Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Elliot's 18-Eurocent Cow

So, we're walking along the Linneauskade on Queen's Day... The vrijmarkt is in full effect, like some mixture of a Turkish bazaar, an Arizona fleamarket, and your standard county fair. Elliot has spent almost all of the loose change that had been emptied from his savings bank into the front pocket of his jeans, but he's looking for a little something extra to complete his haul.

And up to this point, he's actually done a lot better than I thought he would, considering that this is his first real experience with managing his own money -- even if it was just €1.27 in change spent on a few matchbox cars, a Sesame Street train set, and some other miscellaneous knick-knacks being sold by other children from the neighborhood. He's enjoying the experience, and we're glad for the opportunity to teach him something about the value of money.

Well, we're going along the Linneauskade, through these rows of blankets spread out on each side with a million-and-one little things. And Elliot picks out this old plastic Fisher-Price cow from the myriad items on the sidewalk. It's an old cow, a pretty crummy cow, by my estimation. Dirty, worn, kind of pitiful looking. I actually remember playing with the exact same kind of cow when I was a little boy. You know, it was part of that whole Fisher-Price farm set, where you'd open the barn door and a little "moo" would automatically call out. I guess it was actually a pretty cool little set in its day -- but that was 25 years ago -- and this is just the old cow by itself, anyway... But Elliot says he wants it, so what can you do?

So we look up from the sidewalk display to see this old Dutch woman -- the typical weathered face of that vintage Amsterdammer -- squinting down at her wares, pulling out the last few puffs from the nub of a cigarette pinched between her thumb and forefinger. This woman is not the grandmotherly type. Oh no. She's perched on her lawn chair, peering like a hawk through her bi-focals with the hardened, suspicious, cranky demeanor of old women that I remember from the childhood days of my paper route. I get a small glimpse of what might happen in this Queen's Day business exchange. But I hope for the best. Because Elliot's really convinced that he wants the cow now. I figure, "We'll see..."

So I ask, "Hoeveel voor deze koe?" -- "How much for this cow?"

She responds with her thick Amsterdamse accent: "Twintig cent" -- "Twenty cents."

Now, I know this is a ridiculous asking price. Earlier that morning, Elliot and I had worked a deal for three red matchbox cars (a BMW, a Ferrari, and an Alfa Romero), plus two dalmation puppy action figures, for just 17 eurocents. And any one of those items was better than this crappy cow. But Elliot's got his heart set on the cow by this point, so I know we've got to enter negotiations. So I counter: "What about 10 cents?" (because Queen's Day is meant for wheeling and dealing).

She says, "No, it isn't worth it to me," which is a surprising response, even given my initial sizing-up of the situation. But Elliot is about to cry by this point because he wants the cow so badly, and this lady knows that she's got us on the hook.

So I'm already disgusted by this point, and I try to talk Elliot into walking away from the deal, pledging to help him look elsewhere for another cool toy that he can buy with the rest of his money. But his heart is set on this crummy cow, and he's making this point all too clear by now. And I can't believe that the old lady is letting it come to this -- but then again, it's all too believable by now...

So I say to Elliot, "Well, let's get the rest of your money out from your pocket and see if you've got enough for the cow." So we start digging into his pocket. We're down to 1-cent coins and 2-cent coins -- maybe one 5-cent coin or something, but we're basically looking at a bunch of copper here. We count it out as we go: "eleven... thirteen... fourteen..." You get the idea; it was a pretty pitiful scene.

And when we get to the bottom of Elliot's pockets, we've got a handful of little coins totalling eighteen eurocents, at which point the old lady pipes in with her raspy old smoker's voice: "All those pennies aren't worth it to me."

So I'm fighting just to maintain a civil tone. But I respond in a cool and measured tone: "Well, we could just go on then, if that's what you want." And of course, Elliot is dying for his beloved cow. Yet our fate rests in the hands of this fussbudgety woman.

So she pauses for a second, draws her face up into a grimace, and squeezes out something to the effect of "Oh, all right," as if she's doing us some immense favor worthy of the Nobel peace prize. So Elliot takes the cow, and I take his hand. Turning our back on the old woman, we march forward together -- hard to tell whether it's in victory or defeat -- but at any rate, older and wiser from the intense acquisition of our 18-eurocent cow.


At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Louise said...

Love this story! I laughed so hard at your description of the wizened old lady I nearly fell off the chair. Laughter is good - like medicine. Thanks, fla

At 3:04 PM, Anonymous jimmy p said...

That cow is not crappy...I like it too. Have you worn your Beaker shirt yet?

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Will said...

Hysterical. Brought back fond memories of wishing I had somewhere to put all of the crap I wanted last Queen's Day! Thanks for the memories; oh, and I love that cow too, played with is non-stop as a child.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Bret said...

This is the best post yet - this is an awesome story, so vivid and clear. You are a great writer Eric and I appreciate your knack for word wizardry....

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Mom said...

What a great story! And the other comments posted are wonderful, as well! You definitely have a gift for taking your readers through the experience with you. I love it and I'm sure I'd love the cow, too, just like Elliot!


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