Daddy Makes Only So Much Money
The bus stopped. We got off, and, with anticipation in my heart, the two of us made the short walk into Woolworth's. There the shiny terrazzo tile floor sparkled colors under my black and white saddle shoes, increasing my excitement. Thrilling those gleaming floors were, but their shimmer did not distract me from my primary goal. We walked on. As we drew closer, my resolve was almost diverted by the smell and lure of fresh, crisp hot dogs turning in a rotisserie on the lunch counter. The smell suggested a change in mission.
Temptation slowed my pace slightly. Then, looking up through the stools, I caught the eye of the lady behind the lunch counter. She smiled down at me. Her smile said she knew where I was headed, and what I would find there.
That kept me on mission. But what I was to gain that day was more than she could ever guess.
Resisting the shiny floors and the alluring hot dogs, moments that seemed like days later, I found myself at our ultimate destination. I had finally made it to the toy department. My mother released my hand.
Going to the counter, with my eyes barely over of the level of the lowest shelf, I scanned covetously all the toys there. Horses, cowboys, construction equipment. All in rubber and metal, none in plastic. Some were colorful, while others were drab. Ironically, it was the drab toys that riveted my attention. Olive drab, that is. My eyes were drawn at once to two items: a tank and an army truck with a searchlight on its back bed. With no compelling preference for one or the other, I grabbed both, one in each hand.
My examination of both items, now up close, was tactile and aural as well as visual. The way the tracks looked on the tank, the feeling of the truck tire treads on my fingertips, and the squeaky sound the ersatz searchlight made as it swiveled all combined to develop a confusion rather than a clarity of preference. I had to have them both. Holding one in each hand, I looked up at my mother.
"Choose one," she said.
"I want both," I responded, with just a soupçon of pity thrown in for extra persuasion.
"No. One. You can have the truck or the tank. But you have to pick one."
I detested these arbitrary motherly edicts.
"But I want both," I pleaded again.
"No. Just one."
Now, having been in this situation before, indeed in that very toy aisle, I knew that if I pressed my demand too far, I risked getting neither toy. But I felt compelled by the fun I could have with both. Envisioning the dioramas I could create with the addition of the tank and the searchlight truck to my other pint-size materiel, the anticipation drove me on, sparking me to pose a question I had never posed before.
"But why can't I have both?"
There was a pause. And then I heard an answer I had never heard before.
"Because. Daddy makes only so much money every week, and we have to have enough to spend on food and clothes. We can only spend a little on toys. We only have enough money for one toy."
Daddy makes only so much money every week?
I got it!
In my mind's eye, to this day, I can still see her saying that, blessing me with what became a pivotal moment in my life.
I don't remember which toy I chose that day. I don't remember because the epiphany was so much more consequential than the choice which augmented my ever-expanding living-room-floor military dioramas. Money is limited. Priorities must be made. And today, as I think back on that moment from over a half-century ago, I lament the fact that the people who run our government cannot have that same simple epiphany that I, as a five-year-old boy, experienced that day in the Woolworth toy department.
And that's the moral of this true story told from the perspective of a small child. It's a simple lesson. Yet perhaps it is that very simplicity that ironically causes it to escape the grasp of the people who manage our government -- people who look for complication in simple decisions, almost as if finding it will serve to fulfill a sense of their own self-worth.
My mother is gone. So is my father. Woolworth's is gone, and so are the bright, shiny terrazzo tile floors and the alluring smell of hot dogs. That smiling lady behind the lunch counter is probably gone as well. But not gone is the common sense imparted to me that day. That lives on in all of us; we simply need to embrace it.
Hopefully someday soon, encouraged by the people who support it, government will regain the common sense of the small boy in the Woolworth toy department, who arrived at a prudent decision by ignoring the distraction of shiny objects, by disregarding the lure of things that make us fat, and by listening to the wisdom of common sense. Only then will government be willing to live only on the money each of its "daddies" is able to send it.
Richard Telofski is a competitive strategy and intelligence analyst studying the business effects of non-traditional competition. He blogs about "The Other Side of Business" at http://www.telofski.com/blog.