Mistletoe – Proof That Miracles Do Happen in Free Markets


Happy holidays, solstice and new year! Today, I witnessed a miracle of free markets in progress. It made me feel great to witness it, and I want to share the account with all who would like to feel great, too.

I walked to the Western Supermarket here in Mountain Brook village this evening to get some dinner items. Just a 5 minute walk from my apartment, the Western packs in more variety of great foods in less space than any other grocery store in town, and at very reasonable prices. Since my wife and daughter and I moved to this bucolic suburb of Birmingham 18 months ago, we’ve shifted most of our grocery shopping to Western, with only the occasional trip to Sam’s Club for bulk items.

In the summer of 2008, we decided to sell our low-end, starter condo in Homewood, just 2 miles away. The condo was on a very busy street, and crime was beginning to get really close to home. We had numerous burglaries and other dangerous activities taking place nearby on a daily basis.

We moved to this neighborhood for lots of reasons; way less crime, far superior schools, small city government, convenient shopping and services and low rent. The town of Mountain Brook is as beautiful as any in the entire country. They’re business friendly here. The median sale price for homes lately is over $350,000. There are only a couple of apartment buildings in the City of Mountain Brook. I love it here!

So, tonight I went to the Western with the intention of getting some beer (they are running a special on Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter for $4.99) and some steak. I found a marked down package of 3 lamb chops for around $5.62 and a six pack of Tommyknocker. The total was $11.56. The staff are incredibly friendly at Western, and they treat you like honored guests in their home. Seriously.

Western is really an awesome example of free markets and free minds at work, but it’s what I witnessed on the sidewalk outside of the store that really impressed me. An African American man, probably in his 30’s was standing on the sidewalk with a display of mistletoe in a box, and soliciting buyers for his goods.

I love mistletoe. Unless it falls out of the tree, it’s pretty hard to get at the stuff. It looks great in a vase or over a doorway. I had $8.44 change from my dinner items, so I gave the vendor $3 and asked for a small piece. As I walked home, stopping into the post office to return a Netflix movie, I started to think about the profound and beautiful nature of what I had just experienced. A miracle!

This man, selling mistletoe on December 21, 2010, was in need of money. He might have been earning money for Christmas presents to his children. He might have been earning money to eat or pay for shelter, gas money. Or maybe he just wanted to spend it on himself by enjoying a pack of smokes or some beer! I didn’t stop and ask him to tell me his story, although I’m sure he has one. I stopped to buy mistletoe because it made me excited to see someone selling mistletoe!

I took my mistletoe, my lamb chops and my Tommyknocker beer and walked home. A pleasant evening, after the satisfaction of a day’s work done, the temperature was in the 50’s, and pleasantly warm for the first day of winter. I walked down the street to my warm, quiet home, feeling great to be alive, and thought about this man, selling mistletoe and what it meant to me.

Once back at home, I immediately wanted to return and have an excuse to buy some more mistletoe. I set out with another $5 to buy another piece. I wanted to also thank the man for what he’d reminded me of: sustain a positive attitude, never give up and take action towards one’s goals. He was doing all three, with his pride intact. I thanked him for reminding me of that, and told him that I needed the extra mistletoe for my office, to keep as a reminder.

So, I paid $8 for some mistletoe. And in return I got a lesson that one can only learn from experience: just believe in yourself, and take action towards your goals, and you will have a really great chance at success! It’s also really important to accept reality and DO WHAT YOU CAN DO at ANY MOMENT to help REALIZE YOUR DREAMS! Instead of watching TV for four hours or surfing the web watching Janet Napolitano videos, if you still have dreams you want to make come true, get up and do it! There’s no magic pill to take to make you do it, just the magic that happens WHEN you do it.

I know from experience what procrastination and intellectual laziness cause. They result in depression, poverty and despair. Proactive decision-making, a positive attitude towards yourself and fellow humans and action towards one’s goals are the forces that interact to create what seem like miracles.

In some cities in our once great nation, the mistletoe salesman would have been forcibly evicted from the sidewalk for not having permits and tax certificates, a corporate charter and a bank account. Thank goodness I live in a community that has a majority of people who respect a man’s right to sell on the sidewalk. And I bought his last piece of mistletoe. He had sold out. I hope he makes hundreds of tax free, black market dollars for just a few hours work! Happy holidays and good luck!

Mark Roberts [send him mail] owns a commodities brokerage specialized in alternative investment funds, managed futures accounts. He lives and works in Mountain Brook, Alabama.