“Mommy, Mommy, I need a bicycle!”
Mom sighed. She rolled her eyes. She glanced out the dining room window. “Still raining,” she muttered under her breath. She did remember to turn the iron off. Big Fred had gotten understandably upset when she had charred one of his shirts a few weeks ago.
“Donnie, we’ve talked about this before. You don’t even ride — in fact, I don’t even thing you ever rode your tricycle. Nor did you use the wagon we got you last Christmas. How about a new baseball mitt.”
“I sure could use a new baseball mitt! Thanks, Mommy! That’s a great idea. Then, I can play with Junior and I’m sure he’ll just let me ride on the handlebars when we go to the games. We go on…what’s the name of that street where those boys were run over last year? Hansel?”
“Hensley. Wait. You want a bike so you can join your brother in baseball?”
“Yes! Then you won’t have to watch me! Fred can watch me!”
Mom found the notion of peaceful summer afternoons with neither boy around for a few hours irresistible. “And, you promise you’ll play baseball and listen to Junior and do what he says?”
“Why should I always have to do what he says? Why don’t I ever get a turn? Isn’t that what you and Daddy always say? Everyone should get a turn. Freddie shouldn’t get all the turns to boss around! It’s not fair!”
“Donnie. It isn’t a game. Junior has a lot more experience than you do. He knows a lot of things that you don’t. He isn’t trying to boss you around. He’s just trying to help keep you from hurting yourself.”
“Okay, Mommy. Thank you for explaining. Sure, I’ll do whatever he says.” Donnie had long ago that it was important to look serious when he told these lies. Usually, he would ball his teeny fists in such a way as to dig his fingernails in so he really did feel pain. That made him look serious. Of course, it was also important to look Mommy in the eye. That wasn’t really something he remembered discovering. It seemed he’d always know it. The trick is to look just past the person into space while you keep in mind that it’s okay to lie. Everyone does it. That’s what you think about. Donnie felt very proud of himself to have gotten a mitt and a bike for nothing. But he wasn’t done. Not by any means.
Later that day, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The day became stifling and steamy. He knew when that happened, sometimes the Henry kids got into their swimming pool. Donnie stuffed his swim trunks into his pocket & decided he’d visit the Henry kids.
While they were swimming, Donnie spun a story of woe: how he needed a bike so he could play ball with Freddy. He tearfully explained that Daddy’s business was failing so they couldn’t afford a bike right now. But that was the terrible thing. Once he got the bike, he had a job lined up at the park and could easily earn the money to buy the bike. But he couldn’t even get to his job without the bike.
Becky always seemed the easiest mark and she spoke first: “How about if we pitch in and buy you your bike?”
Donnie smiled a huge grin. It was a genuine grin too. The Henry kids all thought he was smiling about the bike and they felt better than ever about helping out their friend. The real reason he was smiling was that his little con had worked. Then, he felt a bubble of doubt like an ugly burp. He realized that it was because it had been too easy.
“You know what? I really appreciate your offering to buy me a bike, but I just realized, that there’s really no need.”
Becky frowned. “What do you mean? You just said you needed a bike.”
Donnie guffawed. He realized, he would need to do more mirror work on his fake laughs. “Oh, I do need a bike, all right. But you don’t have to buy one for me. You can invest in one. You can lend me the money. I’ll make lots of money at my job. Then, I’ll give you back twice as much as the cost of the bike. You’ll double your money. Not in a year, but in two months!”
Everyone in Donnie’s neighborhood was very well off, but the Henry’s were exceptionally well off. To them, it seemed like nothing to give the money to Donnie. Donnie didn’t understand this, but he did see the blank look in Becky’s eyes when he said he could double her money. Donnie said, “Look. You double your money and you can tell your mom and dad how smart an investor you are. Trust me. They’ll be proud of you!”
After Donnie toweled off and feasted on some fancy teeny hot dogs, and gotten dressed again, and rounded up the cash he “needed” for the bicycle his mom promised to buy, he noticed Mr. and Mrs. Henry having cocktails across the hardscape. We walked over and began, “Mr. and Mrs. Henry. Thanks so much for letting me use your pool! And, wait till you hear what smart investors your kids are!”
Once Donnie had sold the three Henry kids on the idea, it was easy to get other “investors” from the kids.
“Ted, here’s a chance to do something really smart for yourself. Double your money! I promise!”
“Greg, here’s a chance to do something really smart for yourself. Double your money! I promise!”
“Mike, here’s a chance to double your money! Be smart!. I promise you won’t be sorry.”
Needless to say, Donnie never worked a job and never paid any of them back a single cent. You might reasonably assume they would have gotten together and beat the crap out of him. Instead, he played them off against each other.
“Ted, here’s the thing. I didn’t make as much money as I thought — they lied to me. After I finally get paid, I’ll probably only have enough to pay you back — plus interest — but not the other investors. If they find out I paid you off, they’ll feel like fools. So, if anyone asks, just say I couldn’t pay anyone off.”
Donnie used slightly different words, but this is what he told all his “investors.” Each one thought that they would be the “winner” — the only one to gain any profit.
September is a month of excitement for school kids. Who is in your class? What is your new teacher like? The weather is typically great. It seemed bad form to bring up debt repayment. Nonetheless…
Ted and Donnie Boy found themselves next to each other on the bench awaiting a turn at bat. Ted asked, “Say, Donnie.” Ted lowered his voice so they wouldn’t be overheard and asked about the timetable for getting his money back. Plus interest. Donnie said, “Oh, yes. I have it back in my locker. I’ll give it to you right after the game. I promise!”
October brings a cooler wind and leaves begin to turn orange, amber, and scarlet. “I’ll pay you next time I see you. I promise!”
November isn’t all that much fun on Long Island. It’s too early for snowball fights or sledding, but too cold for baseball. “I’m sorry, Greg. I brought you the money today. And, on the way over here, I saw this family begging for money so they could have a real Thanksgiving dinner so I gave it to them. Stupid, I know, but if you could have seen how pathetic and wimpy they looked.”
“Oh, no problem,” said Greg. “I’m sure you’ll get it sometime.”
“Absolutely. I have plenty at home. I’ll bring it tomorrow. I promise.”
December, January, February…
At some point, Donnie’s classmates were too embarrassed to keep asking. And too embarrassed to tell anyone else. Some were so embarrassed that they continued to believe that they would eventually be paid to avoid feeling like fools. Others realized they had been hoodwinked but didn’t particularly want that to be known so they pretended that they had been paid.
You or I might be tempted to do the same.
I promise you.