I call him "The Jason" because he's a lot like "The Donald" -- minus the comb-over.
"The Jason" cut his first deal at age 13, when he sold naming rights during his Bar Mitzvah ceremony: "Before I begin my Thank You speech, I'd like to announce that my Uncle Jim has offered to pay me $50 every time I say his name and the names of my cousins Errol and Alana. Thank you, Uncle Jim. And thank you Errol and Alana for flying all the way from Philadelphia to be here today. Aren't we all happy to see Errol, Alana, and Uncle Jim?"
By the time "The Jason" finished wheeling and dealing his way through the reading of his Torah portion, he had earned $900 from his Uncle Jim.
"The Jason" is now fifteen. And while most kids his age are struggling with awkward self-consciousness and learning SAT vocabulary words, "The Jason" has mastered the art of the deal. Here's how it works.
Last year I sent a story to an anthology. "The Jason" was one of the main characters. I had told him about the piece but he never asked to read it. We have that sort of give and take: he doesn't ask me to check his homework and I don't ask him to check mine.
Seven months later, just after Chanukah, I received an email from the publisher. The one word in an email subject line every author longs to see is "Congratulations." If the email is not something about winning a lottery, it's a good bet that a story you wrote has been accepted for publication.
Being a published author certainly boosts one's ego, but a check following the December holidays is, well, like winning the lottery.
I was in my office when I read the acceptance letter. "Woo Hoo! Yippee! Woo Hoo!" I cheered.
Slugger, our Australian Shepherd, jumped to his feet, primed to round up stray animals. It's the same stance he takes when I shout "cat!" (I like to shout "cat" every once in a while just to keep him sharp.) Slugger gave my office the once-over. Disappointed, he let out a groan and flopped back down on the carpet.
Next, "The Jason" poked his head into my office. He's heard me do the Woo Hoo cheer before. Not often, but often enough.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Remember the story I sent to the anthology?" I said.
His eyes zeroed in on me like a slot machine whose drum had just quit spinning and landed on Jackpot. "The one about me?"
"That's right," I said. "It's getting published."
"Do you get paid for it?" he asked.
I decided a while back not to completely hide my earnings from my kids. They need to understand how much comes in so they can budget for Thai take-out.
"I do," I told him. "I get paid two hundred dollars."
"The Jason" sucked in some air. His chest puffed up like a greedy harbor seagull that's about to swoop down and steal your lobster roll.
"That's not enough," he said. "You should have asked for more."
"That's the deal. I didn't get to negotiate."
"Well, it's not enough."
What a son, I thought. He's proud of his mother and ready to do battle with one of the largest publishers in the country over her paycheck. I felt like I had value. Even if he never opened another door for me, and continued to leave wet towels on the carpet, I could rest easy knowing I'd done something right.
"The Jason" shifted his body weight from spoiled to rotten. "Since that story is about me, don't you think I should get a percentage?"
I looked at him incredulously. "You got Chanukah gifts."
"Yeah . . . so . . . I think I deserve 10 percent."
"Let me get this straight," I said to him, "every time I mention you in a story, you're going to expect a cut?"
"Yup. I'm taking twenty bucks for the movies tonight." He breezed out of my office into the kitchen. He wasn't looking for food. The kitchen is where I keep my purse. It's also where I should keep a stack of media release forms (better known in school-age lexicon as permission slips) that say, to wit:
As the subject of a story, I (THE JASON) agree to allow MY MOM to publish or use materials as described herewith. AND WHEREIN I agree to have my presence mentioned in third-party post-publishing interviews and gossip as long as I am given full attribute to my accomplishments and participation in the event as well as compensation as agreed upon in advance (EXHIBIT A).
I'm not sure where "The Jason" learned to work the deal. We do have a disproportionate number of lawyers in the family. All I know is that he has a way of making things happen. Recently, he met the producer of one of television's most popular sitcoms. After they finished talking, the producer walked over to me and handed me his business card. "Hang on to this," he said, "that kid's going to be running Hollywood in ten years. I may need work." Then he chugged his martini.
Maybe I should be worried. I'm trying to entice an agent for my collection of family stories. What agent would split with a teenager? And what if "The Jason" decides to negotiate on behalf of other family members? He has a brother after all. Then again, why not keep the money in our family? I should just hire "The Jason" instead of an agent. But only if he agrees to hold his rate to 10 percent at least until he receives a high school diploma. And no allowance!