The Berry Pickers

Tue, 23 Dec 2014 | norman

Once upon a time there was a small village of berry pickers. They lived in Berry Forest, and they all picked berries. That's pretty much all they did. Some were better at picking berries than others, and their reward was that they got to eat more berries. Their reward was directly proportional to their effort and skill.

For our story, I'm going to tell you about the villagers. There were only four of them. (I did say it was a small village.) They'd been friends from childhood. A girl, Foo, had red hair. A boy, Bar, had brown hair. Baz, another girl, had cascading black hair, and Qux, another boy, had blonde hair. The colour of their hair isn't really relevant to the story, but it's kind of interesting that they all had different hair, isn't it?

They all got on well, but Foo and Bar were best buddies. All four picked about a box of berries a day, which was pretty good going.

One day Foo invented a berry picker machine. It was berry-powered, and for every berry you put in, it could pick ten more berries. Using her berry picker, Foo picked twenty boxes a day. It was amazing.

Baz asked Foo if she could use the berry picker. "No," said Foo.

Baz though about this some more. "What if I give you two berries? One for the machine, and you keep the other one. The berry picker would pick ten berries. You keep four, and I take six. That way you've got a total of five berries. I get six berries, and I've already paid you one and used one to power the machine, so in the end I keep four berries. And I'll be driving the machine, so you don't have to do anything. What do you say?"

Foo thought that was a good idea, but a little lopsided. "I invented the berry picker, so I should get more than that. I'll take five of the picked berries, and you can have the other five."

Baz did the maths again, and understood that in total, she would end up with three berries, and Foo would end up with six. But it was still better than picking all her berries by hand. She agreed.

After a while, Foo and Baz had each accummulated a massive amount of berries, Foo's by far the biggest. And Foo was really enjoying her free time. She realised that even if she lived to 120, she had more berries than she could eat. So she decided to retire.

She took her berries, gave her berry picker to her best buddy Bar, and moved to the coast.

Although Bar was going to miss Foo, he was delighted to get the berry picker. He had been thinking a lot about what he would do if the berry picker was his, and now it was!

It's important to note that this is the moment at which reward is no longer remotely proportional to effort, because Bar did not invent the berry picker. He was just lucky enough to be gifted with it.

Bar approached Qux, and said, "Hey, Quxy, my man. I've got a proposal for you. How about you drive the berry picker all day, and instead of one box of berries you can normally pick, I'll give you double."

"What?! That's not fair. The berry picker will get you twenty a day! Baz had a much better deal from Foo! Baz got eight boxes a day."

"Look Qux, whatever Foo and Baz had going isn't my business. I'm offering to double what you take home. If you don't want that, I won't be offended. I'll just make my offer to Baz."

"Ah crap, Bar. You drive a hard bargain. OK, I'll take it."

So from then on Bar made 18 boxes a day, while he rested, and thought about his next move. And Qux drove the berry picker, and took home two boxes.

It took a while for Bar's next move to happen, but eventually it did. The berry picker denuded the Berry Forest of berries.

No worries. Baz was still sorted for a while. Bar was sorted for a hundred lifetimes. But poor old Qux was a bit fuxxed. He might have been taking home twice as much as before, but he'd been eating more too. His stash would last him a year, at best.

It turned out it didn't last that long. After six months Qux went to Bar.

"Hey, Bar. Be a pal and lend me some berries. As soon as they grow back in spring, I'll drive that machine of yours, and pay you back."

"Look, Quxy," said Bar, "Don't make your problem my problem. You've been taking home double what you used to. What happened to the rest of your berries?"

"I ate them. But you've got loads. Come on, man, just a few boxes. Huh? Didn't I pick all those for you, after all?"

"Sure, with my berry picker. A job which I paid you handsomely for."

"You know what, Bar? Fuck you. I came to you first, because a few boxes won't mean anything to you, but I see you're just an arse. I'm going to Baz."

But Bar had spent a lot of time thinking about this moment, and he could see it coming a mile away. He'd had a little word with Baz months ago. Now was where he got to see what Baz was made out of.

Qux sidled over to Baz. "Hey, Baz. What's up?"

"Nothing much. How are things going with you?"

"Well, Bazzy, not so good, to be honest," admitted Qux. "Since the forest ran out of berries, I could seriously use a few. Just to see me through to spring. Then I'll pay you back for all of them."

"Hmmm." Baz curled a lock of hair around her finger. "Have you spoken to Bar?"

"Turns out Bar isn't feeling so generous at the moment. I was hoping you might turn out to be a kinder person than him."

"I tell you what Qux. I don't want your berries. I've got plenty. I'll give you 365 boxes for your share of the forest."


"Sure. There's three of us. We'll split the forest three ways. And I'll buy your third. 365 boxes. It's a huge amount. It's how much you used to make in a year."

"But we've always shared the forest."

"True, but that was then. Look, it's a great deal for you. It's like the forest was this free thing, that you've now got. Like a gift from the gods. And you get to spend it when you didn't even know you had it. It's brilliant. What do you say? 365 boxes, and you don't have to pay me back a single berry for them."

"So which third is my third?"

"Let's talk about it with Bar. Decide on the boundaries, and then we could even throw dice for which slice is whose."

So they did. Qux was surprised at how amenable Bar was to the idea. He even managed to negotiate Baz up to double 365 boxes. Qux walked away with 730 boxes of berries.

Afterwards Bar said to Baz, "Hey, we had a deal. Why did you let him double the price?"

Baz responded, "Give him a break. He's screwed either way. Let him have the extra boxes."

Bar was not impressed. "Well I hope you don't expect me to pay you more for my half of his land now? Or should I say the land formerly owned by Qux?"

"Seriously?" said Baz.

"Look, Baz, you do what you want with your berries, but you and I had a deal. Here's your 183 boxes. You just sign over here, and give me my half of the forest."

With a resigned "Whatever, dude," Baz signed the piece of paper.

Eventually spring arrived. Even though Qux still had a nice pile of berry boxes, he figured he'd take a walk, and see how the new flowers were blossoming. The forest was radiant with them. Qux felt like things were going to be OK again. He spotted a little green berry. It would taste sour, but it would be pretty cool to pick the first new berry. He reached for it, and heard,

"Oy! What the fuck are you doing?"

Qux jolted around. There was Bar.

"I'm picking the first berry."

"The fuck you are! That is not your berry. It is my berry. And when it is ripe, and only when it is ripe, you will pick it with my berry picker, for me. And I will pay you a fair wage for the pleasure of driving my berry picker."

Qux felt like such an idiot.

"What is a fair wage?" Qux asked, slowly, and carefully.

Bar glared at him. He had waited years for this moment. He wanted to draw it out, so that he could play it back to himself from memory. Foo was the nerd. Baz had smarts, but she was soft. Bar was the player, and he had won. He basked in the glory of the sentence, and he couldn't suppress a little smirk, "It is what I say it is."

Qux felt like a helpless, hopeless, and very angry, idiot.

People will only resort to violence when every other option has been taken from them.

Sometimes charity is like Prozac for a battered wife. As long as she takes the Prozac, she won't leave, and she won't fight back. Some battered wives can't leave, because they have no place to go.

When Qux's berries ran out, he started driving the berry picker for Bar. Bar paid him half a box a day. Baz gave him another half, for nothing. Bar thought Baz was a fool. But Baz understood Qux's options; Qux was a battered wife with no place to go.

Although Baz was picking a box a day, she was using up a box and half. This wasn't sustainable.

Baz told Bar, "You need to pay Qux a box a day."

"Qux agreed to half a box a day. Now mind your own business," said Bar.

"Bar, you are being irresponsible. You are making this my business. Pay Qux a box a day."

"Fuck off," said Bar.

That night Baz and Qux crept into Bar's bedroom, pulled his pillowcase over his head, and kicked him until he stopped moving.

Qux went to him in the morning. "Baz told me you've decided to give me a raise."

"You're fired. Step onto my land again, and I will kill you."

That night Baz and Qux stayed up late, sharing berry beer, and talking about their options. I have told you enough for you to know what they might say; what Qux might explain to Baz, and what Baz might explain to Qux.

What do you think Baz should do?

And why?

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