≡ Menu

We're Even

One, perhaps last, vacation story about a moment of economic education in everyday life. I was in Provincetown stolling the streets with my family on an overcast non-beach morning and we stopped to have my daughter drawn by a caricuturist, a wonderfully talented man whose shop is just short of Ben and Jerry’s (if you’re in the neighborhood).

In minutes, my daughter was seen at a grand piano, playing to a packed house as a tuxedoed man yelled brava, holding aloft a bouquet. Lovely and charming and accompanies by excellent banter and humming as the artist did his work.

He had told us the price was $15, but the full price included tax on top of that along with an aside about his attempts to avoid compliance on the grounds that the legislature exempted the transfer of pieces of paper with no intrinsic value. Evidently this was meant to allow law firms and others to exchange contracts as opposed to allowing hungry artists to be less hungry.

I gave him a $20. He handed me the change and said, “We’re even.”

I smiled and said, on the contrary, we have a beautiful picture and you have our money to enjoy as you wish. We’re not even. We’re both better off.

It sounds horribly pedantic on paper, like an English teacher telling him he’d used ‘hopefully’ in the wrong way. But he smiled and said, you’re right.

But of course we were even in another way. We were both better off.

‘We’re even’ is a strange expression. He meant of course that we were ‘square,’ as opposed to ‘back to where we started.’ I wonder if ‘even’ and ‘square’ as in our deal is now complete and neither owes the other party anything has some physical analog from some ancient custom in our past. I assume so.