Yesterday I saw this number in the paper and it got me to thinking, which, as most of you know, is pretty much a cliff’s edge for all of us. In younger days, I had this piggy bank – six inches of pink ceramic replete with curly tail and unexplainable black splotches – where I used to throw excess change (back in the day, there was such a thing). At some point, I’d summitted the financial mountain and saved enough money to buy that Rock’em Sock’em Robot toy with the overly-mechanical plastic boxers whose heads popped off if you could aim your own fighter’s punches properly – violence was less bloody in those days – and I proudly rode my bike to the store to make the purchase.
When I arrived, a U.S. flag-wearing Evel Knievel doll sat atop the most beautiful plastic motorcycle your average, single-digit aged thinking child would salivate over, his molded bicep and pre-fabricated smile calling out to me to take him home and fling him from the highest cliff imaginable. But those robots beckoned and eventually won the day, leaving me with a tearful pedal home as Knievel waved goodbye through his pre-Spandex era jumpsuit.
The thought of borrowing money to go back for Knievel was a jump I was unwilling to make, daredevil irony notwithstanding. For three moon cycles, I clipped overgrown lawns, carted away foul-smelling milk bottles and myriad fruit rinds, and hoisted enough canine feces to challenge my digestive system’s formidable ability to hold down anything swallowed voluntarily or otherwise. A season later, I launched America’s version of Superman from my rooftop and watched it shatter to pieces upon the blackened cement of my parent’s driveway.
The thing is, I don’t really remember playing with the Knievel doll for very long. And the robots sort of fade into memory like the soft edges of an old photo. What sticks is the labor, the feeling of having done something responsible to merit a reward, and the idea that I can’t just have something because I want it. I remember the pride in not having to ask someone else for money, but rather, to handle things on my own terms. There’s probably something to be learned from all this – about work and reward, spending within your means, not living on credit – although these days I’m too busy sifting through political campaign letters and watching television’s talking heads complain about budget deficits and debt limits to think about any lessons even stupid children can understand.