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 Texas : Features : Humor / Column : "Stumbling Forward"

Kids in Sales
Oliver Twist, 21st Century Style

by John Gosselink
Alfred. E. Newmanlink
If you are now holding, or have ever held, a leadership position with the PTA, booster club, scouting troop or any sort of "do it for the kids" organization, I kindly ask you to quit reading right now and resume making the world a better place for our children. Why? Because I'm about to write something that is going to make you want to respectfully disagree, maybe even write a terse, yet well reasoned and cogent, letter to the editor.

A lesser person would want to punch me in the throat; luckily, you're too mature and civic oriented for such nonsense.

Now that the responsible folks are gone, let me get to the point. There's got to be a better way for kids' groups to raise funds besides selling stuff. I get that kids need to be involved and learn the value of hard work, money, and yadda, yadda, yadda. But I'm not sure turning them into hucksters for The Man is the way to do it.

Just this school year alone, my second grader has shilled magazines, coupon books, highly preserved food and candy, a catalog of overpriced, intensely plastic consumer goods, and a whole bunch other stuff no one wants or needs. All the peer pressure and "incentive programs" give my kid that unsettling Willy Lowman / Glengarry Glen Ross type of sweaty desperation.

A couple of days before the deadline, she's pacing around the house, muttering, "got to sell 15 items, yes sir, got to sell 15, otherwise don't get to go to the popcorn party. Really need to go to the popcorn party. I deserve a popcorn party. Need some leads - I really like popcorn - who can I call?" Then she starts chain smoking and screaming at the delivery guy that her Kung-pow is cold. Not a good look for a second grader.

As is usually the case in this great crimes against humanity, those you love most are the ones hurt the most. I believe we're eaten up most of my parent's retirement fund with our fundraisers. They're on the fourth IRA cashed out. They'll drop by and we'll conveniently have the order form lying on the coffee table. Would they care for something to drink and a magazine description?

Which is all good and well for us, but having gone to grandparent well so often, they're already subscribers to about every magazine in print. Looking over the list, their only choices left are "Naked Arc Welding Weekly" and "Fat, Dumb Guy Illustrated." Personally, I think Fat, Dumb Guy has really gone downhill since they got all political and preachy and forgot their stupid and slovenly mission.

Having filled in the first half dozen spaces on your sales record, you then hit up friends who have kids. They owe you from all the junk you've bought from their forced fundraisers. In fact, I'm thinking about 90% of sales are part of this incestuous, revenge selling cycle.

In another disturbing parallel with the mafia, once you've bought in with your first overpriced plastic crock of cheese spread, the only way out of this cycle is either death or prison. Shoot, prison is not really an escape with the "smokes and toilet gin" fundraiser that Ray-ray and Skittles run so they can get new weights for the exercise yard. Death is your only escape.

But it gets worse. Trying to sell this - I want to use a much stronger word, but I'll use "junk"- to mere acquaintances, or (gasp) strangers, causes the most uncomfortable silences ever recorded in social interaction. You whip out your sales catalog, shove it in someone's face, and then the "this jerk is trying to sell me an 80 cent bag of seeds for 9 dollars. If I kill him, no jury will convict me. Yes, I believe I will not buy his seeds and I will kill him" look comes out.

If I remember my economic theory correctly, being a producer of something that has absolutely no demand and is priced at a level that no one would pay is not the best of business plans. Yet these midgets of industry are able to pull it off using our kids. If there ever was some muck that needed raking, this is it.

Even when it's good stuff we want to buy, the selling season is too long. Take Girl Scout cookies. Everyone loves Girl Scout Cookies. The first time you see the cute little pixie in her cute little patched covered vest at the door of the Brookshire, your dropping 9 bucks on three boxes of thin mints and eating the first sleeve in the car on the way home.

But three weeks later, having consumed 14 pounds of short bread, samoas, and do-si-does, the last thing you want is another box of cookies, especially since you're just running to the store to get some fabric softener for the wife so you can get back to watching the game. But you drop a "no thank you" to a cookie solicitation and out comes the 1000 yard stare. It's especially bad if you're parked on the other side of the lot and have to feel the cold hatred burn into your back as you make the long walk, almost frightened jog, back to the truck.

I'm not saying these little darlings are violent, but I'm fairly certain the girl scouts earn their patches using the same criteria the military devised in awarding ribbons, namely skills in killing the enemy? If I read them correctly, the last 8 year old I saw shilling cookies is scope trained to drop Charlie from 800 meters, can kill a man 14 different ways using only her thumbs, and can fashion an IED out of merely a Dora the Explorer thermos, some baking soda, and a smidge of lemon-flavored lip gloss.

If there are any group leaders still reading, please know I'm fine with your noble pursuit. It's the companies that make the obscene profits off the sweat of our little kids that irritates me. At beginning of the year, every household just writes a check to the fundraising fund and then we don't have to avoid eye contact when we see someone with a sales form in his hand. That will give me more free time to catch up on my magazine reading. I'm like 4 issues behind in my Naked Arc Welding reading.
John Gosselink
"Stumbling Forward"
April 1, 2005 column

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