Zen & the Art of Printing T-Shirts

A very wise and very old man that used to spend days rocking back and forth on his porch once said to me “Get the Hell off my lawn” and so that is what I did. I also took from his words the very much deeper meaning that I am sure he had intended. “Choose another path, seek another way to get from where you are to where you would like to be” so I moved to the sidewalk and, later that day, started a small business that became tMiami.com.

I wasted no time in acquiring the machines and other supplies my fledgling enterprise would need. I moved them all into the townhouse in which I lived and got to work. I worked in a way that made days and nights and weekends all blend together as one. Whenever I was lucky enough to open a new account I would do the necessary artwork and then shoot the screens. After that I would print the shirts and then deliver them muself. I was working hard and it was good but I knew that the time for me to re-approach the old man was still a very long ways off. I, in fact, hadn’t thought of him in months when he, in his infinite wisdom, broke the silence between us.

I was again walking past his house when I recognized his voice as it boomed over his well manicured lawn. He said “cut your hair you crazy hippie bastard”.

I, of course, thanked him and continued on my way. When I got back to my machines I wrote down what he had told me and tried to make sense of it. Cut your hair you crazy hippie bastard? Cut your hair you crazy hippie bastard? and then it came to me. Caps! Add baseball caps to the top quality custom printed t-shirts that I was already producing. The plan was Zen like in it’s perfection. It all started to make perfect sense.

I bought the exta equiptment that I would need and when it wouldn’t fit into my already full townhouse I was glad. The time had come for me to move my small business to a true business address. I chose the warehouses just east of the Tamiami Airport and then hired the younger brother of a friend and, together, we got back to work.

His name was Joe and, while he did not decrease the amount of joy my small business was giving me, he did lessen the amount of work that I myself had to do. I finally had the time that I needed to get started on the intangible aspects of my small t-shirt printing operation. Three month’s later my prices were truly competitive.

The work load that Joe and I shared naturally increased but, with my having Joe’s help, that workload also became even more managable. It was my job to answer the phones and work with the customers while it was Joe’s job to keep the place clean and do the deliveries. The responsibility of printing and folding the t-shirts and caps was one that we shared. tMiami.com had become good enough that I, one day between projects, felt that the time was right that I go to face the old man.

I, looking good in my custom printed t-shirt and cap, explained to him that quality was up and prices were down. I was smiling and believed that I was truly happy.

The old man put down the beer that he had been slurping and said something that I would never forget. He asked “What the Hell do I care? Do I even know you?”

I turned away to consider this and, as I did, I knew what I had to do. I married a pretty little customer named Debi and started a family. A year later we had twin sons named Robert and Jason and a year after that Debi quit her job and, instead of being a valued customer, became a partner. I finally began to really know who I was. I put my hair in a ponytail and then, a couple of years later, cut it off all together. I didn’t need it anymore. It just got in the way of my printing top quality custom printed t-shirts and caps at competitive prices. Besides, Debi made it clear that she didn’t like it.

A few more years came to pass and many of tMiami.com’s customers started to look as happy as me. I felt just a little older and wiser and knew what I had to do. I made my way back to the old man’s porch. While there he told me that he had never intended that I do anything more than get off of his lawn and cut my hair.

I told him that I had done both of those things.

H told me that there is more money in programming computers and getting people ready for Y2K than in printing t-shirts and caps.

I told him that, had I done that, I would not have met Debi.

He took a swig of what he was drinking and went on. He explained that there was so much more out there. So much more to be done and so much more to be had. I watched and listened and began to see that this old man apparently had no idea what it was that he was talking about but I let him continue. I was hearing him but for the most part had already stopped listening when he asked “How can you possibly be happy without being rich or at least famous?”

I was surprised that he didn’t know even that. When I asked “You don’t know? You really don’t know?” it became obvious to me that he didn’t. I told him “All this time you might have thought I was looking for something else but I wasn’t. I have only been watching the shirts and the shirts, old man, look very good”.

That made him quiet. He didnt’ do it quickly but he eventually looked at my chest. He said “You know, that is a good looking shirt”. He added “Real expensive though, right?

I told him “No, competitively priced” and then I took a seat. We sat together on his porch and drank a few beers while sharing an avacado. We discussed the good people that I work with and the wonderful customers that tMiami.com Incorporated has. It was nice.

Before I had to take my leave of him and get back to work we shared a few laughs, discussed his love of plaind pants and even experienced the joy of yelling obscenities at a paper boy that was just trying to do his job.

The old man was wearing a free t-shirt and cap that I had given him when he, later that afternoon and in his rocking chair, fell asleep.

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