Cash for Clunkers
I’m not sure exactly where Col got the idea of peddling his collection of cars and trucks for money. I mean Dan does like to remind the kids about children their age who are already toiling in the fields, babysitting a cadre of younger siblings, contributing, rather than simply draining everyone’s food, money, time and energy. “Contribute” still proves to be a relative term around here, like when Rose stubbornly sweeps the walls with her small broom and you can almost hear the piped in toddler screech of “I did it myyyy way.” Or when Col was 3 and I begged our friend Carsten to let Col help him build us a chicken coop. Col helped for two hours and when Carsten finished I asked how it went and he replied, “Oh, much faster once Col stopped helping.”
These cars and trucks Col wanted to put on the market were the same babies that just yesterday were so beloved Col had to untangle them from his blankets where they were scurrying around like sharp-cornered bedbugs. But that’s how it is with four year olds; ideas burst like sudden mountain storms and too bad if your umbrella is under the couch with the lego guy’s head. If I sprinkle some gentle reasoning into the discussion like honey, you were playing with those cars yesterday and having such a fun time, Col smells a power struggle simmering and can’t wait to take a huge gulp.
(Speaking of power struggles, just today Col was asking me about the marmosets in the Colorado mountains. I’m not exactly certain what a marmoset is but I am quite sure there is not a single one in Colorado. Except of course the very small ones that Col saw on a rock this summer. This line of arguing feels a bit like chatting with fundamentalists about sexual orientation. You know they’re wrong, but it’s still best to give a non-committal smile and change the subject).
It was a breathtaking Colorado afternoon, or at least it was on the south side of our house. On the north, which faces the street and the potential commerce of passers-by, it was already shaded and November-ish. First, some issues arose over where Rose could sit. “How about over there,” Col suggested, pointing to a spot about 300 miles away on the crumbling, oil-coated asphalt. True, Rose was being slightly annoying, the way she couldn’t seem to sit without leaning into Col like they were taking a sharp curve on a motorcycle together. And for the 8554th time I felt bad that these two have to eke it out together in this weird sibling matrimony just because of some fun frolics and random chance. You know, just because of this one egg and that sperm and then that other egg and that other sperm and now Rose has to spend a cold afternoon watching her brother sell crappy cars in front of our house.
Foot traffic was slow that afternoon and after a full 2 minutes of sitting and waiting Col got desperate. Seeing that Rose was virtually useless hanging around popping chokecherries into her lovely mouth, Col barked “can’t she go get some people to come by?” Poor Col. I could relate, feeling a little like a prostitute for readers on this blog, having considered asking my mom to assume fake identities and post reams of glowing comments. I explained to Col that no one wants to buy anything from a grumpy salesman. Not that a single person had walked by except the mailman who just shrugged from behind his ipod when Col shouted sort of aggressively “you wanna buy a car?”
Finally I slipped Rose 50 cents and in a whispery pantomime instructed her to go buy a car from old sad sack. But 2 year olds don’t really understand subtlety or secrets. I thought my standing by Rose’s side at the table coaching her loudly on the transaction might ruin it for Col, but he triumphantly pocketed those two quarters as if he earned them honestly.
That first purchase set off a spree, in the very modest sense of the word, of luck for Col. A group of leggy teenagers loitered for awhile, fingering the jeeps and tow trucks until one finally said “I wish I could man, but I just don’t have the funds.” I should have told James Dean Jr. that lint from his pocket would have been acceptable currency at this point, but Col was already hurling his seriously clever sales pitch “you wanna buy a car?” at our neighbor who pulled up in his truck.
Our neighbor, bless his young, cool-guy heart, inquired on the price of an armored money truck. I should have coached Col better on this part because he spat back, “oh, ten dollars.” I was shaking my head furiously behind Col’s back, mouthing “one quarter,” flashing my pointer finger as in “one, just one,” and wondering vaguely when mothers stop trying to spin their son’s lives into success.
Apparently not when they’re 4, because after our generous neighbor laid down 75 cents on a truck, I appealed to our downstairs neighbors, Sage and Sharon to drop some change at Col’s booth. Then, another man stopped by and in a weird twist paid Col a dollar for a button from Rose’s collection, which wasn’t technically for sale. This made me feel terribly guilty like that Halloween when I was 8 and knocked on this bewildered guy’s door who after fumbling around his apartment, pushed a dollar into my small hand.
We called it a day after a sibling scuffle ensued over the gleaming coins and that one dollar bill, which I seriously considered pocketing for the 6-pack I always seem to feel I deserve right as that potent Southwestern sun is high-tailing it over the oakbrush hills.