The Solicitors’ Song and Dance

 

In 1987, when I was an eighth-grade transplant to America and knew nothing of fundraisers or soliciting, our small Christian school held an assembly that captured my attention. A white-haired man, whom I’ll call Don Reagan,* stood in front of the student body and held up a candy bar that he introduced as “World’s Finest Chocolate.” I realized that World’s Finest was actually the brand name, a boast that made me question the quality of the product.  He talked of selling the candy, “cases” of it, demonstrating the range of marvelous prizes we could earn.  Even one case would get us over the prize-winning threshold. The way Don Reagan talked about it, selling sounded easy. He gave several suggestions for how one could make the sale, even role-playing a scene on a public bus going home from school.  But I didn’t need any more convincing–I was in. I would go to the office after school to pick up my cases of chocolate and would soon be enjoying my prizes.

“Cases,” I soon found out, were long, weighty boxes emitting thick cocoa scents.  These could be split apart in the middle to make a kind of tote with handles. With the cardboard broken open along the dotted lines, I noted the stacks of bars–there were thirty-six of them, to be precise.  I was still convinced that I would make quick work of dispensing the product and collecting the cash. Then I would show up for the promised rewards. The individual bars, each silver-wrapped with white sleeve, red letters emblazoning the claim of global supremacy, were a dollar each. They smelled good and, although perhaps not quite living up to their name, had a flavor of rich, nutty chocolate.

It was decided that my sixth grade sister and I would go door to door in our working-class neighborhood and pretty soon, we’d rid ourselves of these heavy cases in exchange for feather-light dollar bills. Had we canvassed the area with a spiel that demonstrated our genuine confidence in the product based on our own delicious experience with it, we might have been more successful.  But we had never undertaken such a project before. Possibly our only tool, besides the bare facts of our mission, was the plastic enthusiasm modeled by Don Reagan, who was probably sick of that candy.

My sister and I were educated in our first few encounters with the public. We learned quickly that thirty-six was a lot of candy bars in one case, and that we had been overconfident in the number of cases we had planned to sell. Maybe we could sell one case? If that.  We also found that at least in principle, people didn’t want strangers coming to their doors selling random stuff while they were relaxing in their homes. That there was something called “soliciting,” and neighbors displayed signs that said “NO” to that. We also found it challenging to explain our enterprise to those that peeped around their metal security doors in answer to our ring. When it was my sister’s turn to talk, she gave the pitch whilst grabbing opposite ankles behind her, first one leg and then the other. They don’t teach you that technique at sales school. She always ended her speech with, “Would you be intrested?” Our efforts took courage, and made demands of us outside of our experience and comfort level, but we were two motivated girls.

We returned home sadly not empty-handed, having sold a small handful of product, maybe five or six bars.  No one had been rude to us–a little world-weary, perhaps, and often not “intrested,” but kind enough in an indifferent way. One smiling older gentleman said something puzzling.  I remember it as being in an English accent: he would like to have us come by, he told us, at least to see our song and dance again. But despite a few successes, we realized that it would take ages of hard work to get rid of those stacks of neatly wrapped chocolates.  In days following, we made more forays into the neighborhood, but with our ambitions greatly tempered by reality. And we turned in the boxes we didn’t sell.  I don’t think we qualified for a single prize, not even a Slinky or a Rubik’s Cube, after all that.

I told my mom the story of the polite older man and his odd speech to us.  “Why would he say that?”  I asked her. “We didn’t do any singing or dancing.”  Bemused, my mom explained that he had used an expression that meant a kind of memorized sequence. He was referring to our sales pitch.  Oh.  I had been confused because, in my mind, our sales patter was as far from music and dance as my sister and I were from the likelihood of winning that Walkman (only twenty cases!)

*Last I checked, Don Reagan was still coming to the school once a year and inspiring eighth-graders to hit the streets with this delectable product. However, now World’s Finest offers an item wrapped in gold and green called “Mint Meltaways,” which indeed live up to their name.

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  1. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Um.  I sold greeting cards.  Really.  Didn’t make much money, but later on I did feel honored that I had carried on the proud time-honored traditional cover of American spies like Maxwell Smart.  I too was a Greeting Card Salesman.

    • #1
  2. Marythefifth Member
    Marythefifth
    @Marythefifth

    I remember those chocolate bars and failing to selling hardly any for my school band.

    • #2
  3. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    World’s Finest Chocolate is one of the companies that made Chicago the Candy Capitol of the World, and is still in business on the South Side employing about 850 people.  A local club brings a dish of World’s Finest Chocolate mint meltaways (probably created to compete with Marshall Field’s Frango Mints) to the table at the end of the meal and has a box of Tootsie Pops available as you leave the restaurant.  WFC, Tootsie Roll, Snickers, M&Ms, Lemon Heads, Brach’s, Wrigley, all (originally at least) Chicago candy companies.  My favorite is Blommer chocolate, a major chocolate processor and other confectionery product manufacturer, with one of their plants located just on the edge of Chicago’s loop.  When they are roasting, the whole neighborhood smells like chocolate.  You used to be able to stop at the Kinzie Street factory and buy bags of cocoa shells (they still sell the bagged mulch, just not at Kinzie street).  They make great garden mulch and the smell deters deer and some other opportunists.

    WFC may not be the actual world’s greatest chocolate, but you’d eat it, wouldn’t you?

    • #3
  4. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    World’s Finest Chocolate is one of the companies that made Chicago the Candy Capitol of the World, and is still in business on the South Side employing about 850 people. A local club brings a dish of World’s Finest Chocolate mint meltaways (probably created to compete with Marshall Field’s Frango Mints) to the table at the end of the meal and has a box of Tootsie Pops available as you leave the restaurant. WFC, Tootsie Roll, Snickers, M&Ms, Lemon Heads, Brach’s, Wrigley, all (originally at least) Chicago candy companies. My favorite is Blommer chocolate, a major chocolate processor and other confectionery product manufacturer, with one of their plants located just on the edge of Chicago’s loop. When they are roasting, the whole neighborhood smells like chocolate. You used to be able to stop at the Kinzie Street factory and buy bags of cocoa shells (they still sell the bagged mulch, just not at Kinzie street). They make great garden mulch and the smell deters deer and some other opportunists.

    WFC may not be the actual world’s greatest chocolate, but you’d eat it, wouldn’t you?

    Wow, I’ve been enlightened. I should have known that I Ricochet reader would have some background on this topic. 

    I remember WFC as being one of the better experiences I’ve had with chocolate.  And mint meltaways rank even higher. 

    • #4
  5. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine
    @IMFine

    Your wonderful, nostalgic post brought back vivid and painful memories of my childhood days as a Blue Bird (and eventually a Camp Fire Girl) when I was forced to sell cans of nuts in my neighborhood. Expensive cashews, slightly cheaper peanuts, and these really big cans of mixed nuts. They had to be opened with a little key that hooked into a retractable metal strip that circled the top of the can. This made the product, I felt, needlessly labor-intensive as well as moderately dangerous. They were never an easy sell and I never won any prizes for my troupe. So not only did I feel like a personal failure, I was letting my team down. I remember one weekend where I didn’t sell any. O why couldn’t I be a Girl Scout and peddle cookies? My mom never had a good answer to that one.

    Even today, when the occasional student comes to my door selling product X for cause Y, I always buy at least one. I think I’m just trying to make sure no kid has to go through what I once did.  

     

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    And mint meltaways rank even higher. 

    They have substituted for lunch from time to time or been that morsel found in a drawer or packet that rescues a truly bad day.

    • #6
  7. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    And mint meltaways rank even higher.

    They have substituted for lunch from time to time or been that morsel found in a drawer or packet that rescues a truly bad day.

    Double like. 

    • #7
  8. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):

    Your wonderful, nostalgic post brought back vivid and painful memories of my childhood days as a Blue Bird (and eventually a Camp Fire Girl) when I was forced to sell cans of nuts in my neighborhood. Expensive cashews, slightly cheaper peanuts, and these really big cans of mixed nuts. They had to be opened with a little key that hooked into a retractable metal strip that circled the top of the can. This made the product, I felt, needlessly labor-intensive as well as moderately dangerous. They were never an easy sell and I never won any prizes for my troupe. So not only did I feel like a personal failure, I was letting my team down. I remember one weekend where I didn’t sell any. O why couldn’t I be a Girl Scout and peddle cookies? My mom never had a good answer to that one.

    Even today, when the occasional student comes to my door selling product X for cause Y, I always buy at least one. I think I’m just trying to make sure no kid has to go through what I once did.

    You are Fine, indeed!  That’s such a kind thing to do.

     

    • #8
  9. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Caryn (View Comment):

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):

    Your wonderful, nostalgic post brought back vivid and painful memories of my childhood days as a Blue Bird (and eventually a Camp Fire Girl) when I was forced to sell cans of nuts in my neighborhood. Expensive cashews, slightly cheaper peanuts, and these really big cans of mixed nuts. They had to be opened with a little key that hooked into a retractable metal strip that circled the top of the can. This made the product, I felt, needlessly labor-intensive as well as moderately dangerous. They were never an easy sell and I never won any prizes for my troupe. So not only did I feel like a personal failure, I was letting my team down. I remember one weekend where I didn’t sell any. O why couldn’t I be a Girl Scout and peddle cookies? My mom never had a good answer to that one.

    Even today, when the occasional student comes to my door selling product X for cause Y, I always buy at least one. I think I’m just trying to make sure no kid has to go through what I once did.

    You are Fine, indeed! That’s such a kind thing to do.

     

    Doing Cub Scout popcorn sales in the entryway to the grocery store a year or two back, I was amazed how many people donated money and didn’t take any popcorn. 

     

    • #9
  10. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Marythefifth (View Comment):

    I remember those chocolate bars and failing to selling hardly any for my school band.

    We sold them for Little League.

    • #10
  11. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I tried selling Blue and Gold sausage for the FFA.  I was no good at that.

    I had done some sort of candybar schtick in Boy Scouts.  Pretty sure that was a bust also.

    It had all seemed like such an elaborate ruse.  My heart wasn’t in it because I felt like I was just acting in a patronizing play.  Pretty sure I knew what my father would say if some kids knocked on the door trying to sell something.  Was this just supposed to toughen us up, like gym class for your self-esteem?  Yeah it hurts, but when it stops, you’ll be stronger!  No thanks.

    I had the feeling that if fund-raising were the actual goal, it would not be based on value, but on cherubic faces eagerly and earnestly describing an honest product to decent people who would respond to this precocious presentation with cash and compliments.  Well why not just have a meeting down at the school where parents can bring their wallets and fund whatever sounds like a good idea?  I mean if what we really needed was ten or twenty bucks at a time, why make the cherubic kids trudge through the alleyway (I confess, we didn’t have alleyways) with a box of chocolates and a pocket full of cash?  Seemed dumb to me.  It all seemed fake.

    Fast-forward to years later when I have a freezer full of meat and seafood on the back of my truck, and we’ve just been run out of New Mexico because the mobsters in Chicago are angry that competition is springing up, and Larry Barker with KOAT channel 7 news is now airing a week-long special “Meat Wars” with footage of us and our freezers, sample boxes, interviews with hapless old ladies and their furious adult children, etc.  So there we were, taking extended trips to Phoenix and El Paso to do business where KOAT isn’t shown.

    To think — I gave up selling cars for this?

    The meat sales was borderline legit — the pitches a lot of folks used were pure BS — I just tried to sell the convenience — here it is, right at your door, if you like, I’ll put it in your freezer for you.  And it was (technically) the same grade of beef served in fine restaurants, like Western Sizzler.  If you’ve ever been to a Sizzler or had to beat leather into stew, you’ll know.  Beats telling a cock and bull story about how a delivery got cancelled and this beef can’t be returned, gotta unload it, etc…

    There I was, having sold ZERO in Abilene — out of gas, friends, and time in Midland/Odessa.  Illegally soliciting at a gas station on the highway, sold a box, put that money in my gas tank, quit when I got back to El Paso, and “borrowed” $50 from the boss to get home.

    Thank you Bill Ojeda.  I still owe you.

    • #11
  12. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    I was amazed how many people donated money and didn’t take any popcorn.

    That is my usual answer.  I don’t want the 2 1/2 sheets of too small wrapping paper for $10.00, thank you.  Or much of anything else.  One of the items I usually purchase are the GS samoas.  But then I get a bit peeved to find they keep reducing the number of cookies per box by using plastic spacers. 

    We now live in a house where the driveway is over 1/2 mile long.  No kid has ventured back that far to see if we might buy something.  The developments with sidewalks and 1/4 acre lots are much richer target markets. 

    • #12
  13. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Nothing made me happier than a kid selling chocolate when I was in car line at my kids’ school …

    My kids only sold mistletoe (which they picked and packaged themselves) for Boy Scouts. They always did well, selling after church. Who doesn’t want mistletoe? (I have a couple of kids who would have trouble selling water in a desert)

    I have a nephew (my favorite) who did well selling The World’s Finest Chocolate for Little League. I used to love it when he would pitch me: Aunty Anne: It’s the world’s FINIST chocolate! No surprise, he made a fortune delivering pizzas during college, and upon graduation is now in sales.

    • #13
  14. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

    Biden’s version of this is “build back better”

    • #14
  15. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Wonderful, funny bit of nostalgia!  One of your better articles, Sawatdeeka, and that’s saying something.

    The part about your sister’s sales technique was the most hilarious moment.

    I was bemused by one word, however.  I would normally bring it up in a Private Message, but it’s a word that I was bemused by, without knowing it, well into adulthood. 

    Now, I was pretty good at English, so I reckon others on Ricochet will have the same bemusement, and it would be a shame not to mention it publicly, and leave them all in the same state of bemusement.

    So I will mention it here in the Comments.

    Oh, heck, no.  I can’t do it.  I hate embarrassing people, especially those I am most fond of.  I am not going to bring it up.  I will let people figure it out, and maybe the bemusing word will have been replaced by the time I come back to the article.

    • #15
  16. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Wonderful, funny bit of nostalgia! One of your better articles, Sawatdeeka, and that’s saying something.

    The part about your sister’s sales technique was the most hilarious moment.

    I was bemused by one word, however. I would normally bring it up in a Private Message, but it’s a word that I was bemused by, without knowing it, well into adulthood.

    Now, I was pretty good at English, so I reckon others on Ricochet will have the same bemusement, and it would be a shame not to mention it publicly, and leave them all in the same state of bemusement.

    So I will mention it here in the Comments.

    Oh, heck, no. I can’t do it. I hate embarrassing people, especially those I am most fond of. I am not going to bring it up. I will let people figure it out, and maybe the bemusing word will have been replaced by the time I come back to the article.

    Honestly, that word bothers me, too. I shall go look it up right now. 

    • #16
  17. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word.  “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused. 

    • #17
  18. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people.  How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    In certain cultures that produce Oriental rugs, one flaw is always woven into the design of a rug, to symbolically acknowledge that only Allah is perfect.

    I see that Sawatdeeka has humbly adopted this practice, and decided to leave this one tiny flaw in her otherwise perfect piece, after I have accidentally ;-) brought it to readers’ attention.

    • #18
  19. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people. How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    I don’t remember if I knew it when I finished my formal education, but I knew it before this bout.

    • #19
  20. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people. How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    I don’t remember if I knew it when I finished my formal education, but I knew it before this bout.

    Very impressive, Randy, and thanks for letting us know right away.

    • #20
  21. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people. How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    I don’t remember if I knew it when I finished my formal education, but I knew it before this bout.

    Very impressive, Randy, and thanks for letting us know right away.

    It’s not that uncommon a word.

    • #21
  22. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people. How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    I don’t remember if I knew it when I finished my formal education, but I knew it before this bout.

    Very impressive, Randy, and thanks for letting us know right away.

    It’s not that uncommon a word.

    You’re being modest.

    • #22
  23. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    In certain cultures that produce Oriental rugs, one flaw is always woven into the design of a rug, to symbolically acknowledge that only Allah is perfect.

    I see that Sawatdeeka has humbly adopted this practice, and decided to leave this one tiny flaw in her otherwise perfect piece,

    Ha, ha–thanks!  

    • #23
  24. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people. How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    In certain cultures that produce Oriental rugs, one flaw is always woven into the design of a rug, to symbolically acknowledge that only Allah is perfect.

    I see that Sawatdeeka has humbly adopted this practice, and decided to leave this one tiny flaw in her otherwise perfect piece, after I have accidentally ;-) brought it to readers’ attention.

    I don’t understand your question.

    • #24
  25. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    Okay, I’m back. Good catch, Mark–I used the wrong word. “Bemused” means “puzzled, confused, or bewildered.” I thought it meant being mildly amused.

    Not just YOU thought that. We ALL did.

    Let’s be honest, people. How many us knew the meaning of that devious little word when we completed our formal education?

    It was probably invented by an English major just to get back at us.

    In certain cultures that produce Oriental rugs, one flaw is always woven into the design of a rug, to symbolically acknowledge that only Allah is perfect.

    I see that Sawatdeeka has humbly adopted this practice, and decided to leave this one tiny flaw in her otherwise perfect piece, after I have accidentally ;-) brought it to readers’ attention.

    I don’t understand your question.

    Forget it, he’s rolling.

    • #25
  26. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    BDB (View Comment):

    I don’t understand your question.

    Forget it, he’s rolling.

    This was an obtuse jest.

    • #26