The year was 1994. I was in third grade.
I had just started going to a new school. New neighborhood. New life! I had a chance to start over and boy, I was going to seize that chance in my tiny little sticky fists, because GOOD GOD I needed it.
You see, I was never a popular kid. In my previous school, social advancement opportunities were sparse. I was never invited for team sports. Birthday invitations were non-existent. I lived a block away from the school so there wasn’t even the chance of sitting down and making a new friend on the school bus. I was doomed to stagnate. My personal brand of “quirky but a bit of a crybaby” wasn’t a winner.
But all this was going to change.
My new school was further away from home and thus required a school bus ride. 15 minutes. 15 minutes to roll out PHASE ONE: HEARTS AND MINDS.
I tried desperately to make new friends by sitting in any ol’ seat. But I quickly learned that the bus had a specific social dynamic.
The front of the bus: goody-two-shoe types, so eager to arrive at school with their smiling faces and pigtails. This often is where the pretty, popular girls sat, clinging to their seatmate to ensure no new and totally harmless stranger in town could score a seat.
Back of the bus: Generally where the boys sat, all rough and tumble, with their spitting and their yelling of the word “PENIS” loudly because it is not a swear, but generally pretty inappropriate to throw around in public.
This left mid-bus. The misfit and drifter kids sat here. I usually ended up in the emergency exit row, since the driver knew I was too timid to ever mess with the door or any of its latches. Phase one had failed.
My solitude in the exit seat gave me time to reflect and plan PHASE TWO: LEVERAGE AND INCENTIVISE.
What do kids like? Candy. What do I know best? Candy.
In the 90s, fruity, waxy taffy Airheads were where it was at. Caramel Apple Pops probably resulted in a great many dental visits, but we still braved it for the deliciousness of that lollipop. There were tiny juice cartons filled with fruity bubble gum that would lose its flavor in five minutes, but you’d shotgun that whole thing anyway. Warheads were so sour you thought your tongue would never recover. So many wonderful candies, usually available at Albertson’s for about 10 cents.
My plan was simple. I might have been young, but I knew that supply and demand was a capitalism… thing. And while a school bus wasn’t a candy store… it could be.
I went to Albertsons and stocked up on all my 10 cent favorites. I would take advantage of the whole “trapped on a bus” situation and sell my candy for 25 cents. Brilliant. The kids would love me and I’d make a profit. Just brilliant. PHASE TWO was looking great.
That first day I opened up shop I sauntered right to the back of the bus. I knew my demographic. The boys were sure to have cash, as they’d never had a “stupid sack lunch”. And boys loved candy.
“What are you doing back here?”
“I’d like to sell you some candy.”
Eyed with suspicion, the boys looked at my wares before offering up quarters and dollars left and right. PHASE TWO was working! We laughed, I made money! Everything was coming up Lauren! I had a good thing going. The next few days marched on like a montage from a tinier, dorkier version of Wall Street, with all of my cash and prizes going into a coveted Hello Kitty drawstring bag.
Monday, the next week, the tides changed. I boarded the school bus with my candies, ready to make some sales and maybe cement these budding friendships when – shock – I failed to remember the other constant in capitalism: competition.
My brother, specifically.
“Hey man, this is my turf.”
“But we don’t want your candy.”
“What – why?”
“He’s selling it for a dime.”
HURK. Undercut. By my own brother.
And almost as soon as it had begun, PHASE TWO quickly dissolved into PHASE THREE: SADLY EAT CANDY ALONE AT RECESS.
I later asked my brother why he did it. Why sell the candy at cost to run me out of the bus candy business?
His reply? “Just to mess with you. I wanted to stop you.”
Ah. Well. Some men just want to watch the world burn.