It was a beautiful morning.
Johnny gazed out the window and over the front lawn, then up and down the quiet street; nothing stirred. Already, steam was rising from the blacktop, signaling the beginning of a hot, sunny August day.
Johnny went through the side door of his house, and into the garage. The spoils of three weeks of odd jobs and scavenging lay before him on the floor: a few quality pieces of lumber, a box of discarded nails (unbent by dint of much elbow grease) and a hammer, a level (borrowed from his father), and a set of tempera paints and brushes were piled neatly into the farthest corner of the garage, just waiting for him to begin his project.
And so he began.
Exactly two and three-quarters hours later, after much hard work and an unfortunate incident involving the hammer and his left thumb, Johnny surveyed his work. The stand, although small, was sturdy and straight, and the brightly-painted sign was easily visible from the road. Satisfied, he jogged into the house, opened the refrigerator, and extracted the gallon jugs of lemonade he had prepared the night before. After filling a small cooler with ice, he grabbed a sleeve of red SOLO cups and an old shoebox and started bringing his supplies out to the stand, a gleam of childish entrepreneurial spirit in his eyes.
An hour after Johnny opened up his lemonade stand for business, he had made exactly $10.50; at $0.75 per cup, that meant that Johnny had sold 14 glasses of delicious lemonade to willing customers. Old Mr. Jones from down the street had come to the stand three times, commenting on how impressed he was with Johnny’s hard work and ambition, especially for a boy just ten years old. The bigger boys from the next block over came by and purchased a whole jug of lemonade, forcing Johnny to shut down for a whole 15 minutes to make more.
Overall, Johnny was satisfied with his little stand. He knew the proceeds from his little venture wouldn’t be in the millions of dollars, but he hoped to help make a dent in the amount it would cost to go to soccer camp next year. Johnny realized his parents would never be able to foot the whole bill, but they’d be able to help, if only he could make just $100 dollars in the next year. Not being able to join his friends at camp this summer had been hard, but it had inspired him to earn his way for next summer.
The stand was important.
The sleek black Lexus crept through the neighborhood, looking as out of place as its driver felt. Mr. McGrubber had not asked for this assignment, and resented the necessity of his presence in this town, on this podunk little street.
What’s done is done, he thought to himself as he slowed in front of a small, well-kept house. Might as well get it the hell over with.
He got out of the car and surveyed his objective: a small, homemade lemonade stand. This would be easy.
Johnny looked up as the expensive-looking car slowed to a stop, and watched as a pudgy, exasperated-looking man in a dark suit and sunglasses climbed out of the drivers’ seat, grabbed a large attaché case from the floor, and walked purposefully up to the stand.
Jackpot, thought Johnny with a smile. Rich guy.
“Good morning, sir! Fresh, cold lemonade here, only seventy-five cents!”
“Seventy-five cents, eh?” replied McGrubber, trying to hide a sneer. “What’s your name, kid?” As if I care, he said to himself.
“Johnny, sir. How many lemonades would you like?”
Instead of ordering lemonade, however, the man smiled down at Johnny and began to ask questions about the stand. How long had the stand been in existence? Was Johnny the sole employee? What was the purpose of the stand? How many customers had Johnny averaged since opening the stand? Johnny felt confused. How was a kid supposed to know these things? He didn’t even know how to figure out averages; in fact, he was so nervous he wasn’t quite sure if he even knew what an average was. He looked around to see if his mother was noticing what was going on, but the window shades were drawn against the heat of the day. When he turned back around, he bristled as he discovered the pudgy man inspecting the contents of the makeshift cash box, which Johnny had fashioned from the old shoebox.
“Um, mister? Is there anything else…I mean…do you want something?”
McGrubber straightened, and frowned down at the boy.
“It’s not about what I want, Johnny. It’s what you’re able to do for me. You watch the news, kid?”
Johnny shook his head, and again looked nervously toward the house; he had a bad feeling about this guy. He wanted to clutch the cashbox to his chest and run away, but he remained frozen, one hand on the jug of lemonade he had been preparing to pour.
“Well, kid, if you knew anything at all you’d know the country is in a mess. The economy—that means businesses, kid—is in a real mess. There isn’t enough money to cover the government’s bills, so the people I work for—very important people, son—have been working night and day to figure out a way to cover those bills. That’s where you come in, see? It’s so simple, the perfect solution! See, this stand—nice stand, by the way—you’re probably raising money for, what? A new bike?”
McGrubber laughed, but Johnny felt like crying. He was scared. He didn’t like this man, or the very important people he worked for. He wanted him to go away. Still, he had been taught to respect his elders, so he replied in a shaky voice,
“S-soccer camp, sir?” He hadn’t meant it to sound like a question.
“Soccer camp! A worthy venture!” McGrubber chortled as he prepared to move in for the kill. “Well, in better times, anyway. See kid, what’s happened is that the people I work for—very smart, important people, obviously—did a study—that’s science, you know—and figured out that our budget crisis—that means money—would be solved if we got a little help from the little guys. That means you, Johnny!!!” McGrubber clapped his hands together, snatched up the cashbox before Johnny had a chance to react, and continued with gusto. “You see, kid, with the help of ordinary, hardworking citizens like yourself, we can help save the government! Think of it! Being a part of that, seems a lot more important than soccer camp, eh, kid?”
A tear rolled down Johnny’s cheek as he lunged at McGrubber, making a frantic attempt at retrieving his cashbox.
“Oh ho! Not so fast, kid. This is a great opportunity for you to help the big guys—like me, kid—turn this country around! Anyone can go to soccer camp, but you—you Johnny—can help make history! What could possibly be more important than doing your part for the government? All I need is a little, say, contribution, from you—a worthy entrepreneur!”
Johnny glared up at McGrubber and finally found his voice. “I don’t think so sir. I think that you’re trying to steal from me. If you want money, why don’t you build a lemonade stand and make it yourself? Now I’m getting my mother, so just put down my money and go away!”
“Johnny my boy! Your mother would be proud of you for contributing to this project—it’s very important, a lot of thought has gone into this, and besides, it’s not like important people like myself have time for lemonade stands, see?—and she certainly wouldn’t be happy to know that her son didn’t do all he could to serve his country!”
He backed away as he spoke, slowly slipping the cashbox into his attaché case.
“Now you keep on working hard, son, and maybe someday, when this country is back on its feet, you’ll be able to go to that camp! Goodbye, Johnny!”
McGrubber jogged to his car, got inside, and sped off, dialing on an expensive PDA as he went.
Johnny was halfway to the phone, vowing to call the cops and catch the scumbag, when he realized that he didn’t even know the pudgy man’s name. He sat down on the stoop and stared at his lemonade stand for a very long time.
The voice on the other end of the line was calm, cool, and oozed charisma and power.
“Has it been taken care of?”
“Of course, sir! Piece of cake…just one kid this time. No problem whatsoever.”
“Good work, McGrubber. I have one more for you. I’ll text you the location. Get this one taken care of and you could be looking at a promotion.
“Consider it done, sir!”
There was a soft click as the call ended, and McGrubber checked his messages for the next objective.
A sleek black Lexus pulled into the parking lot of a church, and came to a stop outside of a door marked “FELLOWSHIP HALL”. The driver exited the car, and his mouth watered at the smell of baking coming from the kitchen inside the hall.
He paused at the door to the fellowship hall, and grinned.
Just a few little old ladies running a church bake sale…this should be easy.
So that was my first foray into the world of dreamcrushing prose. If you’re wondering where in the world I got the sick idea to have a bureaucrat knock over a kid’s lemonade stand, take a gander at this:
The first time I saw that, I was pretty sure I had accidentally clicked on a link to “The Onion”. Alas, this is real, but just as ridiculous. Long story short, the Miami-Dade school district has dug itself into such a deep, dark hole that they tried dipping their paws into the kitties of extracurricular school clubs, marching bands, and school libraries to dig themselves out again.
No, really! I mean, come on, that librarian would probably just buy subversive, dangerous books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Brave New World, right? Yes, it’s better this way.
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to be facepalming my way through life–or at least the next four years. I know that these bureaucrats are just parroting the ideals and sensibilities of a corrupt Administration. That part, the accepting/knowing/facepalming part, is the easy part. The hard part is watching this nonsensical crap play out in real time–especially when the victims are high school bandos who just want to raise money to keep their performances going.
The actual conception and short-lived inception of this policy isn’t really what bothers me. What bothers me is what I can see happening about four or five months from now. School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho repealed his master plan after parents and students alike staged protests–good for him, but here comes the bureaucratic shuffle–but then came out with this little gem of an idea:
Carvalho told principals in an e-mail Friday morning that they can keep their money until the end of the academic year, when district officials will reconsider the plan. Schools that have already paid will get a refund.
Ah yes, Mr. Carvalho. I see what you did there. Here’s what’s happened. Carvalho realized that the lynch mob was closing in, so he pulled an Obama (it’s a verb now) and said “HAHAHA just kidding, guys! Nothing to see here, folks!!!! Move along, now.” Then he tabled the plan until the end of the school year when, conveniently, parents and students alike are compelled to be less involved in the workings of the school district. No students to band together and complain every day at school, no parents to pick up the torch at sporting events or performances…which means a more disorganized lynch mob for Carvalho and his band of miscreants to deal with.
They’re closing in on all sides. They want to control our guns, our health care, our wounded veterans, and our speech. We knew that. But as it turns out, they also want to control how much money can be spent on new library books, or marching band uniforms, or new chess boards. We’ve seen bailouts before, but never at the expense of a hard-working freshman trumpet player, whose only crime was selling a few brownies at a school bake sale.