Chapter 1
                       Toward a Dealing Life 

           Our natural talents appear early and may not be noted by us or by adults caring for us. Communication skills—including “selling,” but more than this alone—appeared in my earliest labors resulting in earned money. A neighbor with a green thumb and a love for children, Mrs. Mischler, who conspired with me after school by welcoming me into her kitchen, where I finished eating the school lunch my mother prepared each school day, proposed a partnership when I was nine. She would pick a variety of summer fruits from her garden, mostly berries, which I would sell, day by day, in a neighborhood a half mile from us. Soon I was vending pint boxes of berries door to door from my wagon and returning to Mrs. Mischler to divide the day’s proceeds 50/50.
            Only one encounter from that enterprise remains etched in memory. One afternoon, passing a house that subtly frightened me and where I never stopped, a woman appeared on the porch and said, “Little boy, why don’t you knock on my door and sell your fruit to me? I will buy from you.” Though I did sell to her in the future, I never answered her question, for I did not understand the aversion always experienced in relation to that house. Perhaps all childhoods engage such sensibilities, for which there are no words.                   
            Determined to keep his three sons busy, my father arranged endless tasks around our property and built a large two-wheeled cart in which my brothers and I hauled cinders from tubs near our coal burning furnace to a local dump, but also newsprint and scrap metal to a scrap yard, a mile from our home. We sold our stacks of old newspapers not for environmental concerns, tied to ecology, but as part of our family’s waste-not, want-not economy, and money earned this way went to our parents. 
          No one explained the difference between “my own money” and “family money,” but the distinction became indelibly clear. Some youths in our neighborhood had to split money they earned with their parents but my brothers and I, a notch up the middle-class ladder, were allowed to keep all that we made—so long as we saved it. 
          The youngest of three boys, I was probably five or six when I first observed my brothers deal with Mr. Adleman, the local scrap yard owner, as they sold piles of newsprint or sorted iron from steel and brass from copper, selling these for modest sums. I don’t recall asking questions about these different metals but, learning as I watched, observed Mr. Adleman scraping nickel-coated objects to see if brass was underneath. From a boy’s perspective, I had began learning the selling side of a business that must have existed since the earliest centuries of metallurgy, thousands of years past.  
          As I started making dabs of money this way, the Adleman family also prospered, and one family member rose among deal-makers to be our arms negotiator with the Soviet Union during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Whether the “Adleman” name appears on buildings in Sandusky I do not know, but in Portland, Oregon, where I live and write, the name “Schnitzer,” our leading scrap-dealer after World War II, appears on our largest concert, on a steel mill and is associated with many charities.
          My brothers and I all helped in our large garden, from which we ate for many most months of the year, including colder ones when quarts of food my mother canned came from a downstairs pantry into her kitchen.          
          Caddying in our local country club earned good money but I still looked for scrap metals on roadsides or in neighbors’ junk piles, carting what I found to Mr. Adleman. Once I hauled a heavy brass object, a water valve, to him and, looking at me suspiciously, Mr. Adleman said, “Where did you get this?!” 
            I said, “I found it at the side of the road.” 
            While Mr. Adleman pondered both the merchandise and me, I felt a warmth experienced when there’s something to hide, for I had acquired this not “at the side of the road” but on property owned by the county highway department.  
          At last Mr. Adleman turned his attention solely to the brass object. Flicking counter-weights on his scales before the needle settled, he paid me over ten dollars, placing more money in my pocket than I had ever made in a single transaction. Leaving the Adleman property, I felt the weight of those bills and coin with deeply mixed feelings. 
            During the 1940s when wages of two dollars an hour or less were common, the American economy included tens of thousands of small manufacturing companies. One in Sandusky, Ohio, part of the “Arts and Crafts” movement, was the O-P Craft Company, Inc., owned by my father and his brother. “The company,” as we called it, founded in November, 1929 by my uncle Earle, initially sold printed cloths on which consumers applied colors, also sold by O-P Craft. My father began managing the company and expanding its product line in 1931, when he and my mother moved from Kansas to northern Ohio. Soon my uncle relocated to Chicago to manage a company making maps and globes, and began traveling the actual globe. Throughout my youth he visited my family’s home periodically to share slides from his travels with my family and several dozen guests. 
           Seeing his images from India, Russia, Iran—even one of President Roosevelt, peering at  my uncle’s largest globe, a gift to FDR— stimulated inarticulate wishes to travel.

         A formative decade for my brothers and me began after our nation’s victory in World War II in 1945, an upbeat period in our history. Unlike today, American citizens owned nearly all of our national debt then, including millions of child debt-holders, taught to buy “War Bonds” to finance the enormous costs of our participation in the war. (A $25 War Bond costing $18.75 returned the full $25 in ten years. Children paid ten cents for stamps filling books bearing, when complete, the full $25 face value.) 
           My parents’ unflagging emphasis on frugality and saving naturally spilled over to their sons. Though I began elementary school during the last year of the war, I probably purchased my first War Bond before the war’s end. The term “War Bonds” stuck and more were bought after the war, as earned money augmented modest birthday or Christmas gifts. By 1950—age eleven—I followed my brothers into caddying in a local country club, and like them shoveled snow from sidewalk and driveways after winter storms, for pay. 
           My brothers and I continued purchasing bonds well into the ‘50s, always through The Third National Exchange Bank in our city.
           American culture was different then and most mothers, including mine, did not have jobs. They worked at home, saving money by canning large amounts of fruits and vegetables, reusing whatever still held value and wasting nothing.
           The respect felt for banks during that era would surprise most citizens now, as banks then were more than buildings with a few tellers, several offices and ATM machines. Made of solid marble, banks were austere, looming presences, as silent and important in their communities as were churches. One spoke as quietly in a bank as in a church, and exiting a bank one encountered a subtly altered world, as occurred when leaving a church.   
           When I was twelve my father made an appointment to introduce me to our bank’s Head Teller, Mr. Gangware, a slim, soft-spoken man who led me into the bank’s massive vault. Mr. Gangware allowed me to hold a five hundred dollar bill, picturing William McKinley, and then a thousand dollar bill, picturing Grover Cleveland.  
           I deeply wished to please my father, who liked most of my impulses related to making and saving money, though some of my  interests bothered him, including a growing passion for collecting coins. I learned later that announcing my discovery of coins worth more than their face values bothered him as this suggested easier paths toward earning money than the Great Depression, a massive lesson for Americans living through it, taught him. 
          He once stopped me from probing someone’s trash for scrap metals and lectured me sharply after we drove over a rusting old bridge and I wondered aloud how much it weighed. Nonetheless, observing me behaving frugally and saving ninety percent of my earnings, my father felt proud of me and he sometimes shared sound business advice with me. 
          One evening I reported on having successfully sold a bicycle and he said, “And the buyer has paid you?”
           I said, “He’ll pay me in about a week.” 
           My father said, “Son, you and I have quite different definitions of what it means to sell something. An object is sold when the cash paid for it is in your hand, or the check you received has cleared the bank. And even then, sometimes things go wrong.” 
           Though I resented this counsel then, later I recognized my father’s definition of “selling” as accurate. (Within the past few years, a customer from the 1980s, suffering second thoughts, reopened a transaction dating back over thirty years.)
           During college years in Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, I became interested in antique furniture, honing an itch to buy under-valued examples in second-hand stores for resale to antique dealers. Following this path, I often visited Dunfee’s General Merchandise, in Stewart, Ohio, ten miles from Athens, owned by an unkempt eccentric, too busy buying and selling to dress with care or to shave more than once a week. Melvin broke his shoes down at the backs, precisely as I later observed in Iranian bazaars, where men treat shoes like slippers, to enter and exit mosques quickly. 
           Some eccentrics try to be different, while others simply are “the real McCoy.”  Melvin made no such attempts and was simply himself, slovenly but practical. He devoted an entire room to second-hand inner tubes, saying, “What I sell, I guarantee. What’s a sure way to find out if a used inner tube is okay? Inflate it and throw it on top in the inner tube room. If it doesn’t’ fall to the bottom, it’s good.”
           He priced watched according to the number of jewels: $17 dollars for a seventeen-jeweled watch and $21 for a few with twenty-one jewels, and he priced shotguns by a similarly simple formula, based on the gage. 
          Excelling during early college years, I gradually slid downhill as a scholar, even as my world view expanded through classes in economics, political science, literature and philosophy. Though my place in this expanding world became foggier each year, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, as my father hoped, or a college professor, a favored notion, for a time. Both  required sticking with a single subject longer than I was able to and I avoided business classes, since none focused on dealing. My disinclination for working in someone else’s business must have been influenced by my family, with a business of our own, but also by the increasing prosperity of the 1950s, in contrast to the Great Depression, when men would take any work offered. It also never occurred to me to take “education” classes, toward becoming a teacher, as I kept drifting from major to major, failing to consciously ponder what attracted me most: buying and selling, parallel to the life and work of Melvin Dunfee and all better and worse individuals like him.
           My father, watching uneasily as I drifted through college years, once declined the opportunity to meet Melvin Dunfee, saying, “He sounds like a hustler.”  
          I didn’t want to be a “hustler,” surely, but didn’t aspire to be a “businessman,” either. Neither my father nor I cognized an essential difference taking shape and dividing us, even as family bonds, money-interests and a passion for saving helped unite us: he was a frugal “businessman” and by nature I was something different and perhaps lesser: a “dealer.” The two overlap but are not the same, one difference being that businessmen tend to stay in one place while managing enterprises reaching out, while dealers move from place to place, buying objects in locales where they are valued less and moving them to where they are valued more. (Like buying under-appreciated tribal rugs in Iran or Afghanistan and shipping them home, where customers and friends paid me to help beautify their homes, and build collections.)

          During college years, the urge also appeared to write. But what could I possibly write about?