By Jim Hagarty
I had just stepped up to the automatic banking machine at a grocery store on a frazzled Friday afternoon when I noticed – couldn’t help but notice – the sorrowful young face of a boy who could have stepped out of a Dickens’ novel, plaintively holding a box of chocolate-covered almonds up to me and asking me, in these words, I thought,
“Waddatheyfor?” I barked at him, annoyed at having been, once again, ambushed. Why do business places allow these youthful pedlars to lurk around their doorways, hassling innocent customers?
“My bowling team, suh,” the boy replied. “So we can have an awards party.”
Now I was doubly offended. My hard-earned money was to be used, not to solve hunger, fix the environment, or end family violence, but to provide a bunch of kids with a bowling banquet. The problem was instantly clear to me: if the bowlers and their families could not afford an awards night, they shouldn’t have one. And yet, they thought they should and they believed that someone else should pay for it.
“How much?” I snapped at the boy.
“Three dollars,” he replied. Behind him, a nervous-looking man, probably his dad, was shuffling from one foot to another, trying to ignore the rough reception his boy was getting.
Three dollars seemed like a lot of money to spend for a couple dozen chocolate bits just to ensure a successful bowling banquet, but guilt is often a more powerful motivator than anger and out came my three dollars. As I continued my automatic banking, now punching at the keys with more intensity than usual, I could hear the adult supervisor of the chocolate-almonds heist urging an obviously reluctant boy to confront all new customers about the plight of the youthful bowlers.
“Go on!” the man would urge. “Get up there and ask that guy. Go!”
Between feeling sorry for the boy and angry at the dad and upset at myself for having said yes when I wanted to say no, I was quite a mess when I left the store. As I did, the boy approached me again, having failed to recognize me, and I decided to add guilt to my sackcloth of emotions by sniping at him, “Forget it. You already got me!”
Why am I talking like this to a 10-year-old boy I don’t even know, I wondered, as I headed to my car. Still, righteous indignation isn’t worth much if you can’t make the most of the adrenaline high it serves up by grousing about the unfairness of it all for a hot half hour or so. There was enough injustice there to fuel a whole evening of discontent. Store letting solicitors roam free. Dad coercing son to sell to strangers. Bowlers demanding money for banquets. Chocolate companies making money off kids.
The next day, my four-year-old son and his mom arrived home from his hockey practice.
“Whatcha got there?” I asked my boy, as he bounded in the front door.
“A box of chocolate bars for my hockey team,” he replied. “Can we go to the neighbours to try to sell them, Daddy?”
Fate has a nasty sense of humour. I thought about that as I made up a sign, “For my son’s hockey team. Two dollars. Thanks,” and put it beside a stack of chocolate bars in a window sill at work. Though I haven’t yet summoned up the courage to go door to door, I can see it’s coming, if only because my son is so insistent.
I have acquired a newfound admiration for the boy by the banking machine, if not for his dad. How hard it is to go up to people, chocolate item in hand, and to ask them for their money. My guess is, he has done better with his almonds than I have with my bars.
So far, I have sold two, and bought four.
But my son is so keen, maybe we could go stand by the banking machine. And I could get him to go up to strangers.
Or maybe I’ll be eating chocolate till hockey season’s over.
It does go good with crow.