Again, from the AOL years (1996 – 1998).
Yesterday was the last day of summer, and what day it was. Here in Virginia, where I live, the sun dappled the trees in golden light, and it was just hot enough to remind you that was still summer, even if only for one more day. Looking down the road, I could see two lemonade stands, children on the standby, ready to sell their last tangy glasses of the season. It was perfect, and I decided to get myself some lemonade.
“Hey there,” I said, to the youngsters, a boy and a girl, sitting behind the stand. “Got any lemonade left?”
“Sure!” said the boy, smiling up at me with an adorable, gap-toothed grin. “I squoze the lemons myself! You want a cup?”
“Absolutely,” I said, and the boy grabbed a Dixie cup, while the girl poured the lemonade. They were so cute you could just die. I was wisked back to my own days as a lemonade proprietor — I felt, now as the customer, I was helping continue a generations-long summer tradition. An American Tradition.
“That’ll be $1.15,” the boy said.
“What?” I said.
“That’ll be $1.15,” the boy repeated.
“Wow,” I said. “$1.15 is kind of steep for a Dixie cup’s worth of lemonade.”
The boy and the girl stopped smiling and looked at me sort of strange. I immediately felt guilty. “You don’t want the lemonade?” the boy asked.
“I didn’t say, that, ” I said. “It’s just that….”
“We’ll have to throw it out,” the little girl piped up, her voice catching just a little bit. “We already poured it for you, mister. We can’t just put it back.” Now they both looked like they were about to cry. It was terrible, an obvious let-down for what was heretofore the most perfect day of the year.
So I figured, what the heck. “All right,” I said. “Done deal.” Their adorable faces immediately perked up again, and I fished in my pocket for the change. I was then presented with another problem.
“I only have 65 cents on me,” I said.
Their puckish faces darkened again, and this time there was suspicion in their eyes. And who could blame them. Two times, a deal had been struck. Both times, at the end of the deal, I backed away, citing previously undisclosed reservations. Clearly, I was an unreliable customer. Clearly, I was messing with their delightful, cowlicked little heads. I felt slimier than a salted banana slug.
The two went into a huddle. After a minute or two of whispers, the boy turned to face me. “All right. We don’t normally do this, but we’ve decided to extend you a line of credit.”
“Great,” I said, reaching for the Dixie cup.
The boy kept his grip on the lemonade. “You just have to answer a few questions,” he said. The little girl, reaching under the lemonade stand, pulled out a clipboard.
“Have you ever defaulted on a loan, or have found yourself involved in bankruptcy proceedings?” She asked, the slightest of lisps in her voice no doubt brought on by the absence of a front tooth.
“Do you rent, or do you own?”
“I rent,” I said. “Hey, all I wanted was some lemonade.”
“And you’ll get some, as soon as we’re satisfied with your credit history,” the boy said. “And you’ll love it! I squoze the lemons myself.”
“That was cuter before you asked if I rent,” I said.
“How much to you pay in rent?” the little girl asked.
“I’m not going to answer that,” I said, putting my foot down. The two looked at each other, and then at me. Once again, I was imposing deal-breaking conditions. “Oka-y-y-y,” the little girl said, in a tone of voice that expressed, in no uncertain terms, who the jerkwad was in this deal. “I’m phoning this in to the credit bureau. It’ll take a couple of minutes.” She left, leaving me and the boy.
“So, selling much lemonade?” I asked.
“Some,” he said. “Well within our sales projections for this month. Lower summer temperatures have depressed the lemonade market in general, and last winter’s citrus freeze meant higher overhead. We’ve had to pass some of the cost on to the consumer.”
“No kidding,” I said.
He shot me a look. “Fortunately, we have some leeway thanks to a subsidy from a regulatory entity.”
“The Department of Agriculture?”
“No, our mom.” The little girl came back. She didn’t look happy.
“You missed a payment on a JC Penny credit card in 1990,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell us about that earlier?”
“What’s the big deal?” I said. “I made a double payment the next month. And anyway, it was over six years ago. You were a gamete in 1990.”
“Well, I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to offer you a line of credit,” she said. “You’re just not an acceptable risk for us.”
“Fine,” I said. “You know what? I’m going to that other lemonade stand. You kids are about to learn a lesson about the free market.” I walked down the street to the other stand. There was a cheerful little tyke there with an appealing smile.
“How much for the lemonade?” I asked.
“It’s just a quarter,” he said.
“Great,” I said. “I’ll take a cup.”
“Oh, you want a cup?” he said. “The cup is $2.50.”