City of Memphis, I feel your budget pain

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

July 17, 2014

Genevieve's invoice

Genevieve’s invoice

City of Memphis, I feel your budget pain

Kids really do say the darndest things, don’t they?

In the 1950s and ‘60s, entertainer Art Linkletter built an empire off the silly things issued forth from the mouths of babes.

I’ve been saying it in my own way right here in this column for six years. My oldest son, as a toddler, once referred to the plumber my wife had called to the house for a middle-of-the-day emergency as “different daddy.”

Such a delightful scamp.

Linkletter had other grand ideas beyond asking earnest questions of unassuming children. In 1960, he, along with business partner Clyde Vandenburg, proposed a redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds to include such amenities as a new arena and a 700-foot-long lagoon to stretch along East Parkway. Of that plan, the Mid-South Coliseum was the only feature to see the light of day.

Recently, the city floated a plan for a Tourism Development Zone in and around the Fairgrounds in an effort to pay for redevelopment of the property. The city is also grappling with ways to pay for the pensions and benefits of firefighters and policemen.

I don’t claim to have all — or any — of the answers to such issues. Nor do I have any plans as outlandish as a Memphis blues lagoon. I have my own issues at home with budgeting the cost of four children who continually redevelop the landscape of my days and bank account.

Among these kids is an 8-year-old daughter who doesn’t yet have a job or a pension. Occasionally, though, she’ll complete a chore around the house and, once finished, will then tell me how much I owe her. And with Genevieve, there are no negotiations.

She recently presented me with an invoice — an actual paper bill — for having rolled the garbage can to the curb for pickup. According to her cryptic handwriting, she’s owed fees in the amount of $10 for the weight of the can and $5 for the “stink.” Despite already being charged for the odor, she tacked on $20 because she had to hold her breath. There is a $100 balance that has been carried forward; from what, I have no idea.

In all, I owe this child who lives in my house and eats my food $135, essentially for walking 20 yards down the driveway.

I think she may be on to something.

Fiscal matters matter, even to children. They won’t stay kids forever, and the things they say and do won’t be all that cute, or profitable, for too long. They need to be taught early about budgets and bank accounts and the dangers of overextending oneself. One day, Genevieve will need to manage her own pension and may even, heaven help us, administer that of an entire city’s worth of employees.

When that day comes, she’ll need to know how to spend wisely and when to save. These darned kids will have to understand when it’s imprudent to purchase a new television or car, and that it’s good business to honor all promises of payment. And they’ll want to know when to prioritize the cost of a plumber over a new lagoon.

Link to The Commercial Appeal