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  • This is Diamond.

    We met when I was seven.

    I cannot remember why I picked such a name. I am not sure I ever had a reason. If there ever was a more aptly named, plucked-out-of-thin-air moment, this was it.

    When I was in second grade, a maelstrom of goodness swept through my school in the form of "Bee-Right Coupons" (#punningsohard). The fundamental tenet of this system was simple; that is, a teacher would reward a student for "good behavior" with a single coupon.

    These coupons were better than money. For, no money could buy the four-square long sheets of Sandylion stickers, the Milky pens, the bundles of Pogs, the super bouncy balls, the lucky rabbit's foot keychains and other hot commodities that were laid out on long tables every Friday at 3 PM by PTA moms. Each item was priced at 3 coupons and up.

    I invested in the sticker market and slathered those dividends over my notebooks and Hello Kitty pencil box. As such, I retained no coupons from that time, no paper evidence of my litany of good deeds, to photograph for your viewing pleasure. They were remarkable in meaning only. Each coupon had a mini, Cheerios-esque bee stamped in the upper righthand corner, the phrase "BEE-RIGHT COUPON" emblazoned across the top, and the tag "This coupon belongs to: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _" printed in the center.

    The single copy machine in the teacher's lounge, inconveniently sandwiched between the main office and that of the principal, churned out batches of this pseudo-currency. My friends always wanted to "check" the copier for any stray coupon sheets. (This plan never came to fruition, for, short of getting locked in the school overnight, there was no way a bunch of second-grade ninjas could tiptoe into such a centralized room undetected.) I didn't share their creative desires.

    Truth be told, my fear of getting caught with a stack of stolen coupons, of having that potential memory of my involvement tattooed upon each and every teacher's consciousness, knocked all sense of adventure from me.

    In retrospect, our naivety was bolstered by the lack of trickle-down technology. None of us ever thought to make our own coupons. Then again, we lived in homes with corded phones and Walkmans, few fax machines but no photocopiers. Temptation can be quite easy to overlook when the tools necessary for carrying it out are not at one's disposal. At least we were capable of being unintentionally honorable.

    We learned early on of the coupon system's implied fine print. Handing out papers was coupon-worthy. Covering one's mouth while sneezing was not.

    Only later did I come to understand that the teachers were not being arbitrarily selective. As elementary-schoolers, our moral compasses had already been magnetized. Responsibility had long been inculcated in us by our parents. We knew what it was to share, to not cut the line for recess, to refrain from going through lockers that were not our own, to hand in homework on time. Of course these deeds of common decency and courtesy, of which we were already capable of doing, were excluded from coupon consideration. After all, reciprocating respect is a universal expectation.

    Rather, teachers acknowledged the "above and beyond." For me, that meant raising my hand during class. Admittedly, my volunteerism was motivated by materialism. I was so voracious in my greed that I forgot my shyness.

    The Bee-Right program lasted for one school year. By the time June came around, I was many stickers and one "Diamond" richer. I was also as ready to raise my hand as I had been to leave it in my lap. Funny how I did a thing over and over again while remaining completely oblivious its greater significance. Even funnier is the fact that a behavior can be, at once, deliberate and inadvertent and can sometimes require the aid of distraction in order to be carried out.

    I almost forgot.

    That afternoon, I approached the long tables with my usual 3 coupons in hand. I was ready for my sticker fix. That is, until I saw a pile of mini stuffed animals that I had never seen before. A white seal had been perched quite precariously atop this pile. She was cute and chubby, had no neck, and cost 6 coupons.

    It was at these tables that I made my first ever "purchases" using a unique currency that had not come from my parents or grandparents. And it was at that particular table that I got my first taste of another invaluable life lesson: to "buy now and regret later." But I have never regretted this little jewel.
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