Something Really Old III: Cute Adorable Extortionists

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.”

33 Comments on “Something Really Old III: Cute Adorable Extortionists”

  1. Lemonade on my block this summer was just a penny. Bought gallons of the stuff for just a couple dollars and now it to those same kids when they are over to play with my kids.

  2. scorpius: makes the fight against entrenched, fat-cat public union employees even more relevant.

    Oh gawd.

  3. Man, nice thread s#!++ing there, Scorp. I give it 6/10, because you managed to drag unions into it. I’ll up it to 7 if you get a bite in the first 30 comments. Good jorb, though. Good jorb, indeed.

  4. Somehow I misread this headline as “contortionists” and thought “Well, this ought to be entertaining!” It was, but not for the reason I expected.

  5. Phil, when I saw the original headline, I thought it was a “kitten” thing. You ever see a bunch of kittens at feeding time? They’re worse than the kids and the unions combined. ;)

  6. Scorpius’ link is about a real life example of a scenario that echoes some of the dialog of John’s story. I wouldn’t describe that as hijacking. The union bit isn’t really relevant though.

  7. The union bit isn’t really relevant though.

    It’s always relevant to bring in fat-cat unionized public employees!

    I’m only semi-serious.

    Having fun, but unionizing public employees is a real and present danger to the Republic.

  8. Extorttens!

    Everyone’s missing the most damning detail. At some point John opened a retail credit card, so clearly he love’s being extorted!

    @ Scorpius:
    That’s a sour story :D
    *opens umbrella*
    Just because they’re kids they shouldn’t get a free pass…or charities. But don’t worry, Frisco got better.

  9. @ scorpius

    It’s always relevant to bring in fat-cat unionized public employees!

    In context, which is wasn’t.

  10. scorpius said”
    “but unionizing public employees is a real and present danger to the Republic.”

    How is a capitalist thing like unions a threat the Nation?

    Unions are a purely capitalist organization. They do not exist outside of Capitalist countries. They were created so that employees could do what their employers were doing. Get together and hire a lawyer and other professionals to represent them. So what is your problem with that sort of capitalism?

  11. Hey folks, the new episode of Human Division — Tales From the Clarke — have started showing up in the bookstores (just done reading it myself), so what are you doing here behaving as if this where some kind of news site comment field?

  12. unionizing public employees is a real and present danger to the Republic

    Indeed. Back in the 1980s, people working for the Polish government decided to form their own union (with support from such infamous liberals as President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II), and look what happened to the Polish government after that.

  13. Scorpius: but unionizing public employees is a real and present danger to the Republic.

    Two comment turds in as many posts.

  14. Actually there were other unions in Poland before Solidarity. It just happened to be the first one not controlled by the Communist Party.

    But I’d be interested in knowing how many Communist controlled unions went on strike for better benefits and job security…the only one that comes to mind is Hungary in 1956…

    Anyhow, nice to see some of the archives being reposted, I remeber reading some when they first came out, still good reading.

  15. “unionizing public employees is a real and present danger to the Republic”

    I disagree. *Ionizing* public employees is the real and present danger. Employees that are converted to expanding balls of plasma, or dissolved in electrolyte solutions, are completely unable to carry out their jobs. And, in the case of the ones converted to plasma, they are a serious burn hazard to any bystanders.

    I firmly believe that all employees . . . no, all *people*, as well as kittens, turtles, puppies, and all animals, vegetables, and minerals that we value . . *must* be kept unionized if we expect to continue to exist as a nation. Or, indeed, as a planet.

  16. Doc RocketScience, I agree, which is why I didn’t respond directly – not wanting to go off track. So, let’s all raise our glasses of lemonade and say “cheers”, or whatever your favorite toast is.

  17. Back to cute extortionists…I am in the middle of Girl Scout cookie season and my own in house sales leader will not extend credit to her own family. Cash or check and she really doesn’t like checks. What have we taught these capitalists????

  18. Unionized kitty extortionists? Our neighborhood freerange kitteh, Smartypants, has started bringing by members of his posse at breakfast. Instead of just 1 stray, we can have 3 or 4, all hanging out in back and demanding kibble.

  19. @ Doc RocketScience



    I will face my scorpius. I will permit it to pass over me a through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the scorpius has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

    @ Ethelred Hardrede [re: scorpius]

    How is a capitalist thing like unions a threat the Nation?

    Workers unions rely on collective bargaining power. If a worker takes a job for less than what the union or its members deem fair pay, it undercuts the ability of the union to negotiate. Unions call such workers scabs, presumably because they scab over the open wound in the body corporate. There are consequently two issues in unionizing.

    There is the issue of a right to unionize which employers can effectively remove by the simple expedient of firing any workers (or even whole shops) that try to form a union. This is a lot easier for businesses that can afford to shut shops (Wal-Mart is notorious for it and the NFL lockouts are a rather less sympathetic example) than it is for a smaller business that can’t afford to close doors.

    The second issue is the right to work without paying union dues, hence “right to work” states where the law guarantees no one can prevent a worker from taking an offered job – and also, in some “right to work” states, that an employer may lay off any employee without cause as long as (after a certain period of employment) they pay federal unemployment on the terminated worker. Organized labor advocates argue that this is a false choice in that, if “scabs” take a job for less than what the union says is fair pay, it undercuts the negotiating leverage of the union…that the “right to work” is really a right to work for less.

    Unions existed long before some states regulated certain industries as “union-only” shops. In the early half of the 20th Century, this usually played out one of three ways.

    Some union leadership, such as the Teamsters (America’s largest truckers union) tried to forcibly blockade and sometimes threaten scabs or their families. Employers argued that the unions were getting between them and willing workers, and convinced the police in many cities to “break” union lines by force. This was somewhat exacerbated by the fact that the mafia inveigled some of these unions to get a foot in the door of industries they could then use as fronts for their rackets. Jimmy Hoffa somewhat famously “disappeared” after he tried to wrest control of the Teamsters back from what some regarded as puppets for the mob, hence the rather dark joke I’ll bet he knows where Jimmy Hoffa’s buried.

    Some union leadership, such as the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, the predecessor to the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (America’s largest textiles union) used solidarity instead of coercion, and convinced workers to stand together against gross exploitation. They favored support over threats and, when possible, even provided some financial subsistence to striking workers and their families so they didn’t starve (a common union service today), sometimes with the help of wealthy socialites. Tellingly, employers still convinced the police (and hired local thugs) to violently assault demonstrators in an attempt to drive them back to work, treating them like slaves and putting the lie to the fiction that the authorities only break unions to protect willing agreements to work.

    In some cases, unions formed to combat what were known as Company Towns (which still exist in other countries, and are widespread in China), where companies took control of virtually all business by paying their workers largely in vouchers instead of fungible money, with the hollow promise that they were getting discounts. Without the ability to exchange vouchers for cash, the “discounts” were meaningless in that it removed workers abilities to take their business to competitors. Moreover, workers were often paid so little, and lacked financial planning skills nominally learned in high school many of them dropped out before reaching in order to help support the family, that they ended up going into debt to the Company to support their families when they had children of their own, perpetuating a cycle of indentured servitude that was almost impossible to break out of – there’s a reason China’s government doesn’t allow unions.

    Some unions grow so powerful that their leaderships become highly political environments in their own right. This can lead to the same sort of empty promises and political back-scratching for which professional politicos have become so infamous. Some unions are the only thing standing between workers and their exploitation by industries that use regulatory lobbying to pull the ladder up after themselves and lock out competition. For example, the most famous Company Towns were the British and later West Virginian coal mining consortiums, which would not have been possible without governments granting local monopolies over natural resources in return for a share of the profits. Some unions are both exploitative and empowering, corrupt and the only voice of labor.

    As with so many things, it’s never as simply as a few talking points and the reality is not all black and white.

    Scorpius’s comment that public employee unions are a threat to the Republic is predicated on the belief that unions have so effectively benefited public workers that they’ve become more costly than the benefits they provide, and that national deficit creep is a direct consequence of that. That too is not so simple, but my lunch break is only so long. It will have to suffice to say that union membership has been steadily declining for forty years at least in part because of the regulatory protections those same unions won for their members and other workers, which has raised the mean standard of living for America’s workforce.

    Scorpius’s conflation of public union largess with the bureaucratic misregulation of the food service industry is at best confused and at worst an out-of-context comment. Much of that misregulation results not from labor unions, but from bureaucrats and industry lobbyists having a vested interest in raising the costs of entry into the marketplace. Yes, job creators are not above screwing over other job creators.

  20. Whoa guys (Scorpius, Gulliver, Tim, Todd, Seth et al) – total derailment here. That’s enough union talk. Any more posts on that subject will get the mallet.

  21. @ Kate Baker:

    Understood. I realize it’s even tangentially related only by the most generous of interpretations. In light of that, I won’t take it personally if you want to Mallet my previous comment.

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