Explaining fiat money to your 8-year old

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Conrad and I were on the bus Saturday, naming compound words. I saw a bank out the window and said, “banknote.” He said that wasn’t a word, so I explained to him that paper money was originally created as a sort of IOU, so that you didn’t have to carry your gold around with you.

I told him the U.S. dollar had been backed by an equivalent amount of gold held in Ft. Knox, and that in 1971 President Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard, at which point the value of those green pieces of paper was backed only by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

At that point I started to get confused and worried and I let him change the subject.

He’s due for some disappointment at 13

Conrad asked me about the Greek letters on the houses we passed on our way home from camp. I told him about fraternities, and why some people liked them and some people didn’t. I tried to describe what a raucous fraternity party was like (without saying “orgy”). But “frat party” is pretty much the best simile for an out-of-control party. So I told him that, and he joined me in trying to come up with a different one.

His suggestion: “An out-of-control bar mitzvah.”

The Hair Brush

When I was five, Dad took me into New York City for the day. We had lunch at The Press Box, where the waiters remembered him from his days working in Manhattan. Cosmo the Russian busboy showed him the new gold watch he had just bought on the street.

After the Ice Capades and FAO Schwarz, we visited the NYU Club, where by chance we met Lowell Thomas, who hosted the first TV news broadcast. He was filming a life insurance commercial.

Conrad and I have adventures in San Francisco. Saturday we went to town to see “Zootopia” on a big screen, have lunch and visit my new office. We also had another mission: the selection and purchase of a hairbrush.

Conrad has fine hair that tangles easily, and a scalp as sensitive as his soul. He hates brushing his hair and often looks as though he went straight to bed immediately following a particularly thorough swirlie.

One day last week, in desperation, I tried brushing his hair with my boar-bristle beard brush, which has become my favorite hairbrush as well. (I’m sure this violates some tonsorial rule which dictates beard and hair products must never co-mingle.) The bristle brush was much more effective and not at all painful for him (and therefore me), so we decided to buy him one of his own.

I get my hair cut by Nicky the Barber, who has two chairs in the front window of Cable Car Clothiers, a men’s haberdashery in the Financial District that actually deserves to be called a haberdashery. It could also be called “My Dad’s Closet.” He used to get their catalog when they had one.

Saturday, just a few minutes before they closed, Ed let us in and I announced our intention.

“Are you thinking of a Kent brush?” he asked me.

“Whatever you recommend, Ed,” I replied. “Whichever one he likes.”

Also, with Kent being the only actual brand of brush I could name given an unlimited amount of time and three hints, it sounded like a good suggestion.

Conrad looked at the brushes, lined up in a glass-fronted case along with straight razors and shaving soap and things made of badger. He seemed impressed. “He’ll remember this forever,” I may or may not have thought.

“Which one do you like, bud?” I asked, and without hesitation he held up an oval brush in pale wood with a short handle.

“That’s a good brush, Conrad,” Ed said. “If you take care of it, you’ll still have it when you’re the same age as your dad, and even older.”

I thanked Ed for staying open and handed him my card. He rang up the brush and gave me the receipt.

“Ed,” I asked. “Is this hairbrush really $128?”

Ed nodded.

I hate to inconvenience people. I hate to look cheap. This was a big day. This was a designated Adventure. We weren’t just buying a brush, we were investing in a future heirloom.

“Nope. My wife will skin me alive. Sorry to waste your time.”

Ed processed the refund, which no matter the technology always seems to be ten times more complicated and difficult than the purchase. I stood there, trying not to over-apologize. I wondered if I felt embarrassed.

No. Not over a $128 hairbrush.

We left the store and I turned to Conrad, worried he would be sad to leave brushless, tangled, with a price on his head.

“I can’t believe that hairbrush was $128!” he said.

Good kid.

On our walk to the BART station, we tried to work out the economics of a $128 hairbrush that lasted a lifetime compared to a cheaper one that needed replacing every five years or so. He got farther than I did, but we would have needed pencil and paper to complete the calculation.

I’m pretty sure he’ll remember something about our trip to buy a hairbrush when he’s older. I’ll have to ask him in 20 years what it is.

I wish Louis Armstrong had been the first man on the moon.

“I don’t want to go to school.”
“Why not?”
“It’s not fair that we have five days of school and two days of weekend. It should be the other way around.”
“But you have so much to learn now. You’re learning to write, and to read. And pretty soon you’ll be learning about science, like where plants and animals come from.”
“Plants come from the earth. Animals come from other animals.”
“And you’ll be learning about history. Like who was the first man on the moon.”
“George Washington was the first man on the moon.”
“No, George Washington was the first president. Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.”
“George Washington was the first man on the moon, and Neil Armstrong was the first man to play a trumpet on the moon.”