August

1999

Junior Achievement

So 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 Junior Achievement, an organization that endeavored to teach kids good business skills and practices. Oh, to joy. I marked on my calendar to skip school tomorrow.

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.

Looking 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 school.

So 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.

Do you have to leave the room again?

Anyways, 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.

The 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?

Why, by going door-to-door selling useless crap!

Yes, 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.

It 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.

Next 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.

“Okay,” 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?

Thankfully, 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.

This 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 Two.

“Okay,” 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 bigger-ticket items.”

And 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.

My 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.