Steve lives with his mother and father in a large Victorian house in the suburbs of Prospect. Equity’s father is a successful lawyer who is one of the top three partners in his firm. He spends long hours at his office and often has to bring the work home with him. During the week, he has little free time to spend with his family. Equity accepts this because he realizes that it is his father’s hard work that has provided the family with a comfortable home and their lifestyle. Steve left English class and walked to his favorite part of the school: the area right before the office where the two main hallways intersect. Everyday right at the beginning of lunch, Steve would pull a chair toward it and talked on his cell phone. He was fond of routines, and he was even fonder of having people notice his routines.
Steve had plenty of admirers. Most envied his fancy clothes and his parents’ expensive cars. Some people were even jealous of them. Steve liked to have the best of everything, and with two parents who made a lot of money in their respective careers, combined with the fact that he was an only child, he usually got what he wanted.
Sometimes Steve worried that people thought he was a snob. He wasn’t always sure how torelate to people, and consequently weren’t sure exactly how to relate to him. Steve was determined to make a goal of trying to make some really close friends this year, his sophomore year in high school. But he was also scared. For most of his life he’d seen how easy it was to buy someone’s friendship and admiration. Both his father and mother frequently wined and dined their clients, and Steve himself had had noticed that the more candy he brought on class trips, the more kids hung around with him, and the more fun he had. Even during elementary school, he was one of the few kids to invite the whole class to his birthday party – every year! He always felt that he had a lot of friends, but he didn’t know if he trusted any of them enough to talk to, and as high school got tougher, a close friend or two was what he really needed.
Steve ruffled the newspaper he held and spread it out on the floor in front of him, open to the stock pages. He didn’t have any stock yet, but he was going to ask for some for his birthday. He was anxious to make some money on his own without having anything handed to him. Owning successful stock wasn’t exactly hard labor, but Steve figured there was plenty of time for that next summer – if he felt like it.
Steve dialed a number. Several people he knew passed by, and he was pleased that they noticed him reading the stock pages. That was why he did it – to amaze everyone, to impress them, to feel important. That was why he dreamed of being a successful doctor or business man – he would feel important. That was how he would ensure a great number of friends, because after all, candy wouldn’t work for adults. At least, it probably wouldn’t. “NASDAQ,” Steve said into the phone. “NIKE up. Ralph Lauren up. Subway looks good..” He read off a few corporations he knew. He decided that he would try to see what the next big fad would be in school, and ask for that stock on his birthday. It would probably be expensive it was a name he recognized, but his parents could afford it.
Steve said goodbye and went to his locker to grab the tuna sub he had in his brown bag. His classmates were as impressed with his lunches as they were with his phone calls and designer clothes. Most people only brought sandwiches, or they bought lunch at school, which most of them hated. But nobody had a hoagie every day that looked professionally made. Students figured that Steve stocked up at an Italian restaurant every week. Whenever they would mention something like that to him, he’d just shrug. That’s also what he’d usually do when they asked him if he was talking to his stock broker on the phone. They didn’t realize that Steve’s delicious lunches were leftovers from one of the affairs his mother’s business had catered. And they didn’t know that the calls he made every day were actually to his own answering machine.
Steve weathered the noise and crowded conditions of the lunchroom and found his usual table. He sat next to what he considered to be his best friends at school. To his left was Matthew Maddox, whose favorite subject sounded like his name: Mathematics. Matt’s friends sometimes jokingly called him “The Human Calculator” or “Math” or sometimes “The Algebra.” He had a knack for figuring out complex problems in his head. He tried his best to be modest about his talent, and Steve admired that. Across from him sat Reid Searcher. Reid liked looking for anything old, whether it be old news stories or old coins buried in the dirt. He was willing to do as much research as possible to find the answer to a troubling problem.
Steve lay his paper and sandwich down and got back up to buy his cold milk. When he returned to the table Reid and Math had found the sports section of his paper and were already debating which football team would make it to the Super bowl. Steve didn’t know much about professional sports, although he enjoyed doing outdoor sports with his father, so he ate his sandwich in silence as his friends argued.
He thumbed through the rest of the business section as he ate and looked through the classifieds. He read most of them to see what was for sale and what was wanted, but he skipped the lost pets section because that usually depressed him. When he got to the help wanted ads, something jumped out at him in bold print.
AGE: 12 – 16 ONLY
MAKE $10 - $12 IN YOUR SPARE TIME
CALL BOB: 413-555-1000
“Ten to twelve an hour!” Equity gasped. Bits of lettuce fell from his lips and he wiped his mouth.
Math and Searcher stopped what they were doing.
“He’s smiling,” Math said. “He must be talking about money.” Searcher grinned and elbowed Equity.
“Look here,” Equity said. “Ten to twelve dollars an hour, and it’s for our ages only!” Equity and Math were fifteen, while Searcher had turned sixteen in March. “Say I have two hours a day after school in spare time,” Equity said. “I have at least that. And say I make twelve dollars an hour.
That would be ….”
“One hundred and twenty a week, for only ten hours!” Equity said.
And if I did this for only five weeks, a little more than a month, I’ll have five hundred dollars!”
“Before the 5% state tax,” Math mused. “And then there’s your social security tax, your basic income tax, your other levies, which, all totaled, would reduce your earnings to----”
“I don’t want to know,” Equity said. “Anyway, Math, I’ll just take you and Searcher as exemptions.”
“Very funny,” Searcher said.
“What kind of a business is it?” Math asked. “It looks too good to be true. I mean, I’ve seen ads like that to deliver newspapers, and even then you only earn a few bucks an hour.”
Equity scratched his head. “I don’t know,” he said.
“You should let your dad check into it.” Searcher said.
“No,” Equity said. “Everyone thinks he and Mom give me everything. I want to do something on my own.” Math thought.
“But you call your broker every day. That’s something you do on your own.”
“My broker has a plug and a play button,” Steve sighed.
Math looked at Searcher. “What?” he asked.
“Never mind,” Equity said. The bell rang and Steve went for his phone, promising to tell Math and Searcher everything that had happened.
Steve asked for Bob but got Dave. “Bob’s on another line,” Dave said. He asked Steve where he lived, and if he had a way to get downtown to Prospect.
Steve said he’d have his parents drive him, because Prospect was too far to go on his bike, and the city was kind of dangerous at night. Dave said he and Bob would fill Equity in on the opportunity at six p.m. Thursday night. Mrs. Equity dropped Steve off in front of a large office building that night. Equity hadn’t told her much about what he was doing, only that he saw it in the paper and wanted to do it on his own. Mrs. Equity decided not to ask any more, which was good, because Equity really didn’t know any more.
Both of them were impressed with the new, tall office building. Mrs. Equity promised to pick Steve up at 7:30, and Steve took to the steps. He gave the security guard his name and was told to take the elevator to the sixth floor. Steve was dressed in a suit and tie, and felt very important. He carried with him the portfolio that he sometimes carried to classes. When he got to the right room he noticed that there were about ten other teenagers there, a few of whom were dressed up as well. Most of them just wore their regular clothes, though.
“Hey---you’re” a man said, leaning out to grab Equity’s hand. “Steve,” Equity said. “And you’re
“Nope,” the man smiled.
“Nope,” the man smiled. “I’m Jim.” He slapped Steve on the back and told him to have a seat.
Bob was the man who gave the presentation. His suit, Equity noted, was by Ralph Lauren. Very nice! Steve thought, and even expensive.
As soon as all the kids were in their seats, Bob started his speech. “Hi, my name is Robert Davis,” he said, “but I like my employees to call me Bob. It makes me feel young, and this is, indeed, a young company. I don’t want anyone to feel out of place or nervous. I want you all to feel excited, because Dave and Jim and I just opened this branch of Wejco down in Prospect, and we want to start off with the right attitude.”
That sounded just fine to Steve.
“I’d like to start with the basics,” Bob said.
“I only started with Wejco last April, and today I’m co-owner of the Prospect franchise. When I started I was a high school teacher, but I began making so much money I took a temporary leave to get started up here. Believe me,” he paused and winked. “I couldn’t have afforded this suit on a teacher’s salary.”
Equity and the other teenagers knew they were supposed to laugh, so they did.
“In a few months, you can afford a suit like this one too. Of course, you won’t have to spend your money on suits. You could get, say, a new cell phone, or maybe when you’re old enough, a car….”
Equity saw several people smile. “All it takes is dedication. Now, I’ll play the film and show you how with Wejco you can live the rich life too.” Equity already knew how to live the rich life, but he decided he’d watch anyway.
The film went on for forty-five minutes. It showed people making thousands of dollars per month working full time selling Wejco greeting cards. It also told how much better they were than the ones people bought in stores. They were also a lot cheaper. People usually didn’t think about buying boxed birthday and anniversary cards, but now, with Wejco, they could.
Bob turned off the film and turned on the lights. “The best way to make money,” Bob said. “You just got a little cut. But you’re still making money for doing very little. Plus…you get fifty dollars up front for everyone you sign up.” Equity grinned. Here was the American dream. Money for nothing. He could already see Searcher signing up. And Math. Once he did the math, he’d know it was a great opportunity.
Bob finished with the details of getting involved. “You need the cards, of course, plus a little guide with tips on selling. You know, sell to your friends, sell to your neighbors, stuff like that. Usually they’ll buy the stuff just because they trust you, and when they see that you believe in the product they’ll eat it right up. The beginner’s packet has only a gross of boxes of cards. A gross is twelve dozen, if you don’t know. All you have to invest is two-fifty, and the cards are yours, to sell as quickly or as slowly as you want, and the profits are almost completely your own.”
“You want two-fifty in cash?” A boy asked.
“I don’t think you have that in cash, although we’d prefer it,” Bob grinned. “Actually, most people get their parents to write a check. Then they pay them back with the profits.”
“Wait------” Equity said, suddenly realizing something.
“You mean two hundred and fifty dollars, right?”
The boy who had asked the question laughed.
“”That’s right,” Bob said. “Two fifty.”
The boy looked shocked.
“If your parents are picking you up, you can ask them now,” Bob said. “Just make sure they know how much money you can make. They may act surprised, but remember, they didn’t see the movie.”
Equity left the room possessed. He knew he would make even more than twenty dollars an hour, because he was probably the only one from his school there. He could sign up half of his school to sell, or if not, to buy. And if a quarter of his school decided to sell, that would be 250 kids at $30 a kid, plus commissions, which would be----- oh, if only Math were there!
Equity grinned as he got into his mom’s car. He wasn’t going to ask her for a check. He had his own bank account with a few hundred dollars in it. He’d do this on his own. He’d be the state’s youngest thousandnaire, if such a thing existed.
Equity thought about how to spend the money. He thought about how to save the money. But what he didn’t think about was how much money Bob was going to make by signing him up to sell. He didn’t know about pyramid companies. And he certainly didn’t realize that in the end, he and his friends would have to trick Bob to get their money back.
(To Be Continued…)
A Continuing Story
Steinberg lives with his mother and younger brother in a row house in the town of Prospect. His parents have been divorced for two years. Steinberg’s father lives with his new wife in Miami, Florida. Steinberg had trouble understanding his parents’ separation at first. However, he has adjusted to his new lifestyle, without his father, and his family is getting along fine. He sees his father only a few times a year, but he gets all the family support he needs from his mother and brother.
“What do you want to do?” asked Doug Underwood as he sat on a rock in the park and pulled out clumps of grass. “I don’t know.” Mike Riftskin answered. “What do you want to do?”
John Steinberg buried his head in his hands. He was tired of this game. Ever since the three friends had become teenagers they never could think of anything to do. The city was huge and begged to be explored. But now, in the summer heat, they just didn’t have the energy. Fourteen was too old to do what they did when they were younger – look for frogs in the lake, build clubhouses, ride bikes – and so, they were left with nothing.
“We haven’t seen each other all summer.” John said. “Come on, guys, can’t you think of anything to talk about?”
John could have talked about what it had been like to live with his dad and step-mom all summer. He had taken the plane to Florida himself. He didn’t want to go, but he’d forced himself. And, his mother needed a break. His dad took him to ballgames, movies, amusement parks, and campsites. John had fun, but he didn’t want to admit it. In Florida, his dad and Suzy had it easy, while his mom struggled in Prospect raising him and his brother.
And John felt weird around Suzy. What was he supposed to call her? Suzy? She was 41 years old. Mrs. Steinberg? No, that was pretty dumb. Mom? Definitely not. He called her Susan, but he still felt weird doing it. He felt a little better about the situation by the end of the summer. He would overcome it completely if he thought about it enough; after all, perseverance was his most salient trait. His motto was: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And if not, there’s a way out.
John did have fun fishing, riding Ferris wheels, and being treated like a king for two months. The only scary part was the threat of a hurricane in late August, and it was he who convinced his father and Suzy to go further north to a hotel before the storm hit. It was pretty lucky that he had, because people in his father’s development ended up without gas and food, for two days.
John had returned home feeling lucky and gave his mother and brother some nice souvenirs of his trip. All in all, it was a pretty exciting summer. John could discuss all of this with his friends, but he didn’t know how to broach the topic. Or any topic, for that matter, with both Doug and Mike. Alone, each was fine, but when Doug and Mike were together they just acted stupid. “Hey, Dog, stop throwing grass at me!” Mike exclaimed. “I wasn’t throwing grass at you, Ripskin, and I told you to stop calling me Dog!” Doug said. “I’m getting too old for it.”
“Speed of lightning, Roar of thunder, Under-Doug is here,” Mike sang.
“Enough!” John said. “You guys both told me what great summers you were going to have while I sweltered down in Florida. Now I get back up here to hear that, as usual, you were all talk and no action.”
“Ripskin” stood up. “There was too action,” he said. He sat down and raised his eyebrows to counteract his friends’ cynical glances. “Lots of action.”
“Well,” Mike said. “Well, of course. Bu I’m not one to kiss and tell.”
It hadn’t occurred to Mike until just that second that he was about to spin a tall tale of summer romance. Oh, his summer had started off okay – with a trip upstate to sleep-away camp in the mountains. But a week of boating and scavenger hunts had met with disaster. It started with a rabid raccoon, or what looked like one. One day, three of the “Superstars” – the group for boys aged seven and under – had told a crazed raccoon they’d seen. The camp director, “Fat” Al, warned everyone about it at the morning pow-wow. “If you see a crazed animal,” he said, “loaming at the mouth…”
Three boys in Mike’s group, the oldest group, fell on the floor and started spitting. Mike knew that almost everyone in his group was getting a little old for camp. “Fat” Al didn’t even get a chance to finish. The best thing about camp was the snake Mike found and kept in a cage. He had to hide her from the counselors. The snake, Madonna, was the envy of the entire bunk.
But, Madonna escaped the day after “Fat” Al’s announcement. In the middle of the night, Mike noticed the cage open and searched the woods for her with a flashlight. He went to look under a rock and suddenly felt someone watching him. There was a pair of beady eyes on a black and white animal.
“Raccooooooon!!!” Mike shrieked, startling the animal.
“Skunk,” said Mike’s bunkmates after the animal had run away and Mike had returned.
“It was a raccoon,” Mike protested. “It sprayed me with its …rabies spray.”
“You idiot,” said a friend.
Mike smelled for two days, and also had poison ivy from his romp in the woods. When that week finally ended, he broke out in Chicken Pox, which he’d caught from his little brother, who’d broken out on the first day of camp. He was in the infirmary for another week. Then, he caught another snake, but it bit him on the arm. That was the last straw and he decided to go home. He spent the rest of the summer working in his uncle’s store for minimum wage. His mother made him put the $400 he earned into his college fund. Mike figured that by the time he got to a top college that would pay for a day of classes and a ride on the bus.
“Well?” Doug asked. “What was the name of this girl who provided you with the ‘action’ at camp?”
Mike smiled. “Madonna,” he said.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” John said. “This summer I went out with Tiffany, and Doug went out with Debbie Gibson.”
“Shut up,” Mike moaned. “Not Madonna the singer, just this girl Madonna. She was really thin and had very nice eyes.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“In the woods,” Mike said. “She was cool. We talked all the time. My bunkmates were real jealous.”
“Did you kiss her?” Doug asked.
Mike swatted him with his baseball cap. “Duh,” he said.
“She was my girlfriend.”
“So, are you still going out?”
“Nah,” Mike said. “She left me. She said our relationship made her feel… sort of caged.’
“Girls are just weird,” Doug said.
“You’re telling me,” Mike said, displaying his arm. “One of her friends went and bit me.”
“Weird,” Doug repeated. “Well, who would want to be your girlfriend all summer, anyway, Ripskin?”
“Oh yeah?” Mike said. “Why didn’t you have a girlfriend this summer?”
“I was camping with my family in Arizona all summer,” Doug said. “What was I supposed to do, Ripskin, date my sister?”
“Yeah,” John said. “Doug can’t help it if he didn’t do anything interesting this summer.”
“I did do something,” Doug said. “In fact…I was a hero.”
Actually, the closest Doug had come to heroism was eating a hero sandwich. The Arizona trip had been uneventful and nobody was very pleased with Doug for most of it. During the second week of the trip, Doug took out the new camcorder even though he wasn’t supposed to. He shouted to his mother that he was going to throw his football around, but actually, he had other plans. He’d found a hole in the girls shower room where he could peek in.
He was going to record his sister with the camcorder, buy a new tape so his parents wouldn’t notice, and sell his sister the tape of her for $50. She had made $300 babysitting during the school year and hadn’t let him have a cent.
On the way to the girls’ showers, however, Doug was sidetracked by two bearded men discussing directions to a cave that supposedly contained a buried treasure. Doug searched but never found the cave. However, he did accidentally drop the camcorder down the Grand Canyon.
“Okay, Doug how were you a hero?” asked Mike.
“Well,” Doug said. “One day we were all walking toward the Grand Canyon. My dad had his new camcorder with him. I was fiddling with my new football, and my mom had a purse full of travelers’ checks. There were these two scruffy-looking guys who came up to ask directions to a certain cave or something. Then they asked if we had a road map. My mom had an Arizona map we’d bought at a Mobil on the way. When she went into her pocket book for it, one of the guys pulled out a gun and said, ‘Now empty the rest of it.’”
“You serious?” asked John.
“Cross my heart,” Doug said. “Anyway, he said that if we didn’t give him all our stuff, he’d force us into the Grand Canyon. So, all of a sudden I pegged my football at the dude with the gun. The gun went flying and my dad caught it. He accidentally dropped the camcorder down the Canyon, but it was a small price to pay for our lives.”
“Bull Oney,” Mike said.
“Salami,” John said.
“It’s true,” Doug said. “I was on the evening news in Arizona. They called me a hero. Even ask my dad. I mean, when he gets back from his business trip.”
“You weren’t a hero; you were lucky,” Mike said. “If someone’s got a gun and you try to peg a football at them, you could get everyone killed.”
“Hey, it worked, didn’t it?” Doug said.
“I guess,” Mike said. “So, John, what did you do this summer?” John sighed. He hasn’t done anything that could compare to having a girlfriend all summer or saving his family from a murderer.
“Nothing,” John said.
(To be continued…)