Vertical Integration

On his lunch break, my father dropped by work to stare at me. He didn’t even want to buy anything; he just watched from the door, chest swollen, like I’d really accomplished something by working at Sylvan’s Ice Cream Stand.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Ozzie, but I can envision you at the front of the shop, yes?”

He meant his shop—the men’s clothing store that my great-grandfather started in the neighboring wealthier town of Andover. It had survived three generations, and I was next in line to take over. The ice cream gig was my first and last job outside the family store. It was like a summer rumspringa before settling down to what my father wanted for me.

“How about handling customers on the floor?” Dad asked. “You’re great with people. Ever since you got over the drooling problem.”

I’d had a very temporary lip paralysis that my family treated like the Black Death.

“Or the back?” he mused. “But no, you’re too handsome for the back. You’re coming into your own.”

I smiled and said, “Well, I’m only fourteen. Did you know the youngest kid to summit Everest was sixteen? I really think I could make it at least to base camp. Five thousand meters. Regular people can do that. And from there, with proper training, who knows?”

He sighed.

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