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Unfettered Capitalism

January 3, 2014

Rest assured this isn’t a political post. It’s about my first lesson in capitalism when I was thirteen years old.


I was still in middle school, and noticing that all the cool kids in high school were wearing rings made by the Jostens class ring company. The cheapest were made of yellow base metal and cost $26.50. They got progressively more expensive depending on the gold content, and whether or not the faceted green centerpiece was stone or glass. My older brother David, a freshman, saved his money and bought one of these rings as soon as he was able.


Like I said, I wasn’t yet in high school but I wanted one of these “cool” rings in the worst way possible. One day while rummaging through our local Woolworth’s five & dime store I came upon a tray of cheap men’s rings. They had green stones (glass) at the center and faintly resembled the Wilcox class ring, except there was no black antiquing setting off the letters. These gaudy rings were only $2.79. I bought one, brought it home and slathered it with black model airplane paint. After rubbing off the excess paint and letting it dry I was startled by how much it resembled my brother’s cherished ring.


When Andy Holloway (aka Hollowhead) from across the street saw it he was convinced it was the real thing. He offered me ten bucks for it, even though I told him it was a fake. He didn’t care at all and wore the ring everywhere. Hollowhead was never one to keep his mouth shut. He told everyone in the neighborhood what a bargain he’d gotten. Before long I was buying more cheap rings, adding black paint to dress them up and selling them for ten bucks apiece. I was on my way to becoming a successful thirteen year old entrepreneur.


One day Bud Holloway, Hollowhead’s dad, pounded on our door demanding to speak with my dad. Bud was hopping mad. He handed my dad the ring I’d sold his son and complained I’d cheated his kid by selling him a two dollar ring for ten bucks.


Dad, always one to avoid confrontation, ordered me to hand back the money. I protested, “But Dad, I told Hollow, er…Andy, that it wasn’t an authentic Jostens ring. He said he didn’t care.”


Dad remained resolute, insisting I give back the money. He also made me give refunds to the other neighborhood kids who’d purchased rings from me. Too bad the local branch of the Republican Party didn’t learn about this infringement on open market capitalism and snatch me up. This was my first lesson in laissez faire government—which a civics teacher would later define as an economic environment in which transactions between private parties are free from government restrictions. I’d have made a fortune if my fledgling business hadn’t been crushed by big government in the form of my dad. 





Well at least you didn't need to ask your dad for a bailout, right? He probably saved you from a future life of standing on streetcorners selling "genuine" Rolex watches and Louis Vitton bags.
By: PT Dilloway on January 3, 2014
Hey, you tried to be honest and tell the truth. Do you think the Big Banks back in '08 told investors, "Naw, this derivative were selling is really a fraud, but the printing is really cool, huh? And it's ONLY $50,000,000." :)
By: Scott Cody Park on January 3, 2014
Scott is 100% right! I've heard those paintings you sold were also fake...I hear you did them all yourself. You never learned.
By: Cranky on January 3, 2014
If only you had a sweatshop making them you might have gotten off with it.
By: David Walston on January 3, 2014
HAH!!! Big Brother was holding the man down even way back then!!! ~shoes~
By: redshoes51 on January 3, 2014
well, dang... shut down before your first million...
By: TexWisGirl on January 3, 2014
Hmmm...I'm not sure I agree with your Dad. 1. You figured out a way using your brain and ingenuity NOT to cheat people but to improve a product making it more desirable. I think your clever brain and your time were well worth the extra $7.21 .
By: Kathe W. on January 3, 2014
You told Hollowhead. It was his problem. Dads shouldn't get involved in these things. Hollowhead, Sr., should have told Hollowhead, Jr., that he'd been stupid with his money and he'd better learn a lesson from it. So there. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 3, 2014
What a strange story. Lots of kids sell stuff, lemonade at stands, "slightly used" textbooks, fixer-upper bikes. I'm surprised this neighbor was such an a$$. You were honest and people got what they paid for. Too bad you were run out of business. :(
By: Lexa Cain on January 3, 2014
This reminds me of the time my Sweetie got into trouble by teaming up with a friend to sell ball-point pens. The friend got the pens free from his dad, the bank president, and Sweetie used one of his nurse mother's hypodermic needles he had lifted to siphon out most of the ink. They make a killing selling pens that would run out of ink in about two days, until the principal shut them down!
By: mimi on January 3, 2014
Totally agree with Janie. You were an honest business lad who was above board in his sales.. Not even a need for "buyer beware" in your dealings. You filled a need. Sorry you were shut down.
By: Akansas Patti on January 3, 2014
It sounds like your dad wasn't just "government"--he was the emperor!!
By: fishducky on January 3, 2014
That stinks. I'm impressed by your savvy. Too bad your dad wasn't. It's not as if you were being dishonest, just crafty - on several levels. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on January 3, 2014
He should have held onto it -- would be a collector's item by now, made famous by your story!
By: tom sightings on January 3, 2014
I always hated getting into trouble for no reason. Dad's don't always listen do they?
By: Bouncin Barb on January 3, 2014
Parents should just stay out of their kids' business!
By: Pixel Peeper on January 3, 2014
This is a big can of worms! There could be some huge disagreements.
By: red on January 3, 2014
Well, darn. I'll be forking out some dough for one of those class rings come spring. Walmart has them, too. Cheaper than Jostens, but nowhere near the bargain you offered.
By: Val on January 3, 2014
Stifling free enterprise is rarely justifiable. Your ring-sale would have been a nice little earner.
By: Bryan Jones on January 4, 2014
You were much more successful (if only temporary) in your first foray into capitalism. I sold a flat Spalding ball for 25 cents (not denying that the ball was flat). The kid's mother stormed over and made me give the money back. I was never the same.
By: Mitchell is Moving on January 4, 2014
While I commend your dad for trying to teach you to be honest in business...the reality of the world is that in the case of fake merchandise it's on the buyers to be ..."buyer's beware". You were an honest vendor, it was the buyer that was willing to compromise. If every woman that ever bought a knock-off Prada or Gucci bag (knowingly) was due a refund, there would be a lot of money moving around NYC.
By: Cheryl P. on January 4, 2014
Hollowhead's father should have handled this differently. He could used this particular incidence as a life-lesson. As for the other comments stating fathers should stay out of kids business. Dead wrong! Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing.
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 4, 2014
I remember my class ring (also from Jostens) very well. We weren't allowed to wear them until we were Juniors, so it was pretty special to me. So, I thought it would be perfect to give my girlfriend (the redhead who broke my heart 35 years ago). Anyway, as you no doubt gleaned from my last sentence, we broke up. She attempted to return my ring by sending it through the mail (I was on my first ship at the time). No problem except she put it in a regular envelope. So, it wasn't too much of a surprise when I received said envelope with one of the corners ripped off. I miss that ring. Not her, though. Well, not too much.
By: Al Penwasser on January 4, 2014
That's what fathers are there for, to mess up the kids business before it gets off the ground, ha ha ha. You just have to love them, don't you.
By: Rum Punch Drunk on January 5, 2014
A great tale with the ring of authenticity or not as the case may be.......
By: John on January 6, 2014

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