November 13, 2007

Always Be Prepared

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I’m kidding! Of course the Girl Scouts are not a cult. But that does not mean that they have not, from time to time, aroused my suspicions.
I was walking around last Saturday night when I heard a series of high-pitched, gleeful shouts coming from the darkness of College Ave. I was not sure what the source could be. An impromptu, street-side, helium huffing party, perhaps.
But no, it was a cadre of Girl Scouts, and they didn’t have any balloons with them at all, helium or otherwise. Where I had expected to find the deflated remains of once proud balloons, I found instead a wide array of cardboard boxes, chock full of all those delicious varieties of Girl Scout cookies. The Girl Scouts were accompanied by a few of their parents and were shouting at passersby to come, buy a box of cookies or two. They had Thin Mints and Samoas, Do-si-dos and Tagalongs. What names for these things! Could you guess what a Do-si-do tasted like without that helpful picture on the side of the box?
Suspicious cookie names aside, I was most unsettled by the site of these young Girl Scouts, peddling their sweets on the hard streets of Collegetown at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. Yes, drunken college students probably make for very “motivated buyers,” and I’m sure those Girl Scouts did some brisk business that night. But I wonder how appropriate this method of salesmanship is. I’m not sure I would be dragging my young daughter — how old is the typical Girl Scout? Nine or ten seems about right — through hordes of intoxicated college students on a Saturday evening. I’m not one for sheltering our children. Go ahead, let them watch that porno, I say. But something about that sight, did not sit well with me. Perhaps, I was uneasy about the sense of exploitation it seemed to connote, teaching those young girls to prey on the weak, who in their inebriated state could not resist the cookie’s sweet allure. Or perhaps it was the possibility of a scuffle that got to me. Some disgruntled young person, riled up and unhappy at the price of the Girl Scouts’ wares.
And come to think of it, the prices for those cookies do seem a bit high. I have often wondered how much of those cookie profits get reinvested into the local troop. I did extensive research and found that the price for your average box of Girl Scout cookies is four or five dollars. And about fifty cents to a dollar of each box goes back to the local troupe that did all that leg work selling it. That’s only about fifteen percent, I believe. Where’s the rest of that money going? There’s only so much overhead for warehousing stockpiles of green sashes and cloth badges. And I wonder if the Girl Scouts are required to purchase their own uniforms. It doesn’t seem too unlikely.
I am also not sure that salesmanship is the sort of quality to instill in young children. It’s true, most people have to learn to “sell themselves” at some point or other, but let’s leave that for later. To my mind, skills like canoe-building and fire-starting are much more valuable, and fun. And, of course, the Girl Scouts do much more than just hawk cookies. They organize food drives and visit the elderly. Maybe they even bring the old folks a box or two of shortbread cookies with them when they go.
So, yes, the Girl Scouts teach some valuable lessons. Like how to survive in the woods and how to comfort those in need. When I am old and get lost in the woods, the Girl Scouts are surely the first people I will call to sing me a merry song and start a nice, warm fire for me.
All I’m saying is, parents of Girl Scouts, get those kids off the night-time street. It’s strange enough setting them to work as salespeople in the first place.