First, a little background.
I discovered the joy of money when I was little, and my parents gave me and my older sister, Megan, an allowance. Like a dollar a week—nothing major, but enough for candy, or soda, or the occasional slice of pizza when Megan would take me downtown.
In return, we were expected to do one thing: stay alive.
But then, when we started getting a little bit older, my parents—especially my mom—expected more for their money. It was small stuff, for sure: Brush my teeth for a full minute, put my clothes away (by balling them up and stuffing them in a drawer, but Mom didn’t have to know that), feed the dogs—that kind of thing.
Megan—whose only imperfection was that she was perfect—handled the new responsibilities without complaining at all.
I, on the other hand, wanted a raise. I think I was about seven years old when I finally got brave enough to bring it up.
“Mom,” I said one day while pretending to fold a pair of socks, “can we start getting five dollars a week? Look at all this stuff we’re doing now.”
She looked at me. “What are you going to do with five dollars a week?”
“There’s lots of things I could do with five dollars,” I said. “Like take you and Dad out to dinner, for example. I would totally do that.”
Pretty quick thinking for seven, huh?
Mom laughed, then took the socks from my hand and opened the drawer to put them in.
“Wait!” I shouted, but it was too late. She stared down in horror at the war zone of wrinkled clothes.
“Be glad I don’t fire you,” she said.
Fast-forward about five years, to middle school, which is the age when you first realize it’s not fun if some kids have the latest cool thing and you don’t.
It was the first day back, after summer vacation. Which is a really weird day, as we all know. Everyone was busy checking each other out, like, “What were you up to?” “Did you have a better summer than me? That would really make me mad if you did.”
Even the teachers were checking each other out, mostly for new hairstyles. (Which I don’t support, by the way. I think teachers should always have to look the same forever.)
Anyway, like I said it was the first day back, and our story begins pretty much where everything in life begins: the school cafeteria.
We were smack in the middle of lunch, and, as usual, Eliza Collins was the center of attention. (It’s not just that she was really pretty, but she was also really rich. In other words, she was really lucky. She must have been like a saint or a seeing-eye dog in a former life.)
She was showing everyone her amazingly amazing new device: a battery-operated robot that looked like a one-foot-tall tiny metal person.
“It’s called the Botman,” Eliza announced, as the little guy walked around in circles, making a loud beeping sound. A bunch of us gathered around, trying to decide if we were awed, annoyed, or both. “And check this out—this is the coolest part.”
She pushed a button, and Botman said, “Yo, Eliza, it’s Wednesday! That means tennis lesson at four, manicure at five-thirty.” Everybody ooh-ed and aah-ed, including me.
She pushed another button, and Botman said, “Yo, Eliza, dress light today! Forecast calls for mild temps, with a high of eighty-two degrees.”
Everybody wow-ed and cool-ed, including me.
Then Eliza picked up her chocolate milk carton and placed it in Botman’s outstretched little arms, and he motored over to the garbage can and threw it in—swish.
“Thank you, Botman,” said Eliza.
“No problem, yo,” replied Botman.
The crowd went crazy, and that was the exact moment I decided I had to have one.
Eliza was just about to push another button on Botman when a voice suddenly rang out from the back of the crowd.
“We get it.”
Everyone turned around. There was Katie Friedman, rolling her eyes at no one in particular.
This was nothing unusual, of course. Katie’s a professional eye-roller. It’s one of the things I love most about her.
“You get what?” Eliza demanded.
We all waited.
“We get that you’re always the first person with a cool new gadget thingie that most of the rest of us will never even get to touch, much less own,” Katie said. That pretty much summed up what everyone was feeling, even though we were all too busy being impressed to even realize it.
Then she added, “Yo.”
The crowd roared happily; nobody minded the richest and prettiest girl in the grade getting embarrassed every once in a while. Eliza blushed, the bell rang, and we headed to our next class. I looked at Katie and remembered an important lesson: It didn’t matter how rich you were, there were some things that money couldn’t buy.
And hearing a bunch of kids laugh at something you said was totally priceless.
copyright © 2014 by Tommy Greenwald