THIS IS A DRAFT

It'll change. It'll get better. So read it kindly.

It is copyright (c) David Weinberger 2002. Because it's a draft, you don't have permission to quote from it without asking my permission first. But I do encourage you to discuss it on the discussion boards listed on the home page. My email address is [email protected] Let me know what you think.

- David Weinberger

 


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Chapter 12

"That's terrible," I said to Mimi.

"So why'd you do it?" she said in a voice that was angry after crying.

"Do what?"

"Tell your father. Do you know how bad this is?"

"I didn't tell him. Not exactly. Can I come over?"

"It's not a good time. My parents are really really upset."

"Would you meet me outside? Just for a few minutes? I'd really like to talk with you." This was as much for me as for her.

"Fine," she said as if she were biting off the head of a turtle. "Meet me by the gnome." Mimi had a plaster gnome in her yard. For the first few years, I thought it was scary. Then I thought it was cute. Now I thought it was kind of stupid. But this didn't seem the time to bring it up with Mimi.

Mimi lives close enough that there's no point in taking your bike, unless you wanted to make sure that you got there before Mimi changed her mind. As I was hopping off, she was coming out her front door.

"So?" she asked the way someone points a finger at a dog that's just pooped inside.

"So, I did tell my father."

"How could you?"

"But I told him confidentially. He didn't use what I told him. He went out and found other people to talk with."

"What other people?"

I picked up some of the gravel around the gnome and threw it at the big oak tree in the middle of Mimi's yard.

"Don't do that," she said. Her parents didn't like it. Somehow, her criticizing me this way made it feel as if our relationship was getting back on track. Maybe it was because it meant she was willing to be distracted from her real anger at me.

"He wouldn't tell me because those sources were confidential also."

"Well, Mr. Dunn is convinced it was my father who told."

"Why?"

"I'm not sure. My parents are so upset that they're not making a lot of sense. But Mr. Dunn only told a few people that he was thinking of cutting back on the number of workers. My father was one of them."

"We should tell him. My father will tell him."

"It wouldn't matter. My father's already given up."

"Well, that's dumb," I said. Mimi shot me a look as if I'd just said that her father was dumb. "No, not dumb dumb," I explained. "Just, like, well, he should keep trying. I bet my father can get him his job back."

"Your father has done enough. Besides, would he tell Mr. Dunn who told him about the cutback?" I shook my head. "So what good would it do."

We sat and listened to someone mowing the lawn as the sun went down. It sounded like a lion growling far away.

"I don't know what's going to happen," said Mimi finally. "What do you do when your father is out of work and your mother works part time? How do you have enough money to food, and a car, and heating?"

"My dad says you get uninsurance employment."

"Unemployment insurance," Mimi corrected. "But I don't think that lasts very long." We could hear plates being rattled in Mimi's house as they were put away from dinner. "I guess Mom will take that job after all."

"I guess."

I sat next to my friend Mimi, waiting for her to cry. She didn't.

* * *

My Dad was reading a biography of Winston Churchill who was the leader of England during the Second World War and who apparently said many witty things because about every ten minutes, Dad would chuckle and read us something from the book. Apparently, Churchill also had a very strange accent, at least if you heard how he sounded through my father's imitation. My mother was knitting. The clack of her needles were like a fast typist on a keyboard. She is a knitting demon. Maddie was playing a game of solitaire using a deck with pictures of witches, ogres, fairies and the occasional frog wearing a prince's crown. I like when she plays solitaire because then she's not asking me to play.

"Want to play?" Maddie asked me.

"I thought you were playing solitaire."

"I am but there's a way to play two-person."

"Maybe later," I said. By "later" I meant "When the sun is flickering out because it's run out of fuel and the universe has collapsed into a dot the size of your brain. Oh, and when pigs have learned to fly."

I was too busy thinking about what Mimi had asked: "What do you do when your father is out of work and your mother works part time?" I realized now that that was the wrong question. The right one is: "What do you do when your father is out of work and your mother works part time ... and you have a friend who has $100 million in the bank?"

* * *

I was supposed to hang out with Ari on Saturday, but I called him and said that I needed to spend some quality time with Mimi. He's a good enough friend that he didn't act all hurt and make me feel bad about. "Do you want me to come with you?" he asked?

"No, I think it'll be better if it's just me," I said. I'm not sure why, but that's how it felt to me.

It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday. There weren't any flowers yet, but you could smell the earth getting ready. I walked through out small front yard and saw the two weekly local papers lying next to one another. I took them back to our porch and sat on the swing. The headline in the Gaz was "Dunn Industries Reportedly to Lay Off Dozens." There was a picture of Mr. Dunn denying the report, looking rather splendid in his suit and perfect hair. The other headlines reported on a drop in the testing scores at the high school, a local author whose book won an award, and a controversy over one of the gas stations whose gasoline fumes were disturbing the neighbors.

The Boynton County Register, Mr. Dunn's paper, had a very different set of headlines:

"Mama Mia, That's a Pizza!": A local pizza parlor makes a very big pizza

"Look Out Dragons, the Knights Are On The Way!": The high school swim team is going to take on another school's team.

"How Much Are Those Doggies in the Window?": A new pet store has opened and has some cute puppies for sale.

"Little Orphan Frannie Stars!": The local theater group is putting on "Little Orphan Annie" starring Frannie Moss. I go to school with Frannie and hate her.

"Eat Your Way to Slim!": A diet clinic in town is having a sale.

"Up on the Roof!": Mr. Emmet Birdsall was cleaning his roof's gutters when the Register's photographer happened by.

If I had to explain my problem with the Register in a sentence, it'd be: Too many exclamation points, not enough news. I couldn't read the Register without being proud of my father. The Gaz was so much better. I put both newspapers on the porch and walked to Mimi's house.

When Mimi answered my knock on the door, she did the opposite of inviting me. She stepped outside, even though she didn't have shoes on, and made it clear that she didn't want me going in. Through the kitchen window I could see her father in a bathrobe. He didn't look happy and I guessed that seeing the son of the editor who got him fired wouldn't have made him any happier. Seeing her father made me especially appreciate Mimi's willingness to hang out with me.

"How's it going?" I asked, stupidly.

"You know. The same," Mimi answered.

"I was wondering if you wanted to sell choco-bricks."

"I dunno. Yeah, maybe."

"Choco-bricks" were fake bricks made of chocolate that we were supposed to be selling to raise money for the school extension program. The middle school that we were in was getting too small - or, the student body was getting too big, to put it better ... or "Kids Are Bustin' Out!" as the Register might put it - so there was a drive on to raise money. We righth graders were supposed to be out selling crummy, over-priced chocolate. I wondered how much the company that made the choco-bricks and the donation cards and all the rest of it made out of us poor student slaves who were supposed to be happy spending our Saturday selling candy that no one wants just so we can earn our little flashlight or tinny radio, depending on how far up the "Choco-Brick Super Sales Pyramid" we went.

But it beat moping.

So, Mimi went into her house and got her Choco-Brick-o-Kit and walked to my house where I grabbed mine, and we headed over to the U-Buy-It parking lot thinking that people spending money on household renovations would probably feel guilty about turning down two cute kids like me and Mimi. Well, Mimi's cute. I'm handsome in a rugged way. At least I am in my dreams. I should probably be happy if someone even agreed that I'm cute, I mean besides my parents, uncles, aunts, and other people made blind by love.

Did you ever lean against the oven in your kitchen and after a few seconds realize that your pants are about to catch on fire? That's what the parking lot at the U-Buy-It lot was like. People wheeled their carts through it as if their shoes were about to burst into flame. And they were big carts, designed to fit wall panels, beams big enough to hold up an entire living room, and even a fireplace that looked real on the outside but on the inside seemed to be made of the same plastic as Maddie's backyard slide. And it turns out that people who have just bought wall panels, living room beams, and fake fireplaces are too focused on getting home and getting to work to buy lousy candy from two extremely cute eighth graders.

We tried every trick in the book:

The Standard Approach: We'd go up to a stranger and say in a cheerful voice, "Hi! We're selling bricks of chocolate to help raise money for real bricks so we can build a new classrooms for our school. They're only $5 and ..." That's about as far as we got with most people. Either they said "No, thanks" and turned away or - once -- they started fumbling for their wallet.

The Pity Approach: We'd look at the ground and shuffle our feet while trying to catch the eye of a shopper. "We're having a lot of trouble raising money for our school. We really need some new rooms because there just isn't enough room..." Mimi was better at this than me, maybe because when I try to act sad it comes out as being angry.

The Entertainment Approach: Mimi would say, "We're selling bricks..." and I would pretend to interrupt with "But they're not real bricks..." and then she would say, "You can eat these bricks..." and I'd say, "Eat bricks? How can that be, Mimi." And she'd say, "These are chocolate bricks! Deee-licious!" And I'd say, "I bet it's for a good cause." And she'd say, "And how..." and that's about when the shopper would turn away like changing the dial during an obnoxious TV commercial.

The Honest Approach: We walk up quickly to a shopper. Mimi stands on the left and I stand on the right so they have no way to escape except by backing up which is hard to do if you have a cart filled with wall panels and fake fireplaces. "We're raising money for our school," Mimi would say. "We're selling these blocks of chocolate," I'd say. "They taste bad and they're over-priced, but it's for a really good cause." That was our most effective technique. With it, we sold close to five choco-bricks in an hour, if you count three as being close to four.

Mimi and I sat on the curb which was only almost as hot as the pavement. We counted our receipts. One two three. Then we double checked. One two three. We added up the money we had made. Fifteen dollars.

"You know," I said, "this is ridiculous."

"You mean trying to sell chocolate bricks to people who are buying ant poison for their house?"

"You know what I mean. I figured out how much interest I make an hour."

"You mean like the interest I make every year on my bank account?"

"Yeah. What do you make in a year?"

"Last year I made about four dollars."

"I make $273,000."

"Wow! You get that in a year for doing nothing?"

"No, sorry, Mimi. That's how much interest I make every day."

"A day??" She was practically shouting.

"Yup."

"That's $10,000 an hour!"

"Actually, it's a little over $11,000 an hour."

"Oh my gosh, Jake. You're rich!"

"Weird, isn't it? And could you keep it down a little?" A couple carrying bags full of electrical parts had turned to look, probably thinking I'd found a quarter cents on the ground or something. "I am seriously rich," I said to Mimi.

"So, what are we doing standing here selling stupid choco-bricks to people who don't want them?"

"Having fun?"

"You wish," she said. "How much do you think the entire school earns from selling stupid choco-bricks?" Mimi had grown to think of "stupid choco-bricks" as one word.

"I think we made $2,000 or so last year. And that was a good year."

"Jake, that's a fifth of an hour of interest for you. Twelve minutes of standing around. You earned 8 times that by doing nothing in the two hours we've been out here making fools of ourselves."

"And most of that $2,000 goes to the choco-brick company, I'm sure."

Mimi flipped the brim of her hat up. "I am now out of the choco-brick business for good." She looked at me. "Depending, of course, on how generous you're feeling."

"Well, sure. How many choco-bricks do you want to have sold?"

"A hundred?"

"No one will believe a hundred."

"Ok, fifty."

"That'd make you the class leader."

"I'm ok with that."

"It worries me a little. How about 45?"

"Ok. And how many are you going to sell yourself?"

"I'm not greedy. How about 35?"

"Make it 38. I don't want to beat you by that much."

"How about if I sell 46?"

"Just to beat me?"

"Yeah. Just to beat you."

"Lunkhead." She swatted me with her book bag. It being Saturday, it didn't weigh much. But it was the thought that counted.

"Ok," I said, "I'll keep it to 38."

"What do we do with the chocolate?" Mimi asked?

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you're about to buy 43 bars from me to get me up to 45. What do I do with 44 bars of chocolate?"

"First, we eat one." I took two from my box and handed one to Mimi. We unwrapped the bars halfway and held them carefully. The chocolate began to drip in the sun. We ate quickly. They were bad. And for this we were overcharging people?

I held up my half-finished bar. "I am done. I'm more than done. I'm overdone."

Mimi held hers upside down and watched the gooey chocolate run onto the edge of the parking lot. "Yuch. For this we're overcharging people?" (Mimi had the habit of saying what I was thinking.)

We stood up with the boxes of bars under our arms. As we got on our bikes, we saw a familiar kid bicycling up.

"Hey," said Ari, "How's the fishing here? Sold many?"

"I sold 45," said Mimi.

"I sold 38," I said.

"Wow!" said Ari. "This must be the best spot in the entire town!"

"Yeah," I said, "But you have to have the right technique."

"Yeah," said Mimi. "We had no luck until we talked in a French accent," she explained, demonstrating her technique. Mimi's French accent sounded like a cartoon mouse at best.

"Zat's right," I said in my own unique French. "Ze custom-airs zeem to lahk it bettah if zey t'ink you har an exchange student."

"Wow!" said Ari again. "Thanks!"

I was all for watching him try it once but Mimi didn't have the heart and told him the truth. Ari sold 39 boxes that afternoon, and it only took him about fifteen seconds.


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