Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Cookie Counters

To be a good scout – a good Girl Scout – in the early Baby Boomer years of the mid-Sixties, you needed the hide of a rhinoceros, nerves of steel, the confidence of Prof. Harold Hill, a big family with lots of relatives, and parents with a ton of friends. In those days, there were five Girl Scouts on every corner, selling Girl Scout cookies – and failure was not an option.

I did not hail from a big family. I had only two uncles, one of whom lived 3,000 miles away in California, with two Girl Scouts of his own and the other here in New Jersey with a Girl Scout of his own. Whatever cousins my parents had lived in houses with doorbells much too far away to ring. Mom was a stay-at-home mother and dad was night-time security guard, which meant no co-workers to impose upon. My mother and father had no friends in our hillside community since none of our neighbors knew anything Shakespeare, Gallileo, or Michelangelo.

Today, the Girl Scouts of America claim that cookie selling is optional, though their language is a big vague. More on that later. When I was a Girl Scout, selling cookies was mandatory, at least in the troop nearest my home. If I wanted to be part of that troop, Mom had to sign on the dotted line that I’d sell those minimum 25 boxes of cookies, or my Brownie wings would be clipped.

Brownies were fun. Junior Girl Scouts – not so much. That was where the cookies met the pavement. I lived in a development chock full of Girl Scouts. During cookie sales, they could be seen swarming up and down the street as though it was Halloween and the costume of the year was the Girl Scout uniform.

One could almost admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the Girl Scouts of America. Teaching young girls to develop confidence and saleswomanship. Teaching them that hard work brought success. That girls could succeed. Or fail. Not everyone is a born salesperson. I had neither the disposition, confidence, or even inclination to be an “entrepreneur”. Especially not in an enterprise such as this.

Selling Girl Scout cookies was strictly an organizational endeavor. All proceeds went to the benefit of the entire troop. Girls who made the top sales were rewarded with praise and the prized 100-box badge. Girls who only made the minimum quota got the lowly 25-box badge and a scolding from the trooper leader. At least I did.

I was relieved to finally make the 25. For me, it was an amazing accomplishment. I’d had countless doors slammed in my little face by inopportuned neighbors who were tired of having their doorbells rung. They even rang our doorbell. Mom took one of the lists and examined it.

“What’s your name?” my mother asked the eager little cookie salesgirl.

“Jane Smith,” she replied, beaming.

My mother silently read down the list: John Smith, 10 boxes; Jane Smith, 10 boxes; Harry Smith, 5 boxes; Robert Smith, 2 boxes; Myrtle Smith, 15 boxes; Deborah Smith, 2 boxes; Dolores Smith, 2 boxes; Andrew Smith, 5 boxes; George Smith, 2 boxes; Bertha Smith, 2 boxes.

“Looks like you’ve made plenty of sales,” my mother told her. “I’ll wait for the next Girl Scout who hasn’t done so well.” And she closed the door on the startled little Girl Scout.

I was doing so abysmally that even when my mother drove me around in the car, I simply refused to get out. My older brother, Mr. Newspaper Salesman, was a great businessman. He tried making the first pitch for me. The occupant would agree to buy a box. But then as soon as they saw me, they invariably shut the door. The only thing that saved me were Mom’s friends from the old neighborhood, and Grandma who bought just enough boxes, along with my parents, to fulfill the quota.

Not long after that, I quit the Girl Scouts altogether. They were the same girls who picked on me all day long at school. The troop leader was a nasty, bossy creature who was always scolding me (I must say, her daughter was very nice and apologized for her mother’s behavior). I didn’t like most of the badge activities and hated camping. What in the world was I doing there at these meetings, miserable and unhappy, when I could be watching “Green Acres” on TV that night?

I wished I was a boy. The Boy Scouts did neat things. Oh, they still did the camping stuff, but they also had the home-made car races and they did day-hiking. The troop leader (it was my younger brother’s troop) let me tag along sometimes, as long as I didn’t annoy the boys, which I tried very hard not to do.

As an adult with a better understanding of politics, I realized what a scam the Girl Scout cookie sales were, at least at that time. Here these little girls sold their hearts, or got doors slammed in their faces, and never got anything for their efforts except a crummy badge. It was all for the troop, the common good. Phooey!

Junior Girl Scouts used to be the second level up the Girl Scout chain, before they added the kindergarten-aged Daisy Scouts. The Boy Scouts have a similar hierarchy, and just as Junior Girl Scouts must sell cookies, the Boy Scouts had an economic requirement for their boys.

One of the Second-Class requirements for Boy Scouts is to earn money doing a job and put half the proceeds into their very own savings account. What the job was to be and where the money was to be saved was up to the Scout and his parents.

10. Earn an amount of money agreed upon by you and your parents, then save at least 50 percent of that money.

Hard work for which you are rewarded; what a concept! Saving your money for the future; how ingenious. Why didn’t the Girl Scouts think of that? Instead, we were inculcated into the socialist notion of working for the community, rather than ourselves. So much for independence.

When I think back on it, signing up for the Girl Scout troop was an awful lot like joining a union. It wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. We rarely went on hikes as I recall. There were individual badges for sewing and cooking, which I enjoyed, and reading. But that hardly had anything to do with the troop and I didn’t much care. I like the uniform, but that was about it.

Today, the Girl Scouts are still selling cookies. There is this qualifier in the FAQ on their website.

Q: Does a Girl Scout group have to sell cookies if they don't want to?

A: Girl Scout product sales offers girls a great way to finance their Girl Scout activities and special projects. Participation in this activity is voluntary and requires written permission by a parent or guardian. Annually, about 65% of registered Girl Scouts choose to participate.

Notice that the question refers to a Girl Scout “group” but that participation is voluntary, requiring a parent or guardian’s “permission.” You don’t see many Girl Scouts going door-to-door anymore. These days, they conduct their cookie sales the way Boy Scouts conduct their car-washes; it’s a group effort, usually at a local supermarket under a parent’s or troop leader’s supervision. The girls are no longer sent out individually to have doors slammed in their faces. Or worse.

But now the Girl Scouts are having problems with local sales ordinances. They’re being thrown out of parks and other public places. In Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts were actually banished from the sidewalk in front of Girl Scout founder Juliette Low’s home. Recently in Villa Rica, Ga. - about 35 miles west of Atlanta - Girl Scouts were told they could no longer peddle their Thin Mints at a strip mall.

The Girl Scouts finally get it right, only to have the government get it wrong. Sending little girls door to door peddling cookies they didn’t even make themselves was okay. Having them sell the cookies in the safety of numbers with parental supervision, going where the customers are instead of bothering people in their private homes or coercing hapless co-workers or relatives, isn’t.

Why, they’re becoming too much like real entrepreneurs and less like little hustlers, Artful Dodgers sent out to do Fagin’s bidding. Why, the next thing you know, these kids might just start baking their own cookies. Then, they’ll be in really big trouble with the Food and Drug Administration.


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