the hard sell

I am certainly not complaining about the warmer weather but one drawback to having the front door open is that you cannot hide from solicitors like you can in the winter. The other night I was slouched on the couch in a half-dark house watching some show about tornados, feet splayed across the coffee table, when I heard a clink of the chain-link gate and small steps on the porch. Two girls appeared as shadows pressed against the screen. They could see me plain as I could see them. It was too late to pretend I wasn’t home. 

I sighed and stood up, mentally preparing myself to stiffly mutter no, thank you and firmly shut the door before they could get too deep into their spiel. But something I saw in their faces as I approached made me change my mind. These girls wore wide-eyed looks of full apprehension, like they knew something bad was coming. And it took me right back.

Public school, as I recall, was one long shill session. Every few months they used to pull us out of class and into the gym for a school assembly that was essentially a motivational presentation from some schmuck with Personality turned up to 11, yo-yo-ing across the stage in an effort to get us amped to SELL STUFF! Cue up a thousand dusty Volvo wagons with that sticker crookedly slapped on the bumper: It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Yeah, sure, that would be a great day but in the meantime let’s get to fundraisin’, kids.

Prizes would be set for whichever junior salesperson could produce top volume. Once they brought in a money booth that blew dollar bills and pulled a couple of kids out of the audience to try. That got my attention! I wanted a chance to grab at dollar bills. Why did I have to ask adults to buy things first?

I had a red Radio Flyer wagon I’d fill with boxes of school candy and pull it around the neighborhood. Nobody ever wanted the damn candy. In the recesses of my brain there’s a 37-minute montage of one door closing after another. No. No. No. No. Once the people inside saw who was knocking their faces invariably fell into masks of resigned wariness, lips pressed into thin lines. No.

I didn’t have a personality built for rejection. After about an hour or so I would go home crying with a wagon full of slightly sun-melted candy. My parents would occasionally take some into work but they remained largely unsympathetic to my plight. Those 100 boxes of Raisinets are your problem, kid. I dug into my souvenir brown leather coin pouch stamped with MEXICO to pay for as many as I could, but I always had to turn most of my stock back in. I was not a high producer. I would not get a turn in the money booth then or ever, really.

It wasn’t just candy. I cried over cookies, I cried over flower arrangements, I cried over suncatchers and a catalog of other tchochkes that only a 1980s suburban mom could love. My best haul, strangely, was a chocolate advent calendar I sold for high school German class that everyone seemed to be super into. I know I personally bought ten of them.

The girls at my door the other night, they were asking for donations to the local elementary school’s music program. They were sisters, with matching black hair and mouse-quiet voices. Selling might have been easier for me, perhaps, if I’d had a comrade in arms, but nevermind that now. I told them I’d go see how much cash I had.

Tucked in my bag were two ones and a twenty. I gave them the twenty, of course.


Credit: The Future is Now, by Oliver Jeffers //

2 Responses to “the hard sell”

  1. You’re a sweetheart for being receptive. Aged 8 and 9 respectively, my sister and I were dropped off to our assigned neighbourhood to sell Girl Guide biscuits at 7.30am. The neighbourhood was full of student flats for the local university — the tenants had no spare money, could have cared less about the bikkies and were extremely resentful about being woken by knocking at the door. I remember feeling very, very small and apologetic to the point of tears. My sister had the right idea in the end; we sat on the kerb and ate a packet together, until the sun was higher.

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