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Dan Conradt: You tell an entrepreneur by the red mustache

September 23, 2018

Do you need more?” Mom called out the kitchen window.

I leaned across the rickety card table and grabbed the copper-colored pitcher by its handle. Condensation had formed on the outside of the pitcher, and the few ice cubes that hadn’t melted rattled around inside. While the first cup struck the perfect balance between “sweet” and “tangy” (as a 9-year-old, I considered myself a Kool-Aid connoisseur), the last cup was kind of … watery.

“Yeah!” I called back. “It’s almost gone.”

“What kind?”

My brothers and I looked at each other: “Orange!”

One of the neighborhood kids slammed on the brakes of his red Stingray, sliding to a stop in front of our table and leaving a streak of black rubber on the sidewalk.

“Whatcha doin’?” he asked.

“Selling Kool-Aid,” I said.

“How much?”

We’d taped a sheet of paper from a Big Chief notebook to the edge of the card table. With a green crayon I’d printed “Kool-Aid 5¢.”

“Five cents” I said, pointing down at the sign.

He made a show of digging into the pockets of his dungarees and — as I knew he would — came up empty.

“I don’t get my allowance until Saturday,” he said. “Can I pay you then?” I was pretty sure I’d never see the nickel, but he did let me ride his bike when it was new.

I poured him a Styrofoam cup of Kool-Aid. He drank it in two gulps and ended with a prolonged “Aaaahhhhh!”, which seemed especially funny coming from someone with a cherry red moustache.

“See ya Saturday,” he said, climbing back into the banana seat of his bicycle and starting down the sidewalk.

“Bring a nickel!” I called after him.

He laughed and waved without looking back. Halfway down the block, he slammed on the brakes, leaving another streak of rubber on the concrete. He’d probably need the nickel to buy new tires.

“Here you go!” Mom said, placing a second pitcher in the middle of the table. The Kool-Aid stand had been her idea; it already was sweltering by nine o’clock that morning, and it was starting to look as though my brothers and I were going to waste one of the final days of summer vacation sitting inside.

“Why don’t you go outside and play?” Mom suggested — for the seventh or eighth time — as she passed through the living room with a basket of laundry.

“It’s too hot!” we whined in three-part harmony.

“Well, after lunch, why don’t you set up a Kool-Aid stand?” she suggested. “You can put a table on the sidewalk, make some Kool-Aid and sell it!”

“After lunch?” I said. “That’s the hottest part of the day!”

“That’s when people want something cold to drink,” mom said. “That’s when you’ll sell the most.”

Hmm. I suddenly hoped the day would warm up a little.

“How much should we charge for a glass?” my brother asked.

“Eleven dollars!” I said.

“That might be too much,” Mom said diplomatically. “How about five cents?”

Five cents. I’d been wanting a bag of Cat’s Eye marbles I’d seen at the store. It was only 10 cents. I’ll probably have to split the Kool-Aid money with my brothers. But then again, I am the oldest.

Beads of perspiration were forming on the second pitcher as mom stirred it with a wooden spoon. “How’s the Kool-Aid business?” she asked.

“Uh, good!” we said. At least we were staying hydrated.

She peeked into the tin can we’d hoped would be overflowing with nickels by this time. If she was curious about why the first pitcher and the tin can were both empty, she didn’t say anything. Maybe seeing her three boys each wearing a bright red moustache answered her question.

“Well, if you need more just come tell me,” Mom said, and she walked back to the house.

Ten minutes later, she was back.

“It’s pretty hot in the house,” she said. “I think I’ll buy some.”

My brother took a Styrofoam cup off the top of the stack and filled it with Kool-Aid. A melting ice cube wiggled through the pitcher’s pouring spout and plopped into the cup.

Mom took a long, slow drink.

“Mmmmm. That’s good!” she said. The tin can rattled for the first time that day when she dropped something into it; it sounded like more than one coin. Maybe she grabbed five pennies out of the jar she keeps in the kitchen cabinet.

We discreetly waited for her to return to the house before we peered into the can.

Wow! Three dimes!!

The “going out of business sale” lasted about two minutes; that’s how long it took to finish the orange Kool-Aid and divide our profits three ways.

I slept with a bag of Cat’s Eye marbles under my pillow that night.

But it’s funny. I thought Mom didn’t like orange Kool-Aid.

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