A Boy Who Swaps

By James Harvey Stout (deceased). This material is now in the public domain. The complete collection of Mr. Stout's writing is now at http://stout.mybravenet.com/public_html/h/ >


Dwight Smith -- a tall, brown-haired Barterburg boy -- loves to trade. Let's follow him through a busy Saturday of trading.

8:00 a.m. Dwight wakes up, in the bunk bed which his father bought with "units" from a barter club. The blankets were from his mother's trade; she got them from a neighbor, in exchange for a lawn chair.

8:05 a.m. Dwight still doesn't want to get out of bed. (After all, today is Saturday.) So he reaches to his table to get a book, Star Battles. The paperback is from a second-hand bookstore where he had traded The First Starfighter and Adventures On Mars.

8:15 a.m. Still in bed, Dwight starts to munch on a granola bar (from the food co-op store, where he works 4 hours per month, in exchange for munchies like this).

8:20 a.m. Dwight gets dressed. The shirt was bartered from a friend, Allan. In exchange for this shirt, Dwight had helped Allan with his math homework.

Dwight remembers that he has to work on his own homework today. He has made a deal with Mrs. Longston, his social studies teacher. He will write a special essay on bartering, and she will give him a higher grade in the class. This essay isn't his regular homework; it's an extra project, for extra credit.

8:30 a.m. It's breakfast time! Dwight goes downstairs, where he eats a pear and a big, green apple. The fruit is from a neighbor's yard. Dwight's sister, Emelia, gets fruit there, in exchange for helping with the neighbor's house-cleaning (washing windows, and beating the dusty grey rug). Emelia shares the fruit with her whole family. The family members like to share things with each other.

9:00 a.m. He walks to the barber shop. A pastel painting by Dwight's mother is hanging on the wall. In exchange for the painting, the barber has agreed to give Dwight two haircuts each month for six months.

9:20 a.m. When the haircut is completed, Dwight goes to Cornwall Courts, where he gets tennis lessons. He pays for the lessons with credits from his Dad's barter club.

10:15 a.m. After that lesson, Dwight goes to the vending machine at Cornwall Courts for a bottle of orange juice. He pays cash. (Machines don't barter.)

10:30 a.m. Dwight starts to walk toward the flea market, to talk to people for his essay regarding bartering. The sky is blue and bright on this cool day.

On the way to the flea market, Dwight stops at a yard sale on Sleepy Hollow Road, where pine trees line both sides of the street. Dwight looks at a table which has dozens of CDs. He has enough money for two of them, but he would rather barter. He has a list of things which he can trade, so he sets up a quick deal to get the CDs, in exchange for mowing the person's lawn this weekend and next. Dwight leaves the CDs there, so he won't have to carry them all day. (He will get the CDs when he comes back to cut the grass.)

The yard sale is a good opportunity to interview some barterers for his essay. First, Dwight talks to a man named Larry McLove. Larry says, "I do a little of everything. My grandfather taught me how to lay carpet when I was seven years old; my mother showed me how to cook when I was eight; and my father taught me upholstery, carpentry, auto-body repair, and a whole lot else. The rest is self-taught. Naturally, it's easy for me to barter. When I find people who have what I want, I know that I have a skill that they want."

Larry continues: "Barter is a big help when I don't have a job, or when I would rather save my cash for a fishing trip. I paid for a car repair once, with an old cow which someone had given to me in a trade. The cow made a lot of good steaks for the mechanic."

Dwight also talks to Larry's teenaged daughter, Josephine. "I am a professional partier," says Josephine McLove, with a smile. "I love to put on parties in my home, and I have helped my friends to put them on; I help to plan the refreshments, entertainment, and all the fun details."

"I never used to think of party-planning as a job," she says. "But the director of the barter club thought that it would a great service, so we listed it in the directory. It keeps me busy at least one night a week."

While Dwight is talking to Josephine, her grandmother joins the conversation. The old woman, Anne, says, "During the summer, my hay fever keeps me inside, where I can use my air conditioner to clean the pollen out of the air. But I like to have a nice lawn to look out at. Since I can't do the work," Anne says, "I ask my sister to come here and do it. She brings her laundry and sewing, and I do both of those chores for her while she works in my yard. When we are finished, she comes inside and we make lemonade, and talk until it's time for me to start dinner."

11:30 a.m. Dwight thanks the McLove family for the interviews. Then he start to walk down the street again. He stops to smell some roses in front of a home, and he wonders whether the owner would trade the roses to him. He has a good imagination, and he often thinks about bartering.

11:35 a.m. There is another yard sale on Elm Street. Dwight doesn't see anything he wants. But he talks to the people anyway. This is the Smith family.

"The subject of bartering came up during a bridge game with Alma and Richard Greene," says Tina Smith, a housewife whose hobbies include sewing clothes. "Alma has lost weight recently. So she is beginning to build up a wardrobe in her new size. She has told me that she likes the clothes which I have made. But I had never thought of making clothes for her until this idea of bartering came up.

''Alma has been making stained-glass designs for her family. I created a trade with her, to get some stained glass for my living room and bedroom. In exchange, I will make two dresses for her. We have been planning the stained glass and the dresses, and having a lot of fun. I never knew that she was so creative."

Tina's husband is a dentist. He says, "Usually, when people need a dentist, they need help immediately. A toothache won't wait. I have to turn away people who wouldn't be able to pay for my services. But sometimes, someone wants to make a deal. The person might want a tooth filling in exchange for firewood, or something else. I don't know the person, but I need the goods which are being offered. A few times, I have been cheated in barter deals, but I am willing to take that chance."

The family enjoys talking to Dwight, so they offer him some of the banana cake which they are selling at the yard sale. The cake is free for Dwight. He is glad to get the cake and the interviews, so he spends a few minutes to show the Smiths how to make lists of things to barter. And he offers to bring them a copy of this book on a floppy disk.

12:40 p.m. Dwight says goodbye to the Smith family. Then he begins to walk toward the flea market again. After he turns left on Barterburg Avenue, he meets Stephanie Gable. He hasn't seen Stephanie since last summer, when they used to go swimming in chilly Palmer Lake.

"I meet many people through the barter club," Stephanie says. "And it's like we are sharing things with one another. This is different from buying something in a store. I feel like I'm dealing with a person instead of just a businessperson. I'm learning about people and their values, and my own values.

"When my barter club had a fair," she continues, "a lot of people came to my booth for quick pencil portraits. Instead of asking for a $5 fee, I asked for things in trade. I had to make many decisions -- deciding whether a portrait was worth a bag of someone's homegrown lettuce, or a massage, or a haircut, or whatever they offered. I made some good deals. One boy wanted a portrait, and he offered to do my gardening the next weekend. I jumped on that deal. I hate gardening!"

1:10 p.m. Dwight walks two more blocks, and arrives at the flea market. There are about 60 booths, and each has a table piled with all sorts of good things and junk: radios, dishes, paperback books, green flowering plants, homemade clocks, gardening tools, and thousands of other items.

Dwight goes to one elderly woman who is selling beautiful pillows which have been decorated with needle-point stitching. The woman is Janice Petrov, a great-grandmother who trades with her neighbor in the duplex where she has lived since 1965. She says, "My neighbor and I have a hundred years of experience between us; she knits and I do needle-point. I no longer have a family nearby, so I put my love into my needle-point. Each piece means a lot to me. My neighbor feels the same way about her knitting. There is never money involved; we couldn't sell our creations, because they are like children. But we share them with people who are dear to us."

"My attic is being cleaned out, slowly but surely," Janice adds. "If it weren't for the barter club, I would be hauling that junk to the dump. But the barterers are hauling it to their homes. I didn't think that anyone would want the old couch and trunk, or the other antiques which have been there since 'day one.' I advertised some of the things in the newspaper -- for sale or trade -- and I got some excellent offers."

1:40 p.m. At the next booth, Dwight meets Steven Stilson. "I keep a list of things I want to trade," says Steven, the red-haired, teenaged son of a barter-club director. "The list is always in my pocket, so I can add to it whenever I think of something else. I even add things which no one would pay cash for. I couldn't sell my old computer, since it was broken, but I gave it to the computer technician when he fixed my new system. He took the old one in payment for the service. (He told me that he could fix it and sell it.) We both came out ahead. I got rid of something which was worthless to me. And the man earned more from selling the bad computer than he could have charged me for repairing the good one."

2:10 p.m. Dwight meets Laurie McConklin, a 16-year-old brunette, who learned about bartering in her high-school economics class. "I didn't know I was such a talented girl until I started bartering," she said. "What could I trade? I am not a professional 'anything.' But the barter-club director told me that the other members need babysitting and housekeeping, which I can do. I have done some sewing for a lady with 6 kids; in exchange, her husband is teaching me how to drive. Some people have interesting things to trade -- things you can't get in stores. A couple of weeks ago, I bartered for a custom-knitted scarf. And last Christmas, I got a big guy to be Santa Claus at a party."

2:45 p.m. Dwight goes to the next booth, where an old woman is selling and trading some handmade shirts and dresses. "I have always traded things," says Alta Patini, a grandmother of seven little children. "Fresh-baked bread in return for babysitting, or a good book traded for some garden-fresh celery. It seemed natural to swap what I had, for what somebody else had. Years ago," she says, "a neighbor taught my parakeet how to sing beautifully. I gave the girl some brownies and one of my antique dolls. I have another parakeet now. A man from the Skills House (a barter club) is teaching the bird to sing. But trading is different now; instead of trading directly with him, he is earning 'units' from the club -- like money. I earn credits, too, by doing some mending for other members."

3:05 p.m. At another booth, Dwight meets a tall young man who barters. "I enjoy the creativity and freedom of bartering," says Sandy, a welder. "I work in a factory all day. But at night, I work with the mushrooms, tomatoes. and other food that is growing in my house and greenhouse. Since I am in a barter club," Sandy says, "I don't worry about selling the food. The barter club tells people what I've got, so the people call me to trade for it. I feel like a company president when I set up the deals. I choose what I'm going to grow, and what the barter-price will be. I don't get that feeling of power -- and fun -- at work."

3:20 p.m. A blonde woman is at the next booth. "I assume that everyone at the flea market is a trader," the young woman says. "But this one man, who was selling gardening tools, said that he had never bartered. He didn't even know what the word means. I told him that it is the same as swapping. I offered to swap one of the rings I'd made, for some tools. I always wear a few rings, in case I get a chance to trade."

She continues: "He liked the plain silver-plated ring, so we made the deal. We talked for a while about bartering. I told him how to do it, and how to suggest it to his customers. He became excited about the idea of bartering. And he offered me a choice of small hand-tools -- free -- since I had taken the time to tell him about bartering."

3:40 p.m. Elmer Gladstone is selling household items -- a blender, silverware, plates -- at a booth. This retired geometry teacher is fulfilling his life's dream by building his own home. "I am too old to do some of the work," he says. "But I worked as a home-builder when I was young, so I know home-building as well as I know geometry. Some boys from the high school are helping me to build the house on weekends, and I tutor them in geometry. Their teacher is really tough, so the guys need my help. And I need their help with some of the carrying and lifting."

3:50 p.m. The flea market will be closing soon, so Dwight walks quickly to another booth, to talk to one more person. His name is Randy O'Brien. "I'm not stupid," says Randy. "But I need a list to remember the things which I am looking for, when I'm bartering. I can do a lot of bartering, because I am well-organized. With my list of things I want, and a list of things I can offer, I can create a deal in a minute. The other person doesn't even need a list, since I have written out all of my stuff."

4:00 p.m. Dwight leaves the flea market with plenty of information for his essay on bartering. And he has the phone number of every trader he has met today!