Making the Sale

When I was a Girl Scout–about first through fifth grade I’d say, until I got bored out of my skull sitting in this one church basement doing hideously useless “crafts” using Elmer’s Glue and paper plates and construction paper and maybe if we were lucky colored pipecleaners when what I wanted to do was go hiking and camping and bicycling and actually building real things like the Boy Scouts got to do–the big event of the year was selling Girl Scout Cookies.

They always presented us with the cookies and gave us some pep talk on being the Girl Scout who sold the most cookies and how wonderful it would be to be that girl and how great it was to sell the cookies and get a sense of whatever it was that selling cookies was supposed to give you–I have to admit I never figured that part out, but I’d take home my carton of cookies and the pep talk and I’d resolve to sell as many cookies as I could.

And then I’d take my carton out into our subdivision. Neither Mom nor Dad would come with me: if you’re going to sell the cookies, you’d better learn to sell them yourself. OK but I really have no idea how to sell cookies but supposedly these things sell themselves all I have to do is ring the doorbell.

My subdivision was made up of three and a half square blocks of new-at-the-time houses, perched on the side of a wooded hill. Two of the blocks were downhill from our house on one side and the other was downhill on the other side as we lived on top of the hill which presented its own disadvantages when it came to things as disparate as bike rides and thunderstorms, but advantages in the occasional snowstorm that made it that far south.

On my street I sort of knew two families: our next door neighbors and the people that lived at the other end of the street. So I would take my carton of cookies and I would walk to the end of the street and start with the family we knew there. They would usually buy a box or two. Then between me and the other family I was familiar with were houses of all kinds, including the one belonging to the crazy lady who took pictures of children when they strayed onto her lawn. I wouldn’t go up to her door for all the cookie money in the world. (Like all neighborhoods’ crazy ladies or crazy old coots, there is no way in the world to know whether she really was crazy, really took pictures, or really shouted the things she was said to have shouted that one time. All I know is that back then she was scandalous to us kids and deserving of the greatest amount of scorn and ridicule we could manage. We might even have our parents call the cops on her.

Children are so innocent.)

In fact I barely made it to anyone’s door. I’d stand in the street looking at the outsides of the houses and all those doors with all those doorbells and I would practice my speech which consisted usually of “is your mother home” and/or “would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies” and after fifteen minutes of this I might decide that a particular door looked friendlier than some other door and so up I would go and ring the doorbell. Because Mom said I should wait a full minute before assuming no one was home, I would count to sixty as deliberately as I dared and if no one came to the door by “sixty” I would breath a sigh of relief while hurrying back to the safety of the street to start on my next project of choosing which door to approach.

If someone came to the door I would immediately dissociate and go into autopilot Girl-Scout-Cookie-selling mode, using whichever line was appropriate for whomever opened the door and then I would stand there somewhat doubtfully waiting for the answer.

“What kind have you got?” I’d list what I knew I had. If I had sold any yet sometimes it would be necessary to consult the carton to see what was left.

“Well I guess we can take a box of xxx”
or “you don’t have yyyy?”
Or simply “no thank you” or “not today!”

In whatever way the transaction stretched itself out I would stand there gamely offering my prerecorded response to any question or statement that resembled questions or statements I was expecting. If something unexpected came up, I’d try to make do and move things along as quickly as I could.

I didn’t care how it ended, as long as we could bring the exchange to a close as soon as possible and without my having to ad lib anything. Success came in varying quantities. In any case, whether or not I sold any cookies was completely immaterial. I’d managed to ring a doorbell. Nearly always, the experience of having someone actually answer the door was so exhausting that I would let myself skip two or three or more doors on my way back towards my house. It was simply too much to ask of myself to go through that, what, like fifteen times? The world was nuts. Why was I doing this??

When I got home mom would ask how many I had sold and I would say “three” or “four” or whatever meager count I had managed to unload and she’d ask whether I’d rung everyone’s doorbell. As I got older I became more and more adept at shrugging off questions like this, but generally I’d say something vague like “most of them” or “no one was home” or “I got tired so I came home” but whatever I said to justify my poor sales record was received with due scorn and suspicion and then dropped. The carton of cookies would go into my room and sit there, neglected. If I had enough allowance money I’d buy myself a box of the chocolate mint cookies and eat them as slowly as I could, one or two a day until long after the ordeal of the sale was itself over.

As the week or two or however long the sale lasted began to wind down, sometimes mom would pester me about the carton of unsold cookies. “You shouldn’t have taken so many if you couldn’t sell them.” Well pretty much everyone took the same amount of cookies unless a girl knew her parents would take the cookies to work–many would but my parents would not “do your selling for you”–or if Mom would sit with them at a table outside the grocery store, which my parents had no time for, but I knew my cookies were my sole responsibility so I took the single “unit” assortment, whatever it had been determined to be.

But so I might go out again but this time I felt I couldn’t ask the same people that had bought some before so I would go to even fewer houses because my first pass had filtered out the friendly-looking doors and if anyone at any of those houses had bought some and I made the mistake of showing up there again a few days later I’d usually get a “weren’t you just here on Monday?” And so repeat sales efforts were not positively reinforced so after one or two of those sorts of responses I would decide that trying to sell people too many Girl Scout Cookies was a socially unacceptable thing to do.

At the end of the sales period we’d bring back our unsold packages. It was difficult to tell at this point who had sold the most because some girls would have taken home multiple cartons full and brought back a number of the less popular cookies and others of us would have taken one carton and brought back most of it except for the three boxes we had sold to the neighbors and the one box we had sold to ourselves. One year it seemed like we stood in a circle and announced how many we had sold. Some of the numbers seemed outrageous to me. Impossible. Unreal. One hundred boxes of Girl Scout Cookies?? Who on Earth could sell that many cookies??

Oddly, I don’t recall feeling particularly ashamed for hardly selling any but I thought that the whole process was rigged in some way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

All I can really say about it now is that I hated selling those fucking cookies.

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