Friday, September 17, 2010

Lagoon (part 4 of 4)

THE FINALE!!!! Make sure you've read parts #1, #2, and #3 first! So, you will probably think differently of me once this is over... Remember, I did get my Bachelor's and Masters degree in Finance... This might explain that. Thanks for taking the time to read. If you enjoyed this, please spread the word. And now..... part #4.

-------------------------------------------- (this is an actual photo of me and my siblings weeding)

I looked down into my adolescent palm and saw a shiny 1979 quarter staring back at me. A quarter! In that exact moment, Newton and his gravity-defining apple had nothing on me. It was more than a lightbulb. The sky parted and inspiration poured down on me in the form of quarters.

A quarter! The granddaddy of all coins. Half a churro. One-quarter of a cotton candy.

Growing up in a family with eleven children, we were never given allowance for our weekly chores. While our friends were paid for good grades, my straight-A report cards earned me a hug and a pat on the back. If we wanted to earn actual money, we had to apply for extra jobs -- above and beyond the normal call of familial duty. Weeding was always a reliable source of income. But, my parents didn’t just throw money at us. If we filled up a old 5-quart ice cream bucket with weeds, we earned a quarter. I would work my little fingers to the bone for the better part of an hour to get my bucket full, fluffing up those weeds to get to the top rim sooner. I’d take my trophy of accomplishment to my dad and hold out my hand for my quarter.

“Just a second,” he would say. And then, before I knew it, the bucket was on the ground, my weeds suddenly greeting the bottom of his size-11 shoe. Instantly he had turned my almost-overflowing bucket of profits into a less than 1/2 full bucket of shame.

“Keep going”, he’d say as he handed me both my squished dreams and weeds. “Remember to get the roots.”

I’d trudge back to the garden, kneel down, push up my velveteen sleeves with a heavy heart and start all over, wondering why I thought maybe this time I could have pulled off the fluff job.

A quarter equaled over an hour of back-breaking weeding, and here it was, sitting in my hands and all I had done to get it was ask. That first quarter was born of innocence. But, in the few seconds it took me to return to Viki and explain that Mom was not coming unless we called again, I had formulated an entire business plan, replete with provisos, exceptions, and rules. A Rockefeller was born.

It only took the promise of all the churros we could eat (she was feeling much better) to get her to go along with my plan. I would continue to ask various people for quarters, explaining how Viki had been sick and we needed to call our mom. Effortless. How quickly I rid my mind of the shame of begging. The thought of more quarters was simply that powerful.

The first step was to locate the perfect victims. We targeted middle-aged mothers who were not weighed down with little children taxing their patience. We didn’t want the distractions. Older couples were also acceptable, especially those dressed in polyester and grandparenthood.

Step two was the approach. While Viki writhed in apparent pain in the near background, I would advance. I had to time it to appear frantic and panicked.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” I’d begin and then point over to my sickly sibling. “My little sister just threw up. I was wondering if you had a quarter so I could call my mom.” Within seconds, I had a quarter and was off to the nearest phone booth. Of course, I never actually made it to the phone booth. I’d wait for my target to pass on, and circle back to Viki, the banker.

Within half an hour, we were skipping down the road to affluence. But, apparently Viki wanted to sprint. She suggested we split up and double our money. Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that sooner? In no time, our pockets were anchored with those silver gods of the coin world. In less than an hour, without pulling up so much as a single root, we had amassed over five dollars. But greediness is not easily satisfied, and we found ourselves wanting more and more. And that is how we brushed noses with disaster.

I had spotted them next to the carousel. Their faces painted with that smile that only comes from watching a grandchild. The carousel was just starting up its circular ride into fantasyland. I squared my shoulders and began the approach.

“Excuse me,” I began. But that is as far as I got. At that exact moment Viki’s frantic waving caught my attention and my words were tackled to the ground. Something was terribly wrong. I stood there frozen while my benefactors looked quizzically at my behavior. Time took a turn for the worse as I concentrated on the words Viki was mouthing in slow motion. With jarring fright, I realized what she was shouting.


Panic. Guilt. Shame. We’d been found. Everyone in the park knew our crimes. Lagoon security was on its way to lock us up in a cell behind the haunted house. My parents were already being informed. I could see them wringing their hands in front of the judge crying, “Where did we go wrong?”

And then, I realized they hadn’t seen Viki. They were still looking expectantly at me. The whole interchange had lasted less than ten seconds. Life was handing me a second chance. Would I turn over a new leaf and repent?

“Sorry,” I said, and turned around searching for any crack in the pavement big enough to swallow me whole.

Just like that, we decided we had enough money. Funny how things like that happen. One minute you can’t get enough, and the next you are weighed down with quarters clinking, “guilty, guilty” with each step.

We went to the nearest food booth, got a table and counted our profits. Six whole dollars. The entire plastic lettered menu was ours to consume! What would it be. Pizza? Ice cream? More churros? Why not all of the above! Viki’s stomach was long past queazy. Within seconds our six dollars became a mound of deliciousness.

We were casually eating our winnings, enjoying the fruit of our labors, when I looked up and spotted them. Tom and Emily! They were headed our way. What could we do? They’d already seen us. My first reaction was to devour the churro in my hand and I started pushing it in my mouth faster than I could chew. But it was no use. There was too much cinnamon-sugary goodness.

“Hey! Where’d that come from?”

“How did you get that?”

“Gimme some!”

Siblings. Allies or enemies? Both. We confessed to our crimes while we shared our loot, what was left of it. Surprisingly, they were both jealous and stunned. Mainly jealous of our ingenuity. We sat there sharing some of our funnier encounters and experiences of the past few hours. Laughing till our stomachs started to hurt. Or maybe it was from the cotton candy.

For the next few years, the four of us had a semi-lucrative, very hush-hush side business to pay for our sugar habit: panhandling.


Lisa Andrews said...

This story was so fun to read!

Diana said...

JEnnie! did you EVER tell your parents?! :)

Anny said...

O.k. that was hilarious! And so well-written . . . Thanks for the Saturday morning entertaintment, Jennie.

Anny said...

That was hilarious -- and so well written! Thanks for the Saturday morning entertainment, Jennie!

VikiViki said... may have to write the follow up story which explains the next few 'begging excursions' you and I had in B.A....and maybe the eventual confession to mom and dad along with mom's shame and dad's laughter! Good job writing that up! =)

eXtremehost said...

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Jennifer said...

Awesome. You are so smart, little missy, and gutsy. I too would do almost anything for sugar, but I never thought of just asking strangers.

ducklips said...

That story was hilarious! You're right, I will never see you in the same light again. Now I know why it was so easy for you to talk to strangers in Ljub. ;)

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