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Thanksgiving Day several years ago, my son and I had been ice skating at the rink in Central Park and were now walking to Lincoln Center to see a performance of the Big Apple Circus. Jonah (8 at the time, I think) was hungry and proposed that I buy him a hot dog from a street vendor. As I was not in the habit of doing this, I was not sure how much the hot dog cost and the vendor’s cart was missing a price list. (This was probably illegal and on purpose: to facilitate the overcharging of tourists.) I took out three dollars and offered it to the vendor, asking if this was right. With a quick nod he took the money.
Later I saw another such vendor’s cart on which the price was clearly posted: $2. I said to Jonah, “That guy cheated me out of a dollar.”
“Yes,” Jonah said, with a tone that implied that he had known the correct price all along. “But he needed that dollar more than you.”
Somewhat later, after the show, I came back to the subject. “The dollar isn’t the issue. It’s the cheating. It’s the effect that it has on you, on your relations with people, to feel that everyone—the hot dog sellers, the taxi drivers, the credit-card companies and investment bankers—everyone is ready to cheat you, is looking for opportunities to cheat you, to take advantage of your paying attention to anything besides money. To your paying attention to your son, for example—to enjoying your son’s company. It’s as if we’re surrounded by people who are only interested in money.”
“Papa,” Jonah said patiently, “what do you think people come to New York for?”
Image is of a T-shirt sold by a company, F5 TO REFRESH, that seems to have sold “white collar crime” T-shirts. It’s hard in this country to stop having ideas about how to make money?