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Mar-28-2010 14:34printcomments

Sandbox Property Rights

Reexamining the famed Tonka Wars that affected so many American youth.

Tonka trucks

(EUGENE, Ore.) - Spring is here. The rain is less omnipresent. The sun has regained a bit of its brilliance, and the temperature occasionally flirts with something that could be called reasonably warm. Our story begins, on one of these glorious-by-contrast spring days, at the local playground.

Amongst the dozen-odd young children swinging on swings, sliding on slides, and participating gleefully in other very literally named activities, Johnny and Timmy sat in a sandbox playing with a large yellow Tonka dump truck and crane.

Construction on an interstellar superhighway and bullet train across the Southern ice deserts of Mars was well underway, and progressing on budget and schedule. The construction projects of six-year-olds, unencumbered by the nightmares of unions, environmental regulations, and overtime pay, unfold on a grandiose scale at lightning speed.

“I want to play.” Into this undisturbed pond stepped Max, sending forth many ripples from his footfall. Johnny and Timmy ignored him at first, feigning engrossment in their efforts. Max repeated himself.

“We’re building a space mono-rail” said Timmy, the gravity of his tone emphasizing the importance of the work. “You can work on clearing the boulders from the infinite rock desert, but you have to watch out for the Deadalonexcraxes. They are evil.”

“I want to play with Tonka Toughest Mighty Crane!” Max exclaimed.

“No,” Johnny replied, “the crane is mine.”

“So?” Max asked, “I want to play with it.”

Timmy and Johnny did not give much thought to the philosophical implications of Max’s implied question. “Go away!” they replied, almost in unison.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Max replied defiantly, “this sandbox is mine, and If I can’t play with your Tonka Toughest Mighty Crane, you can’t play in my sandbox.”

The boldness of Max’s land grab momentarily took Timmy and Johnny down a notch. They had not even considered owning the sandbox. It was like a force of nature to them. A permanent fixture that had appeared out of nowhere in their simple young minds, and provided them with hours of entertainment ever since. The sandbox could not be picked up, held in a child’s hand, or thrown across the room in a fit of pique. The sandbox did not have the characteristics of the things that six-year-old boys own, and so the thought of owning the sandbox had not occurred to Timmy and Johnny.

“The sandbox isn’t yours!” Timmy replied defiantly.

“Yes it is!” Max replied, “and I can prove it.”

“How can you prove the sandbox is yours?” Timmy asked, his spirits beginning to dim as he sensed that his tenancy in the sandbox might be coming to a premature end.

Max withdrew a folded and slightly crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He moved slowly and confidently now, savoring his ultimate victory over the sandbox. Max unfolded the paper, then turned it around, and thrust it forward at Timmy and Johnny.

“This is my deed. It says I own the sandbox.”

Timmy and Johnny stared blankly at Max’s family’s delinquent Comcast bill. “I can’t read,” Timmy ventured. “Neither can I” added Johnny.

“That’s not my fault,” Max replied with a gloat, “this paper says I own the sandbox. If you can’t read it, that’s your problem.” Max let his words sink in as Timmy and Johnny mulled them in silence. “Now,” Max continued, “how about you let me play with your Tonka Toughest Mighty Crane before I report you to the Police for trespassing in my sandbox.”

Sullenly Johnny handed over the crane, and Max joined the other two boys in the sand box. For a time the boys went about their play in an awkwardly tense standoff. The air was tinged with resentment, but young minds do not cling to bitterness long. As time passed, Johnny and Timmy began to adjust to the new arrangements in the sandbox, and even to see Max as their new friend and construction partner.

It was just as things were beginning to become placid again that Max once again disturbed their temporary harmony. “You need to pay me your rent,” Max said, eying Timmy and Johnny.

“What’s rent?” asked Timmy innocently.

“Rent is what you have to pay to use the sandbox,” replied Max. “I own the sandbox, and so you have to pay me rent to use it.”

“But you get to play with the crane,” replied Johnny, his voice beginning to take on a whining tone.

“I know,” said Max, “you let me play with the crane, because otherwise I wouldn’t let you in my sandbox at all, but you still have to pay me rent.”

“How much is rent?” asked Timmy.

“A dollar-fifty” replied Max.

Timmy and Johnny looked at each other. A dollar-fifty was steep rent, but they really enjoyed playing in the sandbox. They began to dig through their pockets, pooling their change. A minute, and a jumble of nickels, dimes, and quarters later, they had counted out their dollar-fifty rent. They offered it sheepishly to Max.

“I don’t accept change,” said Max, “only dollar-fifty bills.”

“What!” replied Timmy in astonishment, “there is no dollar-fifty bill!”

“Yes there is,” said Max, “you have just never seen one.” Max continued, now appeasing in tone, “If you don’t have a dollar-fifty bill, how about you just go over to the Coke machine and buy me a Sprite.”

The coup d’état of the sandbox was over. Max had won, and Johnny now marched along his own trail of tears, stewing in the humiliation of having to buy a complete stranger a Sprite with his own money. Johnny returned with the Sprite, and Max thanked him graciously, but his words did little to blunt the edge of his newly established superiority as it cut at the self-image of his inferiors.

Timmy and Johnny and Max played for a while longer, but the fun had gone out of building hyper-speed highways across the deserts of Mars. Timmy and Johnny decided they had had enough, and prepared to go.

“We are going home,” Timmy announced.

“OK,” Max replied. He said nothing more as he continued to play with the crane.

“Give me my crane back,” Johnny said, emphasizing the point that had been unstated before.

“This is my crane now,” Max replied slowly, “and so is the dump truck.”

“No they are not,” Timmy said, his voice beginning to rise now.

“Yes they are,” replied Max, “I own the name Tonka. Everything with the name Tonka is mine.”

“What do you mean, you own the name Tonka?” Johnny asked incredulously.

“I have a trademark,” Max replied. “Everything with the name Tonka on it is mine, and if you don’t pay me to use my trademark, then I can take whatever you have with my name on it.”

Timmy and Johnny walked mournfully home with empty hands and heavy hearts. They had been beaten, suckered, and taken for dupes. The second production of papers demonstrating Max’s claims of ownership to the Tonka trademark hadn’t even been necessary. It was only the ceremonial icing on the cake.

Timmy and Johnny could have taken solace in the knowledge that they were not alone in getting played for idiots by people like Max - if they had known as much - but such consolation is of little comfort in any case.

=================================== Business/Economy Reporter Ersun Warncke is a native Oregonian. He has a degree in Economics from Portland State University and studied Law at University of Oregon. At a young age, his career spans a wide variety of fields, from fast food, to union labor, to computer programming. He has published works concerning economics, business, government, and media on blogs for several years. He currently works as an independent software designer specializing in web based applications, open source software, and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications.

Ersun describes his writing as being "in the language of the boardroom from the perspective of the shop floor." He adds that "he has no education in journalism other than reading Hunter S. Thompson." But along with life comes the real experience that indeed creates quality writers. Right now, every detail that can help the general public get ahead in life financially, is of paramount importance.

You can write to Ersun at:

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