When I was nine, I was hiking around in the Sierra Nevada mountain range with my dad and his friend Mike. I always idolized Mike as a young boy because he didn’t seem to have a real job and, as far as I could tell, didn’t actually own a tie. He also had a cool house in Santa Cruz with an art studio in the back; he had time to surf and learn things like playing the harmonica and juggling. These were pretty impressive accomplishments to a nine year old. I made a note to never have a real job.
Later I would realize that not having a real job can actually be more work, because you have to hustle on your own to make money instead of just showing up at the same building all the time.
So we’d been hiking for a couple of hours when we stopped at a pool in a creek to fish, eat lunch, and just take a break. While we’re sitting by this calm pool of water, my dad teaches me to skip stones. This moment touches off a life long quest for the absolutely perfect skipping stone. I spend the next half hour or so practicing my new skill and got it up to three whole skips. I was pretty proud of myself and began to swell up with my old nemesis, confidence.
Mike walks over. “Hey, that’s pretty good. Mind if I skip a few or did you clean the place out of good rocks?”
Me. “Sure, hey I bet you can’t skip a rock all the way across the pool!”
Mike. “what should we bet?”
What should we bet? That stumped me. My idol was apparently unaware of the gentleman’s bet that was standard in the vernacular of the “tween” crowd. As in, “I bet you can’t eat ten pickles,” or “I bet I can climb the jungle gym faster than you.”
I felt in my pockets. Among three pounds of grade A skipping stones I found a single quarter. Turned out, it wasn’t just any quarter. It was a bicentennial quarter, the one where they replaced the eagle on the back with a drummer. I don’t know why, but I had never noticed that these even existed before that moment and, in the two seconds I looked at it in my hand, I realized it was special. I hesitated, but I didn’t want to look like a wuss around the guy so I said, “I betcha a quarter.”
I told myself it was pretty far across the pond, and that I had only been able to get three skips even though I’d been practicing for almost 30 minutes – which is like a week in kid-time. Also, I had already scoured the beach for good stones and had the best ones in my pockets. Finally, as an extra measure of safety, who the hell takes a quarter from a kid, even if he bets it?
Mike does, that’s who.
He reached down and picked up an average looking rock. I couldn’t believe my luck, this fool didn’t even spend ten seconds on the hunt! I was going to have two quarters any second. He whipped the rock side arm and it skipped six times. Six!
He had defied the laws of physics as I understood them. That damn rock skipped right across the pond and crashed into the brush on the far size with energy to spare. Apparently, in addition to all the other fun things Mike did when not working for the man, he also didn’t miss out on stone-skipping practice. He held out his hand.
I felt a wave of cold wash over my body. He was serious. My special quarter, my mind raced. Why had I been so confident!? I had only just realized what it was I had in my pocket; and I was set up by a ringer. What kind of a monster takes a quarter from a child??? I looked for a second at my dad – surely he would save me.
“Bet’s a bet” He said. I began to suspect they were pulling some kind of pool shark move to relieve a rube like me of my lucky special quarter. This was another of those goddamn teaching moments. Never trust an adult.
Someday I’ll start a blog with my sister to punish you all, I thought as I handed over my quarter.