Saturday, December 02, 2006

You Eat What You Kill

In October my wife and I took our daughter K to Rome for her 13th birthday. To many this may seem extreme- including my wife. A friend of mine told me about how he and his wife gave each of their 2 daughters THE birthday gift at 13 instead of 16 or 18. The reasoning? I can’t recall really- but I remember thinking it was very logical.

Our ground rules for our 4 girls are simple:

1. For your 13th birthday you can ask for anything in the world you want

2. We can not borrow any money for the gift

3. We must be able to afford it (this is the best one- a sliding scale that can be adjusted in any year, with any daughter, because of our dictatorial powers. Unfair, I know, but Michelle and I are relatively benevolent dictators)

While K opted for a trip to Rome, L our 11 year old is laying the legal groundwork for her claim on a horse. I am considering an amendment to add a 4th line item requiring the gift to not incur any long-term or continuing costs.

The trip was wonderful (at the time of this writing, there are some snapshots on this page). Throughout our time in Italy I noticed an abundance of street performers. There was the “drunk” passed out by the wall of the Pantheon completely dressed and painted in grey to match the street and gate. If anyone dropped a coin in his box, he stirred and looked around, took a drink, and promptly passed out again. There were mimes, dancers, and balloon artists. One of the few musicians we saw was a man at Piazza Navona that was playing guitar left-handed with the strings still strung for a right handed player. I have been around many guitar players in my life, some of them left handed, but I have never, ever seen anyone able to do this.

The statue-still Statues of Liberty were aplenty, as were the Pharaohs. These are two of a special genre of street performers whose sole talent is to stand perfectly still on a soap box, and bow when someone gives them money.

One such Pharaoh, wrapped completely in a shiny gold sheet and wearing an expressionless gold metal mask, was doing an excellent job staying completely still and staring straight ahead. Until a 3 or 4 year old, unwatched by his mother, decided that whatever was in the can on the ground in front of Pharaoh must be interesting.

The young boy approached the loot, squatted in front of it, and was smart enough to shoot a glance at both his mom and Pharaoh to ensure they weren’t watching him. The boy made his move, reaching his hand inside the tall can. Pharaoh was not happy. He broke character, and started to watch the boy with wide eyes (its surprising easily to read emotion in the eyes, even when someone has a mask on- especially if you know that person knows he is getting robbed).

I jumped in to help. In a firm and gruff voice I told the boy “NO.” His arm sprung back, and his smile disappeared. He was caught. My Pharaoh was pleased. The boy made 3 more attempts, each ending with his retreat after my barks. Not once did his mother see what happened until she led him away. As they walked by, passing Pharaohs riches, the boy failed at one more half-hearted attempt at the money.

Street performers are pretty good examples of the old hunting maxim- now adopted by consultants and lawyers- You Eat What You Kill. While many people work for distant gains (saving for retirement, long-term investing, major projects at work that could create an end-of-term bonus, etc), these folks are working hard to get lunch money in the next 10 seconds.

As I ponder my next career move, I have met with a few folks that encouraged me to start my own business- and this maxim- you only eat what you kill- has been repeated to me by 3 people. It is both scary and exciting, and I look forward (I keep telling myself) to see what happens in the coming months.