Swindy Wagon and the Charidy Band

Four children get a crash course in charity and capitalism in this satire from Dakota James.

Paper airplanes

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“Okay, let’s get this meeting going. I have a PB&J waiting for me with mother. Is everyone here?”

“Here,” they said in unison.

“All right. Let’s get straight to business. The airplanes aren’t selling. Dwight?”

Dwight shuffled some papers. “The airplanes aren’t selling.”

“The airplanes aren’t selling,” Jamal, senior executive, repeated. “Thank you, Dwight. Samantha?”

“Yeah.”

“Samantha thinks so too. Franklin?”

“I sold one,” Franklin announced. They all turned to him. “To my mom.”

“Are we counting that?” Samantha asked.

Dwight shuffled his papers again. “No — we decided no, right?”

“We decided not to count that,” Jamal confirmed. “Dwight, what’re those papers?”

Dwight shuffled the papers. “Notebook paper,” he said. “From my notebook.”

“Is anything written down on them?” Jamal asked.

“No, sir,” Dwight told him.

“Fair enough,” Jamal decided. “Listen, what’re we going to do about this? Swindy Wagon’s album comes out on Saturday, and I only just got Mr. Lim to let me preorder it without having the money. The cash. The chingbling —”

“I have an idea,” Franklin announced. “What if, instead of paper, we made the airplanes out of bubble wrap? That way, whenever you were bored with it, you could just pop it and have a whole lot of fun.”

There were a few murmurs of agreement. Jamal swiveled around in his office chair and faced the framed painting of the turkey.

“Bubble wrap, Franklin?” he asked, staring at the turkey. “How the lollipop are we going to make a paper airplane out of bubble wrap?

“I don’t know,” Franklin said. “It was just an idea.”

Jamal swiveled around in his office chair to face them again. He pounded his fist on the long rectangular table in front of him. “We need more than just ideas, dang it! We need brilliance! We need money-making genius! And maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there’s a way for bubble wrap to keep the fold necessary for flight. Does anyone disagree with that?”

There were, again, a few murmurs of agreement.

“I have an idea,” Samantha spoke up. “I was listening to my parents the other day, and they were talking about how Girl Scout cookies are such a great investment because of something having to do with — um — I think the word was charidy.”

Franklin and Dwight nodded and said, “Ah …”

“What?” Jamal asked, turning to Franklin and then Dwight and then Samantha. “What is charidy?”

“I don’t know,” Samantha told him. Franklin and Dwight didn’t chime in, so she continued. “But I kept listening to my parents, and it seemed like they were saying they’d buy something if it was for charidy. Maybe we sell our airplanes for charidy?”

Jamal tapped his unsharpened pencil against his lips. “Hmm,” he said. “Boys? What do you think?”

Dwight shuffled his papers. “Wouldn’t hurt to try. Is charidy a person, or—”

“We don’t know,” Franklin said. “And it would make us look unprofessional to ask. I say we go for it. Couldn’t hurt anything. I say we hit the same houses we’ve already hit, but tell them it’s for charidy. See where it gets us.”

Jamal pondered this, his pencil tapping against his lips. “You know what? I think I have an idea, too. And it involves our sweet little friend, charidy.”

***

Samantha rang the doorbell. She shifted the box of paper airplanes in her hands to present them better — with more dignity and professionalism. A man answered the door.

“Hello, there,” the man said cheerfully. “Selling paper airplanes again?”

“Hello, sir. My name is Samantha Greenwell,” she told him. He smiled knowingly. “Have you heard about the Paper Airplane Charidy?”

The man cocked his head, confused. “Charity?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Samantha said. “I am giving away paper airplanes and taking donations. For charidy. There’s going to be a paper airplane competition at Wood Field Park this Saturday, and you can take as many paper airplanes as you want. You can even test them out if you like.”

The man smiled, still confused. “A paper airplane competition? Wow. Okay. I’ll take three — for my three sons.” She gave him three paper airplanes.

“Would you like to make a donation, sir?” she asked him.

“Oh,” he said. “Um, sure.” He fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He gave her two one-dollar bills. “What charity is it for?”

Samantha shoved the bills into her pocket. She nodded. “Yes sir. For charidy. Thank you very much!”

Samantha turned and walked away. She hummed as she walked to the next house. The man chuckled to himself. “Huh. That’s amazing,” he said. “Honey!” he called inside, to his wife. “Guess what Samantha Greenwell just told me?”

***

On Friday, the kids reconvened. Each of them dug into their pockets and laid nickels, quarters, dimes, dollar bills, and in one case (Samantha was quite proud of this), a five-dollar bill, which none of the kids had ever owned themselves before.

“Whoa,” Franklin said as Samantha set the five-dollar bill down on the table. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Five dollars …”

“What can I say?” Samantha bragged. “I’m a natural.”

“You mean charidy’s a natural,” Jamal corrected her. “Gentlemen — lady,” he nodded to Samantha, “though we haven’t counted yet, I think it’s safe to say that we did it. We made enough to buy, tomorrow, Swindy Wagon’s new album!”

The kids cheered and whooped and whistled. When the celebration died down, Jamal continued. “Now, I’ve been thinking about what to do about this paper airplane competition tomorrow, and I think I’ve come up with a plan.”

“What is it?” Dwight asked, and tried to shuffle his papers. (He couldn’t, though — he’d forgotten them that day.)

“It was a big flaw in the original plan, the competition. Because how could we get Swindy Wagon’s new album and host a neighborhood-wide competition? But I think I’ve come up with a solution. I think I have.”

“Just say it, dude,” Samantha groaned.

“We — don’t —go,” Jamal said conspiratorially. “We just don’t go! We have the money, so who cares about the competition?”

Dwight shifted in his seat nervously. “But — isn’t that sort of like lying?”

“Of course it is,” Jamal told him. “But do you want to host the paper airplane competition instead of listening to Swindy Wagon’s album?”

Dwight thought about this. He shifted in his seat again. “No.”

“Right. Besides, I don’t think it was ever about the competition. I think we all know what this was about.” He waited. “Charidy. We have charidy to thank for this, not some dumb competition.”

“He’s right about that,” Franklin said. “He is. He’s right about that.”

“So tomorrow morning, let’s meet at Mr. Lim’s. Let’s say — ten? Eleven?”

“I like to sleep in,” Samantha said, yawning. “Let’s say noon.”

“Noon it is,” Jamal announced. “Guys — we did it. We did it!” He cackled gleefully. Samantha clapped, and then yawned again.

***

“No — no!” Jamal screamed.

“Oh, boy,” Franklin said — mostly to himself.

“How could this happen?” Jamal asked.

The sign on the door of Mr. Lim’s read: Out for the day. Going to Wood Field with my daughter for the Paper Airplane Competition for Charity.

“They didn’t even spell charidy right,” Samantha mumbled.

“I can’t believe it,” Jamal muttered. “It backfired. Our plan backfired.”

“We could just go to Wood Field and ask Mr. Lim if he’d sell us the album later today,” Samantha said.

“Can’t you read?” Jamal asked, incredulous. “The sign says, ‘Out for the day’ — the day! It’s over! Over!” He wept.

“Well, I’m going to try and find him there,” Samantha announced. “Dwight, Franklin — want to join me?”

Dwight and Franklin shook their heads. “I’m kind of hungry,” Dwight said. “And I don’t have any more notebook paper, so I’m not really feeling up to it right now.”

“Yeah, I told my mom I wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t go to Wood Field with her,” Franklin said. “So I’m just going to go home.”

“Why?” Jamal asked the sky. “Why?

“Whatever,” Samantha said, shrugging them off. “You dudes are lame. See you later.”

And with that, Samantha made out for Wood Field Park.

***

Samantha’s mouth was agape — the whole town was at Wood Field! Paper airplanes were zooming this way and that, some high, some low, some fast, some slow. Samantha couldn’t believe it. But what caught her eye after the initial shock wasn’t the number of people she and her friends had managed to bring together to toss around folded pieces of paper, but the vendors around the perimeter of the field — paper airplane vendors!

Samantha stomped over to the nearest one. “Hey, what’s the big idea?” she asked accusingly. “You stole our business!”

The kid behind the stand eyed her suspiciously. “Would you like to buy a paper airplane? You can get yours customized here.”

“You stole our — wait, what? Customized?”

“Yes ma’am,” the vendor said. “We have an artist-in-residence that will draw whatever you like on your personal, unique paper airplane. Yours will be the only one like it.”

Again, Samantha’s jaw unhinged. “You — have a drawer for the paper airplanes?”

“An artist-in-residence,” he corrected her. “And yes, we do.”

“How much are they?”

“Five dollars,” he told her.

Five dollars? What’s wrong with you? That’s absurd!”

“Hey!” the vendor shouted, losing his temper. He leaned in and whispered to her. “It’s a free country, all right? We’ll charge what we want to charge. If you don’t like it,” he said, “the cheap vendor is over there. Sells his planes for a penny. If you don’t like our business model, then beat it, all right?”

Samantha was indignant. A penny? What money could a person make selling paper planes for a penny?

“Hey, what’s the big idea?” Samantha asked the penny vendor. “You stole our idea!”

“Plane for a penny?” the vendor asked with a smirk, and winked at her. “Cheapest plane around. And we have staff making them extra-double quick, so you can buy as many as you like as fast as you can buy them.” He winked at her again.

“How are you going to make any money selling planes for a penny?” she asked furiously. “And don’t wink at me! You’re a thief!”

The penny vendor put up his hands and shrugged. “I don’t make the demand, baby. I just supply.”

“What does — what does that even mean?” she stuttered.

“Say, how about I give you one for free, and you can pay me the penny some other time — if you like it. How’s that sound?” He winked at her again.

“Ugh!” she shrieked, and walked away.

Samantha sulked past the other vendors — Super Fast, Never Last!, and Military-Grade P-A bombers (P-A: Paper Airplane), and Artisanal & Organic: The Humane Way to Fly a Plane. Every vendor had its own shtick, and Samantha found them all repulsive. None of them were for charidy, she thought, and yet here they were selling paper airplanes at one, two, three dollars a pop. It was so unfair.

She had to go back and rally the boys. They had to know about this.

***

Because of hockey practice and homework, the group couldn’t meet again until Monday evening. Samantha explained to them what’d happened at the competition, and the boys were just as angry as she had been. Jamal in particular was the angriest.

He pounded his little fist on the table and swiveled around and around in his chair. “This — is — lucridous!” he said as he whirled around. He made two complete rotations and then stopped himself. “We can’t just let this happen. We have to do something about this. It’s not about the money anymore. No, this is about principle.”

“This is about the principal?” Franklin asked.

“No — principle!” Jamal repeated. “We were the first ones to go around selling paper airplanes. We were the ones who created the competition. We were the ones who thought to make the money for charidy!”

They were silent for a moment. Then, “Maybe that’s it,” Samantha said quietly. “Maybe it’s not our fault. Maybe it’s — charidy.”

The group inhaled sharply through their noses.

Dwight put his hands flat on the table. “Do you mean to say,” he started, “that charidy is the reason we were punked over? Charidy is the reason we got the money in the first place!”

“Dwight,” Jamal interrupted. “I think Samantha’s onto something. She usually is. She is a girl,” he said, and Dwight and Franklin surrendered and murmured agreement. “I think we have to do something to get back not just at those other kids, but at charidy. I say we give the neighborhood one more go-around with the paper airplanes.”

“But the competition is over,” Samantha said. “No one will want one, now.”

“Oh, they will,” Jamal said in a low voice. “Because we’re going to tell them exactly where their money is going.”

***

Franklin rang the doorbell. He pushed up his glasses with his shoulder. A man came to the door.

“Hello, there — again,” the man said unenthusiastically. “I think it’s wonderful what you guys are doing, what with the money going to charity and all—”

“Let me interrupt you for a moment, sir,” Franklin started. “I just want you to know that none of the money you might spend on a paper airplane today is going to be for that ugly, gross, greedy monster, charidy. If I can assure you of two things today, sir, it’s that these are the finest paper airplanes in the neighborhood, and that the 75 cents you spend on it will never, ever go to charidy ever again.” The man was silent. “I’m sorry for interrupting, sir. Would you like to buy a paper airplane?”

The man drummed his index finger against the doorframe. “Um, no, thank you, Franklin. I’m good for today.” He frowned.

“Okay,” Franklin said. “Thank you anyway, Mr. Weddleson.”

Franklin turned and left. Mr. Weddleson frowned again and shut the door.

***

Samantha, Jamal, Franklin, and Dwight lay on the floor staring at the ceiling. They had their hands crossed over their stomachs, and despite Swindy Wagon’s new album playing in the background, they were thinking.

“I just don’t get it,” Jamal said. He lifted his head suddenly. “Franklin — did you at least sell one to your mom with the new pitch?”

Franklin stared at the ceiling. “No. She didn’t seem too happy with me afterwards, either.”

“There must be something about charidy that people really love,” Samantha said to the group. “I wish I knew what it was.”

Swindy Wagon sang in the background.

Candy, candy, keep it around … Candy, candy, it comes in handy …

“No,” Jamal said finally. “I don’t think there’s anything else to it. People just really love charidy, I guess.”

Swindy Wagon continued into the bridge of the song.

I’ll take it no matter what … oh, there’s so much clarity … that candy … never give it to charity …

The four of them flicked their heads to the speakers. Jamal reached over and aggressively turned off the stereo.

Jamal sighed. “Swindy Wagon really sold out. Charidy!” he scoffed. “Say — anyone have a dictionary?”

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