Choose a size for the type: Large Medium Small
“That’s terrible,” I said to Mimi.
“So why’d you do it?” she said in a voice that was angry after crying.
“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.” I felt like this was more for me than for her.
“Fine,” she said. “Meet me by the gnome.” For the first few years I’d thought the plaster gnome in her yard was scary. Then I thought it was cute. Now I thought it was ridiculous. But this didn’t seem the time to bring it up with Mimi.
I raced there on my bike. 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 been bad.
“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, I was reassured by her criticizing me this way.
“He wouldn’t tell me because those sources were confidential also.”
“Well, Mr. Dunn is convinced it was my father who told.”
“I don’t know. My parents are so upset that they’re not making a lot of sense. Mr. Dunn only told a few people. My father was one of them.”
“We should tell Mr. Dunn it didn’t come from your father. My father will tell him.”
“It wouldn’t matter. Dad’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.”
“Would he tell Mr. Dunn who his source was?” I shook my head. “So what good would it do?”
Someone was mowing a lawn as the sun went down.
“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 for 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 sat next to my friend Mimi, waiting for her to cry. She didn’t.
* * *
My dad was reading a biography of Winston Churchill, the British wartime leader who said so many witty things that every ten minutes Dad would chuckle and read us something from the book. Apparently, Churchill also had a terrible British accent. My mother was knitting. The clack of her needles was like the sound of a fast typist. She is a knitting demon. “That’s how I got through grad school courses,” she liked to say. 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 it 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.”
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 it. “Do you want me to come with you?” he asked.
“No, I think it’ll be better if it’s just me,” I said.
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 stacked next to one another on a chair on our porch. I took them to the swing. The headline in The Gaz was “Dunn Industries Denies Report It Is 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!”
“Look Out Dragons, the Knights Are On The Way!”
“How Much Are Those Doggies in the Window?”
“Little Orphan Frannie Stars!”:
“Eat Your Way to Slim!”:
“Up on the Roof!”:
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 becoming more 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 in. 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 small fake bricks made of chocolate that we were supposed to be selling to raise money for the school extension program. Our middle school was getting too small – or, “Kids Are Bustin’ Out!” as The Register might put it – so we were sent out to raise money. I wondered how much the company that made the crummy 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 compass, 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, biked to my house where I grabbed mine, and we headed over to the U-Do-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. (Yeah, right.)
Did you ever want to be invisible? Then come to the parking lot at the U-Do-It lot with a bunch of Choco-bricks to sell. People wheeled their carts through the lot 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 a living room, and even an entire fireplace that looked real on the outside but on the inside was 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 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 new classrooms for our school. They’re only $5 and …” That’s about as far as we got with most people.
The Pity Approach: We 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. 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 says, “We’re selling bricks…” and I pretend to interrupt with “But they’re not real bricks…” and then she says, “You can eat these bricks…” and I say, “Eat bricks? How can that be, Mimi.” And she says, “These are chocolate bricks, Jake! Deee-licious!” And I say, “I bet it’s for a good cause.” And she says, “And how…” and that’s about when the shopper would turn away like a person changing the dial on an obnoxious TV show.
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 says. “We’re selling these blocks of chocolate,” I 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 four choco-bricks in an hour, if you count two as being close to four.
Mimi and I sat on the curb and counted our receipts. One two. Then we double checked. One two. We added up the money we had made. Ten 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.”
“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 $16,438.”
“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.
“That’s $600 an hour!”
“Actually, it’s almost $700 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. I’m sure they thought I’d found fifty 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?”
“You wish,” she said. “How much do you think the entire school earns from selling stupid Choco-bricks?” We’d grown to think of “stupid Choco-bricks” as one word.
“I think we made $1,500 or so last year. And that was a good year.”
“Jake, you make that in two hours doing nothing. Why have we been standing out here making fools of ourselves?”
“And most of that $1,500 goes to the Choco-brick company, I’m sure.” I said. “We’d be better off just giving it straight to the school.”
Mimi flipped the brim of her hat up. “I am now out of the stupid Choco-brick business for good.” She looked at me. “Depending, of course, on how generous you’re feeling.”
“How many Choco-bricks do you want to have sold?”
“No one will believe a hundred.”
“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.”
“What do we do with the chocolate?” Mimi asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re about to buy 44 bars from me. 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 was limp from having sat 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 boy 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.
“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 exchahnge ‘tudent.”
“Wow!” said Ari again. “Thanks!”
I was all for watching him try it 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. With no French accent.