I was just minding my own business in my History class
one day during my third year of high school when the
teacher, a bloated waste of a man named Mr. Monsen,
announced that the next day we (as underprivledged
sad inner-city school chillun) were going to be visited
by representatives from JuniorAchievement, an organization
that endeavored to teach kids good business skills
and practices. Oh, to joy. I marked on my calendar
to skip school tomorrow.
came (as it often unfortunately does) and I forgot
to not go to class, as I was preoccupied with other
things at the time, and found myself at my desk, listening
to two suits from US Bank talk all about how much
you'd learn in this program, and how good it would
look on your transcripts for college admissions, and
bla de fucking bla.
back, I suppose I could attribute my decision to temporary
insanity, but as I sat there, I started to believe
it. Compounded by the fact that a report card had
slipped through my usually impassable mail-interception
gauntlet and my mother had come disastrously face-to-face
with my abysmal grades for the first time in high
I was pretty eager to make up for that, and was once
again seized by the impossible fantasia of actually
attending college and, who knows, maybe making something
of myself (please leave the room if you have erupted
in raucous laughter, I'll wait...) and so, in a fit
of frenzy, I signed up.
you have to leave the room again?
I also thought that I might learn some techniques
for making money off of my minicomic, which was by
then a fair-to-middling hit amongst the slackers at
my school, and it would also get me out of the house
on Thursday nights, a blessing in itself.
meetings were held at a Baptist church not far from
the school. The first one was packed with people -
nearly forty students were wedged into a small classroom,
normally used to teach Sunday school. We sat down
and waited for the bankers to come and lead us down
the road to financial knowledge.They came, they talked,
and it became obvious to me that this was not going
to be what I had expected. Instead of teaching us
business practices, we were going to "start our own
company" and make profits over the four-month course
ofthe program. At the end, we would get to - wait
for it - throw a party with the money we made! Yipee
yee-hah! A party! And how were we going to make this
money, I asked?
by going door-to-door selling useless crap!
I had been roped into a scam of nearly Amwayesque
levels. At our first meeting, we elected officers
for the company (tall, athletic Negroes, most of whom
would not show up the next week) and discussed what
we would sell. I was strongly in favor of old-school
"protection," Mafia-style, but was quieted by the
bankers. Instead, it was decided that we would sell
candy, like deaf kids on the NYC subways. However,
one of the mottoes of Junior Achievement was that
we had to "add value" to what we sold; we weren't
allowed to simply buy wholesale and sell retail for
a profit; no, we had to modify the product (in this
case, Tootsie Pops, nature's most reviled candy with
the exception of the orange Circus Peanut) in some
way to "earn our keep." I suggested we unwrap, lick
and rewrap each one, and was barred from speaking
for the rest of the meeting.
was instead decided that we would wrap gaily colored
ribbon around the sticks of the suckers and sell them
in batches of 5 for 50 cents. The bankers would buy
the materials (the money coming out of a nebulous
"junior achievement fund" quite possibly government-subsidized)
and next week, we would reconvene.
week rolled along and, not having learned my lesson,
I bussed back to the church and found about 12 people
there. The bankers were not taken aback, though, and
gleefully claimed that there'd be "more money for
those of us who stayed!" and set us to work, sweatshop-style,
curling ribbon and wrapping it around the Tootsie
Pops. We sat and worked for nearly three hours, until
we had accumulated a fairly large pile of candy.
one of the bankers said, "now go out and sell it!"
Uh...no. To who? I'd be fucked if I was going to walk
around my high school attempting to sell Tootsie Pops
with ribbon wrapped around them. Hell no. I was recieving
plenty of painful beatdowns already, I didn't need
this. But I was given 10 sets and told to come back
with five bucks next week, so what could I do?
an easy solution came along; I gave them to my Mom,
she took them to work, and they were sold the next
day. Never underestimate the boredom and snack-cravings
of office workers. She didn't even take a sales cut.
went on for several weeks; every Thursday, I'd head
out to the church and do some menial labor, every
Friday my Mom would take the things to work, and so
on. About six weeks in, the bankers unleashed Phase
they said, "now that we've gained enough Operating
Capital," (you always had the feeling that some of
their words were capitalized...) "we can start selling
they brought out the official Junior Achievement Catalog,
24 glossy pages of cheap Korean merchandise sold through
the JA organization to the groups around the country,
who would then "add value" (with convenient suggestions
right in the catalog!) and sell them. We were to put
up the money earned from the demeaning candy sales
(for which I was the best seller, incidentally) and
purchase a bulk quantity of items from the catalog,
to be sold in a similar fashion.This was becoming
creepier by the second, and things got even worse
when our "company" decided to order and sell cute
widdle stuffed bears for Valentine's Day. Now, these
bears were bad enough, but they came with an added
feature that pushed them right over the line into
nauseating: they had hollow stomachs with transparent
plastic over them, so you could fill them with stuff
and look in at it, like some freakish onboard MRI
scanner. The brain-trust decided to fill them with
Hershey's Kisses and sell them for a five-spot.
dignity was already gone - there was no way I'd carry
around cheap, flammable stuffed toys and try to sell
them. But I was still too stupid to give up - don't
ask me why.So I took my share and went home with them.
They sat in a paper bag on the floor of my room. Even
my mom only managed to sell a few of them, and I swallowed
my pride and went door-to-door, managing to sell one
to a senile old woman at a steep discount. I made
up my mind to blow off the whole thing.
I kept the money that we made, and spent my Thursday
evenings wandering around Seattle, hanging out with
my friends. I would return to the church at 9:00 and
be picked up by my mother, who was beaming with pride
at my good spirits and entrepreneurship. I'm sure
that they possibly became upset about my taking of
the profits, but I figured that it was just my share;
I wasn't going to go to the "party" promised us (and
in fact, said party never happened, the "company"
closing out the 3-month period in debt...) so I'd
take my wages in advance, thank you. I didn't learn
much about business, but what I did learn has lasted
me my whole life: only idiots enjoy it.