You better make this fast. We only have a few minutes left of recess and if we’re late getting back in line, Mrs. Pockey won’t let me take the class turtle home this weekend.
Where’s the envelope?
I told you to put it in an envelope. You can’t just be handing me cash and cookies right here on the jungle gym. Use a little discretion. You’re not a kindergartener anymore. This is first grade. We do things the right way now.
Listen, I want to talk to you. I’ll take this as payment for today, but moving forward, I need double from you if you still want my protection.
I know what the deal was when you first got here, but playground politics have changed. The bullies are a little more aggressive this year. I have to invest in some stronger influence if I’m going to keep my clients safe, and those investments are sizable. Do you understand what I’m getting at?
These fourth graders--They see a little girl in pigtails and they think that means they can push me around. I can’t let that go. Not even the first time. One tug of the tail, and I make sure they’re going down the slide face-first. You understand me? Nod if you understand me.
The truth is, I don’t even like charging you for this service. I wish I could do it out of the goodness of my heart. Because we first graders need to look out for each other. We’re in a fellowship--you and I. Just like those guys with the weird toes my Dad is always talking about. They go looking for rings and sometimes they run into Santa. I don’t know for sure, because he says I can’t read it until I’m older, but I get bits and pieces of it from the audiobooks he listens to while my mother yells at him to get up and clean the garage.
Yeah, that’s right, I was born into chaos and chaos reigns. That’s what made me fearless. Did you see the way that kid who’s been held back three times looked at me when I walked over to the swingset? He was trying to intimidate me. Those older kids all think they own the swingset. You know what I say to that? I say, “If any of you bozos want to push me off the swing, go ahead and do it. But when I get back up, you better run, because when you send me to the nurse, I send you to the really old nurse who puts that stuff on your wounds that smells like cough medicine.”
This playground is going to be my territory for as long as I’m at this school. My older sister ran it while she was going here and she passed it on down to me. She only took enough money for an extra milk at lunchtime. I’m going to be charging five times that by the time I graduate, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I bring all this up to say--
I know you’ve been complaining about my prices. A little birdie told me that you went and asked Joey Eats Glue if he could offer you protection instead of me. You heard he charges less and you wanted to compare prices. Size up your options.
Let me straighten that cute little egghead of yours out, all right?
You don’t have options.
Joey Eats Glue couldn’t keep an ice cube cold in the North Pole. You think he could keep you safe from the Second Grade Sasspots and the Third Grade Ruffians? Yeah, I know, they all need better names. That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Why don’t you ask Billy Eats Crayons what happened when he went to Joey for the discount prices and then walked over to the seesaw while two third graders were using it and told them to hop off?
They covered him in rubber cement and stuck construction paper all over him. By the time they were done, the art teacher said he reminded her of something called a Picasso. I don’t want to see that happen to you. I don’t want Joey Eats Glue to fail you like he failed Billy Eats Crayons.
By the way, why do all the boys in our grade eat weird stuff? Have we talked about that? I know their mom packs them a decent lunch, because they let me take what I want from it as part of my weekly payment.
Geez, maybe I should stop charging them so much. I feel bad. Yes, I’m capable of feeling bad. I’m not a monster. But safety doesn’t come cheap. Do you know how much I had to spend to take karate lessons from my cousin Burke? Self-defense classes from a yellow belt are pricey, you know. A yellow belt is like the highest belt of them all. My cousin taught me that. I thought black was the best belt, but it’s actually yellow, which makes sense, because yellow is the color of the sun, and the sun is hot, and that’s what I want my hands to be.
I want those hot hands that lightly touch the skin of my enemies and send them flying through the air right into the sandbox. Little scorch marks where my fingertips pressed down.
That’s the impression you have to leave if you want respect. You can buy protection, but you can’t buy that. There aren’t enough Oreo cookies in the world.
I’m going to take this payment today, and next week, I need more. Tell your mother you need it for a class field trip. Tell her the price of the school lunch went up. Tell her it’s inflation. I don’t know what that is, but my Dad’s always complaining about it so I think it has something to do with balloons, because one time, I found a bag of balloons, and I blew them all up, and left them all over the living room, and he was pretty mad. I wanted to ask him to give me the definition, but then my mom yelled at him to go clean the garage.
Cleaning that garage is like getting this playground under control. People can talk and talk and talk about it, but that’s not the same as doing it.
For that, you come to me.
And next time you come to me, this envelope better be a little heavier. Make sure the bills are ones, not fives. Also, Oreos, never Chips Ahoy. Show a little class.
Oh, and if you slip a candy bar or two in the mix--
I wouldn’t be mad about it.