Backwash Business Practices

Sixth grade was the culmination of my Elementary School experience. I had looked forward to sixth grade since kindergarten. There were many reasons why I looked forward to that year, and one of those reasons was because in sixth grade, there were “Business Days”, six of them in all.

The idea was somewhat complex, so let me explain. In my school district system the administration felt that kids should be taught about finance before going to middle school. At the beginning of the year each student was issued a checkbook and balance register. This was to teach us how to keep track of spending in real life. We were given a complimentary $5.00 in “sixth grade money” to get us started. Money would be awarded from various teachers for doing certain things, like turning assignments in on time, behaving during assemblies, and so forth. There were fines, as well. Disrupting class, coming in late from recess, and so on, would warrant fines. Essentially we had our own sixth grade economy. Interestingly enough, the only record of how much money we actually had was in our balance registers, and it would have been fairly easy to write in any amount that we wanted and “forge” a teacher’s initials. I realize this now, though I didn’t think to do it at the time. Still, I wonder if anyone in my class committed sixth grade fraud.

Of course there was no point in having all this money if there was no way to spend it, and that’s where Business Day came into play. For $25.00 a student could buy a business license, and for another $25.00 they could rent a space for the day. That is, it cost $50.00 to have a business for the day. Business Day took place on the playground during the warm months, and inside the classrooms during the cold months.

The first Business Day came and and I wanted in on the action. I was going to set up my own business. We had been taught that there were two types of businesses. Retail businesses and service businesses. For retail, many of the students would sell their old comic books, McDonald’s toys, or anything from home that they didn’t care about anymore. I remember my brother had gotten a bunch of comic books the previous year, and they were really cool, I looked forward to getting some of my own. I knew that I didn’t want to sell anything that I owned, so I wasn’t going to have a retail business. So a service business it was.

But what service to do? I didn’t even hesitate on my decision. As a child, I wanted to either be a bodybuilder or a professional magician. So doing a magic show it was. I had some books of magic tricks, and I’d even practiced a few of them. Well, I applied for my business license and rented the space. There was just one problem. I never actually made a plan. I figured I’d show up, do some tricks and call it a day. It didn’t even occur to me that I needed to practice some tricks. My business was a disaster. I had two or three customers that day. Every time I tried to do a trick for them, I totally screwed up. I remember one of my teachers, Mrs. Bankhead, felt sorry for me because I wasn’t doing any magic shows, so she paid the fee for me to do a magic trick, and I was doing some card trick, you know, where someone picks a card, hides it in the deck, and the magician magically finds it. Well, I tried doing this, and I couldn’t find the card, so I said, “Let me try that again…” You can guess how that ended.

Well, that first business that I held was kind of a disaster, and I certainly didn’t make back the $50.00 that I spent on it, but I didn’t really care. It taught me an important lesson: Buying things is more fun than selling them. So I abandoned my business, and went out to do what I had been looking forward to doing, buying comic books. I got a 3D comic book of The Swiss Family Robinson, 3D glasses included. I still have the comic book today, interestingly enough. Another Business Day came and went, and I had some fun, but didn’t do another business.

Well the third Business Day comes around, and my buddy Aaron and I decided that we’re going to do a business together. We both liked video games, so we knew we had to do something with that. Naturally, we weren’t going to sell any of our video games, but we had to do something, so we did another service business. We were going to charge kids to play for a few minutes. Fifty bucks gets you ten minutes of game time, one hundred get’s you twenty-five minutes.

We made a poster for our business. We drew Sonic the Hedgehog on it. Sega Genesis would be our gaming system. We picked the games that each of us had that we thought would be the most fun for someone to play for just a few minutes. We had Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Contra: Hard Corps, and a few other games. Well, on Business Day we go to set up, and some other kid is doing the same type of business. Great, competition, we sigh. We figured we had a bigger selection of games, so maybe we’d stand a chance. He only had one game, Mortal Kombat II, but he also had a plan, far superior to ours. His plan was to hold a tournament. You’d buy-in for a hundred dollars. You played until you lost. Whoever won, claimed the pot, after the business took a cut, of course. At the end of the day he made thousands. Aaron and I made $200.00. After the $50.00 fee, we had each made $75.00. Sure, we were happy to turn a profit, but it wasn’t hard to see how bad our business model was. We charged for play time. There were only so many hours in a day, only three I think. This other kid charged for a single match in Mortal Kombat II. A match can be over in thirty seconds, and never more than two minutes. That means this kid was bringing in a hundred bucks every two minutes. Aaron and I just didn’t think this out. I never liked arcades, because you pay to play for a few seconds, then if you want to play more you have to pay, we were trying to do the very business model that I despised. To be honest, though, before we even started, we thought we could maybe make $500.00 and take home about $200.00 a piece. We weren’t thinking big enough from the start.

A few more Business Days came and went. Aaron approached me with another business plan, but after our last endeavor which I considered a failure, I was hesitant to join him. Instead I partnered up with another friend of mine named Brandon. Brandon did all the work really, and looking back, he didn’t need me at all. He had one of those indoor putting greens, you know, like business executives have in the movies, and the idea was simple. For twenty bucks, or so, kids could take a put. If they got the ball in the hole, they’d win a soda pop. Optionally they could just buy a soda. We were also selling Otter Pops, and that was my end of the business. Indeed, this time I was actually selling a product. My mom had spent maybe ten bucks to get me something like two hundred Otter Pops. I was supposed to sell them at ten bucks a piece. For a grand total of two thousand dollars.

This business went great. The kids loved the golf, and the money was coming in. The Otter Pops weren’t really selling that well, but I was happy that we were making money. I’d maybe sold ten or twenty Otter Pops, not a lot, but it was more than I made with my “magic show”. Near the end of the day I held an auction to sell of the remaining supply of Otter Pops. There were probably a hundred fifty left. This girl named Abby bid $1000.00 for them, and without even waiting for another bid, I said, “Sold!” I’d just made a thousand dollars! It was way more than the few bucks Aaron and I had made. Altogether, our business made around $5000.00. Very good. Since Brandon did most of the work he took a $3500.00 cut, and I took $1500.00. Which I saw as perfectly fair since he did most of the work, and really I’d maybe made $1100.00 off of my Otter Pop sales, so I considered that a steal. When I went home and told my mom how much money I made she was disappointed that I didn’t make the $2000.00 that I was supposed to make, but I explained to her that I did a million times better than my first business, and that’s all that mattered to em.

Aaron ran a business that day as well, and this is the most important part of this blog post. His business was a lottery. He sold raffle tickets, and at the end of the day there was a drawing for some prizes that he had. One of the prizes was a two liter bottle of pop. He had other things like potato chips and candy. I bought maybe ten or twenty lotto tickets from him, and I won! I won the bottle of pop he had. The soda was Doc Shasta, Shasta’s imitation of Dr. Pepper. Well, I was happy to win that. Yeah, that was the best day of my life.

Aaron ended up bringing in a few thousand that day as well. Overall he made more money than I did, but his business didn’t make as much as Brandon and mine’s, so I wasn’t jealous. Actually, I felt a bit cocky that our business was more successful, but that’s not important now.

What is important about Aaron’s business, was the soda pop that I won. Normally my mom didn’t give us a lot of soda, and caffeine was even rarer, but I had a whole bottle of pop all for myself. I didn’t even like Dr. Pepper or it’s imitations. I preferred Coca-cola, but I didn’t care, it was all my own.

I drank the whole thing that afternoon. Yes indeed! I got home from school and started chugging. Now you might be guessing where this is going, but you’re wrong, it’s going somewhere totally different. I wanted my experience with this soda to last. It was all mine, so I wasn’t just going to drink it and be done with it, I was going to make it last as long as possible. In order to accomplish that, I would sip some soda out of the bottle, swish it around in my mouth to enjoy the flavor, then filter it through my teeth back into the bottle, and do it all over again. The idea was simple, absorb some flavor into my mouth, then save the rest of the flavor in the bottle for later. I repeated this process over and over. Sipping a little, then spitting it back into the bottle. I was in flavor country, as a smoker would say. Well, I swallowed a little each time, and eventually it got to the point where everything in the bottle was all bubbly and flavorless. Indeed, I had created a bottle of backwash. Well, not just backwash, super-backwash. So there I had it. This bottle of backwash. Now, mind you, the whole bottle wasn’t filled with backwash, it was maybe five percent full, but I still had this bottle of backwash. And you know what? I swallowed the whole thing. It tipped the bottle up, let the backwash flow into my mouth, and I swallowed. What else was I supposed to do? The flavor was gone, there was no point in sipping on it anymore, so I swallowed it.

What’s even weirder than that, is that I wasn’t grossed out at all by what I had done. Not right away anyway, but about ten minutes later it occurred to me that I had just drank my own spit. I wanted to throw up. I’ve never had Dr. Pepper or any imitation products since. Okay, I have, but only when it’s been given to me. I’ve never purchased Dr. Pepper for the purpose of drinking it. Even thinking about it now makes me want to throw up. And that was the culmination of my Business Day experiences. Drinking a bottle full of backwash.

I never did spend the thousands of dollars that I made. At least not on anything cool. At the end of the school year the teachers held an auction to give the students a chance to spend their excess money. I had nearly $2000.00 and I spent $500.00 for a lame basketball game. A game that I only bid on because this other kid, named Nick, that I didn’t like, was bidding on it, and I wanted to make sure that he didn’t get it. The other $1500.00, that I had, remained as a number on my balance register, and disappeared when I went to middle school. I regretted not spending that money. I remember that the teachers auctioned off some colored markers, they sold for about a thousand, I could have wont them if I had bid my remaining money.

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