paying proposition.

And then I have my fourth and most cosmic idea.  I’m sitting down in the basement.  I’m desperate.  The worms are getting low.  You know how much money I’m making at this point?  I’m knocking down about twenty-five to forty dollars a week.  And if you don’t think that’s a lot of money for a kid who is about fourteen or fifteen, then you don’t remember what it’s like being a kid.  I’m making this dough and I want to keep it coming in and the business is growing, because out there, guys tend to take their vacations in August.  So I’m getting fantastic orders.  Guys are come up and buying for fifteen or twenty friends.  Can you imagine a guy walking in and he says, “Gimme thirty dozen worms.”  And you ain’t got ‘em.  And I have my fourth and most colossal idea.

I realized there was a fatal flaw in my business.  Do you see what it is?  My fatal flaw is that I am depending on nature.  And little did I realize that at that moment I am going through the same evolution that ancient man went through.  You know one of the big differences between the truly savage tribes and the tribes that are beginning to be civilized?  A savage tribe’s nomadic.  They rely totally on what they can find.  And so they will kill all the animals in some place and eat ‘em and eat all the plants that are growing and then they move on to the next place.

What’s the difference between that and the civilized tribe?  The civilized tribe grows the animals, so instead of relying on going out and shooting rabbits they say, “Why is it we don’t grow some rabbits?  Why don’t we grow some of those gourds we’ve been looking for?  Why don’t we get some seeds and grow some?”  That’s the beginning of what we call the agrarian culture.  Nobody’s giving me any advice, see.  I have to go through the whole evolution myself.  So, suddenly it hit me—why not grow worms?  Ah huh!  Grow them instead of gather them.  And it was at that moment that I changed from just a kid who sold worms, to The Worm King of Cleveland Street.

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