This past Saturday, I had a gig as a games master at a corporate picnic. It’s the sort of work which has allowed me to stay in Los Angeles. The party business is nowhere near what it is in New York. If it were not for the summer gigs I have as a games master, I would have had to move back East in order to make enough money to cover the bills.
This most recent picnic was enjoyable. There were lots of kids, which makes my job much easier. Getting adults to play can be hard work. With kids, I don’t really have to do anything except choose which game to play next. The participants are ready and willing, whatever I decide.
There were plenty of adorable young ones, and plenty of happy smiling adults, glad to see their kids having fun. The atmosphere was light and friendly and I was truly having a great time. Towards the end of the day, I went from table to table looking for toddlers who were too small to play the lawn games and so were not given any prizes. We have a large table full of prizes which we give away to the participants during the day. They collect raffle-type tickets from me, then trade them in for the board games, electronic gadgets, camping equipment, or whatever. A bicycle usually goes to the winner of the most tickets.
For the toddlers, I bring along a big bin full of consolation prizes. Little plush animals, water pistols, charm bracelets, things like that. I usually save it for the last part of the day, giving me a chance to thank people for playing, and to pay attention to the smallest of the kids, whom I cannot really focus on when I am performing.
So it was on Saturday. I was in a generous mood, and stopped at every table that had toddlers. At one of these, two little boys climbed up on top of the table and dove into the bin. Physically. Half their bodies were inside the bin as they fought each other to get something they wanted. At first I laughed, sure that the parents of these two would speak up and tell them to get down off the table. To take only one prize. To ask politely. It’s the kind of thing that happens from time to time. The kids misbehave, the parents intervene, and I am free to act as if I don’t mind at all.
Instead, two women marched over to the bin of consolation prizes and reached in brusquely, shoving things aside in a greedy attempt to get to the best prizes. One lady grabbed three things, including a deck of cards. The other lady also grabbed a deck of cards. Neither lady said thank you. Neither lady reprimanded the kids. Neither lady asked if it was okay for an adult to take a prize. Neither lady seemed to realize there was anything wrong with what they had just done.
I made a joke about how these prizes are for the little kids, but both ladies just stared at me.
It made me think how unattractive people become when greedy. As soon as you give away something for free, the ugliest side of a person can show. Gimme gimme gimme. No manners, no dignity. Just grab. Take. Get. For what? A five and dime toy?
It’s something I’ve noticed over the years of doing parties. Sometimes it’s the behavior of the parents which is the most shocking. With kids, you can explain away a lot of things. When you see the grown-ups doing those same things, it’s not so easy. They should know better. Especially when there are little children around, watching and always learning.
When I worked as a cashier at the A&P, I used to joke that I was going to write a book called Something for Nothing. That’s what so many people want. Our store was in a wealthy neighborhood on Long Island, and we used to witness the most comical forms of greed from certain wealthy customers. Some of the shoppers would come in with the attitude that we owed them something. They would steal. Shoplift. People who could afford to buy whatever they wanted.
The grape lady comes immediately to mind. She was an attractive older woman. Always dressed well. She would get a bunch of grapes when she entered the store and eat them as she shopped. Then, at the check out, she would present you with the empty grape stems. No way to charge her for what she had just eaten.
If you asked her to pay for them first, she would just stare at you. Deck of cards. Bunch of grapes. Who are you to question?
Then there was the one lady who had all these crumbled up circulars in the bottom of her shopping cart. When I reached over the counter to clean them up, I noticed they were heavy, so I set them aside. After she left, I would investigate. Well, one of the crumbled up circulars uncrumbled in my hand and a cascade of cashews came tumbling out, making a kind of musical noise as they bounced through the holes in the bottom of the cart and hit the floor. This lady was stealing handfuls of cashews, and of course she had kids with her. What were they learning from this?
Sometimes no laws were being broken, but the greed would be no less unattractive. One customer used to come into the bulk foods department where I worked one night each week. She would take down the bin of Licorice All-sorts and dig through it to get all the pink pieces. The supervisor of this department had told me to watch for this customer, and not to let her do it.
Sure enough, there she was, making a point of visiting the store when she knew the supervisor would not be there to interfere. When I asked her to stop, she exclaimed that all the other costumers were taking out the pink pieces, and there wouldn’t be any left for her!
It was such bizarre behavior. Not just selecting only the pink pieces. The explanation was bizarre. Here she was convinced that the whole world was doing what only she herself was doing. Most people realize that all the licorice pieces taste the same no matter what the color. Even though there was nothing wrong with her preference for pink, there really was something unappealing about taking them all before anyone else had the chance. It was greedy.
Naturally, she had her daughter with her. Now, if she had told me that pink was the little girl’s favorite color, then I would have filled a bag with all the pink pieces myself. For a child, it would have made sense. For a grown up, it was just plain icky.