So, me and my kids are at Sam’s Club. The kids are out of school for the day, Daddy is at work at his new job, and we’re filling the house up with a million little snacks that we put off buying when we were unemployed.
The cart is dang heavy, the kids tell me.
You’re the one who thought it would be a good idea to take turn pushing it, I tell them. Consequences, I say. Learn about them.
In response, they throw themselves down on the couches. Not, like, the display couches. But couches on the shelves. When you think about it, Sam’s Club has weirdly big shelves.
I decide to sit down, too.
No one says anything for awhile. It’s getting late and we’ve wasted all our energy on shopping and haven’t left any for checking out, loading the car, or getting home. So I just relax—close my eyes and marvel at the fact that I have gotten to the point where my children are so grown up that they will sit in a recliner silently for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. Amazing.
You never think that they’ll stop being toddlers. Stop screaming, or pooping on you, or hitting you on the head with a television. (I think I’m exaggerating about the television, but honestly, it has a ring of truth to it.) But they do grow up. They grow up. They have thoughts.
Thoughts like this:
Sam: [head still leaned back relaxing, eyes closed] “It’s been getting really hot,” he says. “Not in here... Outside.”
“Yup,” I say. Not because I really want to engage in a conversation about the weather, but because I’m the Mom. I should encourage mental development in my children, acknowledge their observations. Especially the true ones.
But then, something odd happens.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Sam says. “People get thirsty when it’s hot outside. Joggers get especially thirsty. And, you know, there are a lot of joggers by our house.”
True enough. We live at the mouth of Memory Grove. But what’s he getting at?
Sam: “What did that flat of water cost, Mom? $3.00? 24 bottles for $3.00?”
I nod. It's really $3.50, but why quibble.
Sam: “But when you’re hot, and thirsty, and jogging, what would you pay for water?”
I think I stare at him, though it’s possible that I never open my eyes. Maybe his question was rhetorical? I don’t really want to push it. The couches on the shelf are really comfortable.
He turns to Lily. “We’ve got work to do,” he says. “I’ll pay you the normal rate?"
In hindsight, this should have been a clue.
That afternoon, Lily sets up a shop on the grass—right at the point when three roads converge into a single, inescapable, entryway to Memory Grove. I’m informed that of the three sites they toured, it was the one they thought would net the most profit with the least trouble.
“And I can keep an eye on you because it’s by our house,” I say. She nods, but there’s this look in her eyes, like she’s placating my infantile need to pretend I have control over things. When I push it further and set up a blanket nearby so I can sit with a book and protect her from any creepers, she just ignores me.
Soon enough, she’s used her red wagon to transport to transport the sundries of her operation, and her shop is up and running. She has a blue umbrella, driven into the ground. (It keeps the sun away, and its bright color draws attention, she says.) She has a cooler of iced water. She’s got some insect spray, because even the best real estate sometimes comes with a few mosquitos. And she has a sign. On it: a marker-drawn flower and a price. Water Bottles: $1, it says.
She smiles at joggers that pass.
She waves like a beauty queen. (Well, since she is a beauty queen, I guess I should just say she waves, since the rest is implied.)
She watches as people come close, keeping eye-contact right up until she’s able to call out to them, “I have water for sale!” She uses her cutest, sweetest, most innocent smile. I’m pretty sure there’s at least a little eyelash-batting.
No one but me seems to know it’s a put on.
People are too busy thinking she's cute. Even cuter when she tries to upsell them. “A banana would go really well with that water,” she sas. “Don’t you think? It’s just another dollar.”
They hand her money. Leave her tips. (Tips!)
Eventually Sam—not having calculated the effect tipping might have on the ultimate profit-sharing—comes out, looking for his own share of the tipping. He holds signs and waves—not quite like a beauty queen, but competently. People stop to compliment him about his smile.
They do this two days in a row before the weather turns cold again. In those two days, they work one hour a day.
They net $40.
Or, another way to look at it. They spent $10 on supply (and you bet your bum I made them pay), they took that and grossed 500% better.
IN TWO HOURS.
As soon as the heat returns, they plan to be back out there.
Later on, when they are in their rooms, putting away their money and getting ready for bed, I think about it all. I think about how I thought we were relaxing at Sam’s Club with our eyes closed. But what was really happening was this: supply chain calculation, strategic pricing, strategic real estate setup, market-needs analysis, profit-loss estimation, division of labor, managerial supervision, salesmanship planing, marketing. Some of it was spoken. Some of it had gone on behind the scenes. (They had a pre-arranged salary for goodness sakes.)
And I realize: these babies of mine... they are not cute little lemonade-stand babies. They are not normal little buddies who are content to slosh around some crystal light for $0.05 a paper cup. No.
They are friggin future moguls.
And then, this thought leads me to another realization—a more somber one, in some ways. That is: somewhere, sometime, as I was busy thinking my thoughts about how happy I was that no one pooped on me anymore...
Their quest to take over the world had begun.
I am their mother. And I completely underestimated them.
Cuz otherwise, y’all won’t even see it coming.
Vintage Contemporaries: An Irregular Series
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