I parked around the corner from a local borough hall a couple of weeks ago and hurried in on some urgent business.
On my more leisurely way back to my car, I noticed that a couple of children, maybe 8 or 9 years old, had set up a lemonade stand at the end of their driveway. It was hot and I was thirsty.
"Hello, gentlemen," I greeted them. "How much for a glass?"
"Quite a deal. Say, why are you doing this?
"So we can buy pool passes for the summer."
Unfortunately, that's just the kind of selfish motivation you can expect from entrepreneurial sorts, even the very young.
Perhaps I, as an experienced (though not necessarily successful) parent and taxpayer, could coach them toward a more becoming and patriotic humility.
"I'll take a cup," I said. I handed them 50 cents and told them the extra quarter was for an imaginary cup for my imaginary friend.
I wanted them to get the message that my giving them money for nothing was more virtuous and honorable than my giving them money in exchange for something I wanted and needed. Charity, you see, is better than commerce.
But they just chirped "thanks" and dropped the money in a little can. My silent sermon didn't seem to have gotten through. I found sudden inspiration from the signs in neighboring yards.
"Shouldn't you be doing this to raise money for others, like your public radio station or Darfur?"
They looked a bit confused. "But we need pool passes. And we did all the work."
Since they couldn't possibly have driven themselves to the store to buy supplies, they obviously lacked a sense of gratitude for everything others had done to make their little enterprise possible. I could fix that.
"Where did you get the lemonade?"
"So then you're not really earning those pool passes, are you? She made it possible."
"Well, we mixed it up from the frozen cans ourselves, and we have to pay her back for them when we're done." Darn it -- motherly moxie.
"Where did you get the table and chairs?"
"Ummmm, they're from the basement ... but we made the sign!"
"Did you get the cardboard and magic marker from your mom, too?"
The older boy was starting to look a little peevish.
"Admit it, guys -- you didn't build this business. You're freeloading off your mom. And the government. If it weren't for the government that built the roads and bridges she drove on to get to the store, you couldn't sell lemonade."
"And if it weren't for those roads and bridges, the grocery chain couldn't have spent millions of dollars getting construction supplies there to build that store."
I was on a roll. "If it weren't for the government's roads and bridges, the grocers couldn't spend millions stocking the store. If not for the government's roads and bridges, the employees couldn't get there to sell the lemonade to your mom and I couldn't get here to buy it from you."
"If this is frozen lemonade, at $3 a can, you won't make a profit charging only 25 cents a cup. And who gave you the cups?"
"Do you kids even have a permit to run this business on a residential street? The borough building is right around the corner and I --"
Right then the older boy threw a cup of lemonade in my face. It stung my eyes so much I couldn't talk for a moment.
"You're right, lady -- we need to raise our prices to be able to pay our supplier and still make enough to go swimming this summer. So our lemonade is now 50 cents a cup. But that one was on the house!"
Ruth Ann Dailey: firstname.lastname@example.org.