Sunday, April 18, 2004

My Capitalist Childhood

When I was in elementary school, my entrepreneurial spirit bubbled over. My first job was a freelance gig: writing love letters on behalf of the boys in my fourth grade class. They all had crushes on the new girl but didn't know what to say to her. I filled that need with my Cyrano sideline: only a quarter for a custom written stream of flowery compliments. Unfortunately for them, she never fell for any of the boys. Then again, she never seemed to notice that all the notes she got were in the same handwriting, so they were probably better off without her.

I moved back to Houston for fifth grade and promptly went into business again. Now everyone knows that grade school kids are always asking each other for pencils. But why lend when you can sell? In the hall outside our classroom door sat a pencil vending machine; two unsharpened ones went for 35 cents. I made an small initial investment of piggy bank change, sharpened a couple dozen pencils, put them in a bag in my desk, and then sold them to my whispering classmates for a quarter apiece. This seemed like a fair return for my capital and labor. No one complained. I offered them a choice of several different designs (dispensed at random from the machine). Everyone wins, nobody has to leave the room due to lack of a writing implement, and I make a tidy profit.

Of course, such endeavors are always crushed by the cruel hand of the regulator (in this case, my nasty-tempered teacher). I was sent to the principal's office and my mother was called. Something about exploitation and lack of proper license. The pencil machine in the hall regained its monopoly position and my zeal for starting small businesses was destroyed. Alas.
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