On The Driveway To Economic Recovery – Thoughts On Free Trade

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Recovery from the Great Recession has been fragile. Everyone knows that growth is critical to full recovery, and maintaining trading partners is critical to growth. But where do you find trading partners, people who stand ready to exchange their hard-earned cheddar for your goods or services? I’ll tell you where. My driveway, Saturday mornings.

Saturday mornings because that’s when I’m the only adult manning the fort. My wife keeps the harder tasks, like managing the soccer team and getting the kid who acts to the play on time. Nobody wants another April 2013 incident, when a soccer goalie was dropped off at community theater, while Hamlet was forced to suffer the slings and arrows of shot after shot on goal. I stay behind with the cartoon-watchers, charged with three simple tasks: dress ‘em, feed ‘em and clean up after ‘em. Not that this is easy. They don’t exactly have the table manners of David Niven.

My driveway because that’s where you want to face me as counterparty, where my worst trades take place. Let me show you what I mean. Three Saturdays ago a pickup truck stops in front of my house and two guys amble up my driveway. They quote what seems a fair price for pine needles, so I say have at it. But then a strange thing happens: they start scattering pine needles all over my front yard. This is odd, since I thought the deal was they get rid of mine, not give me theirs. Once we establish their take on the trade was the correct one, they go back to scattering and I go back to pretending my misunderstanding wasn’t beyond dumb.

My wife is not pleased when she gets home. You see, the pine needles I just bought are like a stay at the Four Seasons to deer ticks. I must have let my subscription to Tick Fancy run because this is news to me. It certainly explains why the guys scattered in hazmat suits. My beloved just looks at me with eyes that say fix this immediately, which if you’re wondering look an awful lot like eyes that say we’re not keeping this mechanical bull. I call the needle brothers and explain the honest mistake. They laugh, say they understand, charge me double to collect what they’ve scattered and depart a second time, no doubt off to a celebratory lunch at Outback Steakhouse. Before they go, they make a mulch referral.

The next Saturday morning two mulch men cruise into my driveway, guns hot and blasting Mott the Hoople. Immediately I notice two things. First, they’re driving a Subaru Brat which, with passenger seats in the truck bed, I didn’t think was even street legal. Second, to my knowledge not even Mott the Hoople still listens to Mott the Hoople. We confirm our trade and they jump into action, spreading wood chips all around my yard. Before they can get too far, I ask the critical question:

Me: This mulch doesn’t attract ticks, does it?

Head Mulch Guy: Ticks? No, not ticks.

By Wednesday I realize why. No tick in his right mind would come here, what with all the deadly snakes around. If copperheads had arms, they’d surely be high-fiving one another over the cool, moist habitat I’ve created for them. I call back the mulch men who, after turning down All the Young Dudes, insist that what I really need is a snake guy and  – wait for it – make a referral.

Which brings us to last Saturday morning in my driveway. To speak to the specialists at Adios, Snake is to know that you haven’t engaged the McKinsey of reptile removal. I say that because their two experts spent as much time scaring each other with my garden hose as divining the source of the problem. At long last, they coat my yard with scented pellets that they assure me will drive all snakes off my property. Which begs the question:

Me: What’s stopping you from putting these pellets in my neighbor’s yard next week, and driving the snakes back into my yard?

Head Snake Guy: The warranty. We guarantee results for six months.

Me: And after that?

Head Snake Guy: Do you work in the industry?

I can’t help but think that later tonight the needle brothers, the mulch men and the snake charmers will all meet and raise a glass to free trade generally and me particularly. In three weeks I have spent a small fortune, and all I have to show for it is ticks, snakes and a potential lawsuit with my neighbor. Plus my entire yard now smells like Kris Kristofferson’s aftershave. As I pay Adios, Snake, they give me some free advice: next time just go with pine needles.

I am open for business, America. You’re welcome.