Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Red, Gameboy & the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Muggy, sticky summer arrived in Illinois a week ago. Apparently, it likes the Heartland, because it’s in no hurry to leave. “HELP WANTED” signs, seemingly, have gone extinct like the Dodo. My advisor at the Career Center keeps saying that the job market will “crack open” in late July. I spend these oven-like days driving around, scouting potential employers, in preparation for that time. It beats sitting at home, anyway.

During one of these scouting trips, I stumbled across a bit of Americana that was tantamount to a live Dodo sighting. On the corner of a quiet residential side street, two boys (roughly twelve years old) sat on folding chairs behind a card table. On the table sat an Igloo jug, a stack of Styrofoam cups and a metal strongbox. Taped to the front edge of the table was a hand-lettered sign: “LEMONADE 50¢”. I blinked and looked again. No, I hadn’t been watching too much Nick At Night. It was real.

As I pulled off the main road and parked along the curb, I half-expected the theme song from “The Andy Griffith Show” to kick in. I wasn’t really thirsty. Even if I had been, there was a supermarket about five minutes away, peddling everything from Red Bull to buttermilk. But how could I pass up this experience? I wouldn’t want to disappoint Aunt Bea, who was probably watching from the kitchen window.

“Hi,” I said, approaching the table. “I can’t remember the last time a saw an actual lemonade stand. How are sales today?”

One of the boys, sporting a blond crew cut, sat playing a Gameboy. “Shitty, until you came along,” he deadpanned, with his eyes glued to the screen. “I wanted to sell Kool-Aid. But El Cheapo said no.” He pointed to his associate, a lanky lad with a shock of bright red hair.

“Hey, bite me!” grunted the red-haired boy, scowling at his friend. “Lemonade is cheaper. Besides, your fatassed sister drank all the Kool-Aid. I told you, it’s this crappy location. I wanted to set up on County C, near the shopping center. But Queen Amidala here wouldn’t walk the extra block!”

“Kiss my ass!” snapped Gameboy, punching buttons.

“Blow yourself!” countered Red, wiping sweat from his brow.

“Boys, boys, hold it,” I said, playing the Hugh Beaumont role. “Never mind all that. It’s a hot day and your price can’t be beat. Give me one lemonade.”

Gameboy grabbed a cup and filled it from the jug. I fished the lone $5 bill out of my wallet and dropped it on the table. Gameboy forked over the cool, dripping cup. I took a sip.

“How’s it taste?” asked Gameboy. “My mom made it fresh this morning!”

“Yeah,” said Red, “if you can call Crystal Light fresh.”

Gameboy elbowed Red in the ribs. Red punched Gameboy in the shoulder.

“Mmm!” I said, finishing the cup. “Tangy!” Actually, it tasted like rainwater filtered through a leaf-clogged drain pipe. But one must indulge the innocence of youth, right?

I returned the cup to Gameboy. He returned the cup to the bottom of the stack of cups, and refocused his attention on the tiny screen. Red sat staring blankly at me in the mid-day sun. I wondered if I had any syrup of ipecac in the medicine cabinet at home.

“Well,” Red finally chuckled, “have a nice day.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “That’s my five bucks sitting on the table. What about my change?”

“What about it?” said Gameboy, with an electronic chirp underlining his question.

My heart soared! A Teaching Opportunity! Being unemployed can rob you of your sense of purpose. But there’s nothing like imparting knowledge, especially to the youngsters, to revive this sense of purpose. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

“Look, guys, I realize this may be your very first job,” I said, “so let me explain something about business to you. Your sign says 50¢ a cup. I bought one cup. I gave you a $5 bill. Five dollars minus fifty cents equals four dollars and fifty cents. That means you should give me $4.50 in change.”

Red and Gameboy looked at each other and shrugged.

“That’s, like, weird,” said Red.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because no one else ever asked us for change,” said Gameboy.

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “This is a fund-raiser, right? You should write that on your sign. Who are you selling for? Boy Scouts? Little League?”

“No,” said Red.

“The 4-H Club?” I asked. “Your church?”

Gameboy looked at me like I’d just farted. “What’s the 4-H Club?”

“We’re just selling lemonade for us,” said Red. “We’ve both got Apple Mac’s. We’re saving up to buy ‘Doom 3’. He and I are splitting the cost fifty-fifty.”

“Right,” added Gameboy, nodding. “Everybody who buys our lemonade always tells us to keep the change, because they, uh. . .what is it they say?” He turned to Red.

“Mr. Golgovski next-door said he admired our entrepreneurial spirit,” said Red, rolling the phrase over his tongue like an exciting new flavor. “A U.P.S. driver who stopped yesterday said the same thing.”

“Yeah!” agreed Gameboy. “Don’t you?”

“Oh, uh, certainly,” I stammered. “Absolutely. That’s a rare quality in kids today.”

I stared at them and they stared at me. I stood there, sweating wordlessly in the summer heat.

“Well,” smiled Red, stashing my wrinkled $5 bill in the strongbox. “Thanks for stopping by. You’ve probably got to get back to work.”

Gameboy was shooting aliens or slaying dragons or whatever it is they do on video games these days. “Glad you liked the lemonade,” he said, without looking up. “We appreciate it.”

I retreated toward my car. “Okay, guys. Keep up the good work.”

I climbed in the car and drove back toward the main road. Just before I turned, I glanced in my rear view mirror. Red and Gameboy were high-fiving each other.

In twenty years, I thought, those kids will be corporate executives. They already knew more about business than I ever would.


Blogger Mona said...

What a story. Maybe you need to be selling Koolaid this summer.

Really takes out the innocence of a lemonade stand and the fun of actually seeing them get jazzed about keeping the change.

I *might* have insisted on my change...but you seem to still appreciate their business sense. Nice job!

1:07 AM  
Blogger Mona said...

And did I mention before how much I enjoy your writing style? Because I meant to.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Le chameau insatiable said...

you should have drunk another 9 lemonades or if you didn't feel this thirsty, slap their pimpled faces until they understood honesty is part of being a good entrepeneur. but then again maybe only thieves can be good entrepeneurs. see, that's why i'm a cynic, i know that what looks like innocence (and any related qualities) is always screwed up.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Doggie Extraordinaire's Mom said...

With business scruples like theirs, are you sure it was really lemonade? It was yellow, right?


1:26 PM  
Blogger Jacqui said...

Wow, you just bought some lemonade from 2 of the next generations top lawyers! Let's have a moment of silence .......

3:58 PM  

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