Fleeting Wealth

Saw some kids with a lemonade stand here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Kansas and flashed back to my own fledgling entrepreneurial experience on the High Plains of Rooks County during my 7

th

summer.

Mom’s best friend had daughters the same age as my sister and I. Reciprocal kid-sitting was a key component of the unspoken, rural Kansas community values package.

Her youngest, Laura (my age), and I hatched a plan. Set up a lemonade stand, sell it to the parched Plainville proletariat and earn ourselves some walkin’ around money. First stop on our path to riches was the first stop for any pre-pubescent Keynesian capitalist, regardless of motivation.

Mom.

Laura thought our chances would improve if I made the ask.

I respectfully disagreed.

But Laura was picking her battles and clearly felt the benefit of a working amicable relationship with her business partner outweighed the cost of a potential adverse reaction from the sugar daddy. Or in this case, the sugar mommy.     

“Hey Mom, wanna make us some lemonade so we can sell it and make a li’l ready cash?”

She couched her response in supportive motherly terms and demeanor, but it boiled down to:

Not particularly.

And here’s why. My lemons, my sugar, my ice, my pitcher, my glasses, etc., et al, ad infinitum.

Laura glared at me. Apparently it was my fault her Mom said no.

Plan B.

“C’mon, let’s go find something of mine we can sell.” It was her house, after all.  

Laura starts rooting around in her room. Her business partner’s right by her side, offering helpful, supportive suggestions.

“How ‘bout these goofy Barbie dolls?”

Another glare.

Scanning the room in search of bottom line drivers, my eyes land on her prized rock collection. Some polished and shiny, others sparkling and glittery. All unique enough to be set apart from your garden variety stones to merit at least some passing interest.  

“Hey, maybe we could sell these rocks!”

She was too polite to say it out loud, but Laura was clearly troubled by

my

presumed financial metamorphosis of

her

metamorphics.

Igneouses (igneousi?) and sedimentaries.

“Not so fast, moneybags. We’ll sell

my

rocks and

you

pocket half the proceeds?”

Tom Sawyer economics aside, there was Laura’s obvious emotional ownership in her box o’ rocks. Can’t put a price on that kinda stuff.

Then it hits. The synchronicity of 7-year olds.

We

liked looking at these rocks so much, surely others would too. Furthermore, surely they’d like looking at these rocks so much, they’d be willing to pay for the privilege.

So we set up shop on her front porch, displayed the wares in a shoe box and waited for the paying customers to queue up.

Our troublesome 9-year old sisters caught on quickly to the flaw in our business plan. Subtle exploitation at first, sauntering by, stealing a glance, followed by an actual look. Finally, full-on, extended stares at the pretty rocks before guffawing their way on down the primrose path.

Without paying.

Despite the big sisterly condescension, they had exposed the fatal flaw in our value proposition.

“You can’t charge people just to

look

at something, they simply won’t pay.”

Yeah, but.

If you look at the pretty rocks and don’t pay, shouldn’t you at least feel a little guilty? It’s like listening to public radio without pledging.

Noop.

After lunch (Baloney on white with Miracle Whip), we’d earned a grand total of nothing.

Synchronicity, second round: 

That evening, Laura’s father came home from work, gathered in the scene on his front porch and chimed in with yet another financial opinion.

“Not sure they’re worth five cents a look, but here’s a coupla pennies.”

Plink, plink.

Everybody had the answers. Nobody paid the going rate.  

All that glitters is not gold.  

Maybe I shoulda made the ask, after all.