I worked for a startup in my mid 20s. They had a good business model, that was often overshadowed by hare-brained ideas and and unrealistic revenue streams (they weren’t charging enough), and unnecessary purchases (mostly electronics and impractical software).
In about the fifth month, my paychecks started to bounce. The owner promptly fixed the first few of these. Then came delays and promises. And the normalization of not getting checks, at least not getting a check from an account with money.
A Friday ritual was to get a paycheck with assurance that it would “be good on Monday.”
Sometimes that was true, sometimes not.
What made things even worse about 13 months into my tenure at was that he hired a local artist to paint a two-story mural on all four walls of our office’s entrance way.
Let’s just say that the commission to which the artist agreed was roughly equal to the amount of 10 of my paychecks.
My checks started bouncing at an accelerated pace.
One Friday in early March, when I was already down 6 paychecks, I was given a new check with the expected, and meaningless promise that it would be good on Monday. The few seconds that it took to put my hand out for the piece of paper, then nod at the weekly promise was so exhausting that I felt like quitting on the spot.
I began mulling over my departure, and continued to do so over the weekend. That Sunday evening, I decided that if my check wasn’t good, I would be done.
Though moments later I began to doubt that I would do that. I decided that I would delay my Monday arrival until after 9, when my boss’s bank opened and I could check on the available funds.
Before the bank opened, my friend, then in graduate school and on spring break, called and said “Tigers v. Red Sox in Lakeland (Florida), let’s go!”
I told him I’d call him back. I then called the bank and found out the check wouldn’t clear.
I realized at the point, that I was under no obligation to go to work that day.
I called my friend back and said, “Batter up!” Soon we were on Interstate 75 (southbound).
We had misread the schedule, and the Tigers game was actually a night game. Thus, we headed to Sarasota for a Phillies game but learned it was sold out.
We decided to hang out in the area until the Tigers game started. We got home really late. I thought of heading to work Tuesday. I was bloody tired, but that never stopped me before.
What did stop me was a 9 am call to the bank to find out that my check would not clear. I went back to sleep.
I never went back to work for the company. Though I did show up at the office one night after hours, and I told him that I had let myself in. And that I was going to keep my office key, because until he paid me off, I was a partial owner of the organization.
I let him know, that I had come to the office that night to write some cover letters, and that I would likely be doing that periodically.
He said “Knock yourself out.”
We trusted each other in many areas. Though I could no longer trust him to pay me, and he finally understood that it was unreasonable to expect my services when there was no compensation in return.