By: Amanda Williams
Suppose your favorite restaurant has a bubble gum ball machine by the front door. Every time you leave, you pop a quarter into the machine & out pops a gum ball.
Now suppose there is a man named Herman Smithfield who owns that gum ball machine. Herman is a family man with a wife named Sarah, a son named Norm, a daughter named Kelly & a dog named Rip. He makes a modest living stocking the gum ball machines in town.
Each week, Herman buys a bunch of gum balls at wholesale & then visits all his machines, stocking them with treats. He has learned over the years that he can expect to earn anywhere from $150 to $225 from each of his machines per week. It may not sound like much, but from this money, Herman is able to pay his mortgage, electric & water bills, buy groceries & set a small amount aside for Kelly & Norm’s school fund & his & Sarah’s retirement.
Now imagine that one day someone discovers a tiny button on the side of the machine that you can press to dispense a gum ball without putting in your quarter. It’s not a free gum ball, mind you, because Herman has already paid 2 cents apiece for them, but at least you don’t have to pay for the gum ball anymore. You don’t know Herman or his family, you just see an opportunity to save a quarter. So now, instead of dropping your twenty-five cents into the gum ball machine every time you walk out the door of your favorite restaurant, you just push the button & wallah! a “free gum ball” drops down for you to enjoy.
Word spreads all over town that all you have to do to get a gum ball is push the tiny button on the machine. Everyone is doing it now. No harm, no foul, right? Everybody is doing it! Why pay a quarter for something you can get for free?
What about Herman? At first, he didn’t notice too much. He just thought that gum balls might have gone out of fashion. Then he did a thorough count and realized that he was missing just as many gum balls, but only making a fraction of the profit. After a week or two of only making $75 or so per machine (and some even less), Herman & Norm organized a stake out to figure out the cause of the problem. They sat near the front door of one of the restaurants, pretending to read the newspaper, all the while keeping an eagle eye peeled to see what was going on with the gum ball machine.
Soon enough, they found their answer. The culprit (as we know) was the tiny button! Herman & Norm acted immediately, after all, their family’s livelihood was at stake! They went around to all their gum ball machines & put a piece of duct tape over the tiny button. That should fix it, they thought.
But fix it, they did not. The cat was out of the bag. Everyone was used to getting their gum balls for free now, so someone just pulled off the tape & went back to pushing the button & getting their gum for free. Everyone loves gum balls, after all.
The Smithfields became angry. How dare these townspeople steal their gum balls! They worked hard for the machines! They spent hours checking & stocking each one! They took pride in filling them with the highest quality gum balls, buying the 2 cent ones instead of the 1 cent! And now, these thieves were chewing the hands that fed them! Someone would have to pay for this injustice!
Herman & Norm devised a plan: sue the restaurants who were letting people have their gum balls without paying. The restaurants argued that they couldn’t be responsible for the actions of their customers. They agreed to put up signs to alert everyone that the gum balls were not free & that they should pay their quarters like they used to do. (Yeah, right. The customers disregarded the signs. They hadn’t paid for a gum ball in weeks & weren’t about to start again now.)
What then? Sue the customers themselves! Make an example of someone! Again, Herman & Norm staked out near the front door of a restaurant where one of their machines sat. Sarah & Kelly came along to watch the justice unfold. Herman & Norm had rigged up the tiny button to make a loud buzzing noise when pressed so that everyone in the restaurant would see the thief brought to justice.
They didn’t have to wait long. Little Susie Ann came skipping up to the gum ball machine, her blonde curls bouncing with joy at the thought of maybe getting a pink one! She hadn’t even had to ask her mother for a quarter, because, just like everyone else knew, nobody paid for gum balls anymore.
No sooner had little Susie pressed the tiny button when the alarm sounded & the whole Smithfield family leapt on her! “Stop, thief!” they shouted in unison. “Drop that stolen gum ball!”
In their excitement, little Susie was pushed to the floor. She got a little bit of ketchup on her new dress & a tiny bruise on her left cheek where Kelly accidentally elbowed her. Susie made a terrible poster child for illegal gum ball awareness as her tear stained face was plastered across the cover of the town paper & all over the local news stations. The headlines read: “Small Child Punished for Stealing Gum Balls. $10,000 Fine Levied by Gum Ball Barons.”