As our small family strolled around the bend at the top of the hill, we stumbled right into a cleverly laid trap, devised by some neighborhood kids to separate innocent pedestrians from their money.
“Oh, cute, a lemonade stand,” my wife Kara said.
Four kids stood beside a card table at the end of a driveway eyeing us thirstily, rubbing their hands together and probably muttering something about “rubes” and how people like us are born every minute.
As we got closer to them, I broke the bad news.
“Sorry, guys, we didn’t bring any money with us,” I said, patting my shorts to give the International Sign of Empty Pockets.
The oldest kid, probably about nine, said, “It’s okay, you don’t have to pay,” as he poured two plastic cups from his pitcher.
The other three looked at him as if he’d just stomped on an iPhone. The motion to hand out free lemonade to random old people had clearly not been discussed in committee.
“You can’t just give it away for freeeee,” one of them said in the kind of little-kid whisper that’s louder than an adult’s speaking voice.
The ringleader brushed them off and held out two cups for us, not at all bothered by the flaw in his business model.
“That’s really sweet,” Kara said. “We’ll come back and put a dollar in your mailbox tonight.”
As we strolled off drinking the first lemonade-stand purchase we’d ever made on credit, I was impressed that the kids were at least selling a decent product. When I was their age, my neighbor Louie and I went around the neighborhood selling dogwood flowers we’d picked from a tree in the backyard, a product so useless that Brookstone might consider selling it if the flowers vibrated or cleaned your golf tees. Our business folded after making twelve cents more than it would have without Mrs. Yacoe’s pity.
Louie and I brought the same acumen to mechanical engineering that we did to the business world. Our prototype model for a zip line out of my tree house consisted of a rope running from the tree house to the bottom of a pine tree fifty feet away, with a log of my parents’ firewood serving as a seat. We tied a rope to one end of the log, ran that rope over the zipline, then tied off the other end of the log.
“This is going to be awesome,” Louie said, positioning himself onto the firewood, his feet dangling.
He pushed off of the tree house and hung in the air for a moment, stationary. I remember the look of surprise on his face as he looked back at me, amazed that he wasn’t zipping anywhere. In slow motion, the log began to tilt, and in a moment, Louie was plummeting eight feet into the vegetation below.
“Eww, I landed in the pee bush!” he screamed.
Technically, it was a rhododendron, but Louie’s taxonomy was more apt. Before Nintendo had been invented, little boys could only entertain themselves by peeing from the highest points they could find, a fact that my dad failed to appreciate that time he was building the lower deck when the highest point Louie and I could find was the upper deck.
In any event, back in our neighborhood, Kara settled our debts in the ringleader’s mailbox that night. The following day, he was out there peddling his citrusy wares by himself, clearly the member of the group with the most staying power, the Justin to their ‘N SYNC. This time, he wore a navy blue sport coat with big brass buttons, as if maybe he was considering opening franchises in adjacent driveways, or perhaps selling insurance. Which would probably be much more lucrative than the dogwood flower business.
You can make lemonade out of Mike Todd at email@example.com.